Saturday, July 4, 2009


AND...THEY'RE OFF! Great start to what will be a dramatic Tour de France. American Lance Armstrong set the early pace in this individual time trial through beautiful Monaco. Teammate Levi Leipheimer set the mark to beat. And only the top contenders, riding last, met and beat the challenge. As expected, Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara bested everyone. 2007 champion Alberto Contador finished strong, as did Cadel Evans of Australia, last year's 2nd-place finisher. The ITT did its work of separating contenders from supporters.

TOP TEN. Here's the top ten after Stage 1:

Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 0:19:32
Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:00:18
Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:00:19
Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:00:22
Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 0:00:23
Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana 0:00:30
Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 0:00:32
Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:00:33
Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:00:37
Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:00:40

LANCE WATCH. I think Lance will finish in the top five of the Tdf, for sure. He rode conservatively today to a 10th-place finish. If the dude gets angry (and it won't take too much to make him angry), he can win it.

HOW IT WILL DEVELOP. Don't look for anything to happen in the first week, except for sprinters to duke it out on fantastic finishes. Don't expect much separation among the contenders in the second, which includes climbs through the Pyrenees mountains. The third week...will be wild. The Alps will tell all. And the next to the last stage (the day before Paris) is the climb to Mount Ventoux. This is the queen stage of this year's route. Hearts will break. Legs will fail. Men will cry. Heroes will be made. This is what makes the TdF the legend that it is.

ASTANA: GREAT...OR FRAGILE? Astana is loaded. Four riders are placed in the top 10 after Stage 1. Leipheimer, Armstrong, Contador, and Andreas Kloden each could be leaders on any other team. Each can time trial, each can climb, each is a proven winner. But can they work together? Will they? A few years ago, Ullrich, Kloden and Vinokourov (each capable of winning) were stacked on a team and they blew up in division in the mountains. No good chemistry between Contador and Armstrong. Armstrong's loyalties lie with...Armstrong. I'll be very surprised if we see him work for Alberto. Watch that rivalry.

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