Tour de France Week One Rest Day Recap
The opening Prologue was won by Swiss TT specialist Fabian Cancellara and he used his time gained that day to wear yellow for six days. Among the pre-race favorites, Alberto Contador came in second, 18 seconds back, two-time runner-up Cadel Evans finished fifth, 23 seconds behind, American Levi Leipheimer was sixth, 30 seconds back, and some guy named Armstrong came in tenth, finishing 40 seconds behind Cancellara's time. Giro d' Italia champ Denis Menchov had an atrocious start, placing 53rd, 1' 31" off the pace.
Though stages 1 and 2 were expected to be uneventful days for sprinters to prevail (both won by Briton Mark Cavendish), stage 2 was notable because of a split in the peleton initiated by team Columbia HTC. Angered that none of the other teams were helping chase down the breakaway, Columbia captain George Hincapie led a charge in a crosswind that broke the peleton in two and included Lance Armstrongin the lead group. Those in the back who were unable to respond, included Contador and several other race favorites and, at the end of the day, Armstrong had jumped into 2nd place, 40 seconds back of Cancellara.
The team time trial the following day had everyone assuming that a team Astana charge would put Armstrong back in yellow. However, a valiant effort by Cancellara's Saxo Bank team in the final kilometers left the two riders virtually tied and race organizers had to track back into milliseconds to determine that the Swiss was still the race leader by a hair.
This week's final shakeup occurred on Friday's stage 7, as the race entered the Pyrenees. As expected, Cancellara gave up the yellow jersey, losing over nine minutes on the day, and it was Italian Rinaldo Nocentini who wound up in yellow after his breakaway climb gained enough time to put him atop the race's G.C. Riding in support of his teammate, Armstrong led the Astana charge up the final climb, with Contador safely on his wheel. The Spaniard's attack about two kilometers from the finish was met with no resistance and his time gain was good enough to vault him into 2nd place, six seconds back of Nocentini, who's not considered a threat to be in yellow in Paris. Contador's break also ignited a controversy over who was actually the Astana team leader and Armstrong admitted on Sunday that "there is some tension" on the team.
So with the first week down, some things have gotten clearer while a good many other questions still linger. Obviously the Contador/Armstrong Astana situation will continue to be the hot topic as the race progresses, though a crash or one bad day for either rider could settle the issue quickly. Menchov's terrible start continued throughout the week and he is almost all but out of contention already. Cadel Evans also had a dreadful first week and stands 18th, over three minutes off the pace. American and Astana team member Levi Leipheimer sits in 4th, 39 seconds out of yellow, though his title hopes will likely take a back seat to the Contador/Armstrong drama. With Cancellara out of yellow, team Saxo Bank can turn their support to the Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, currently in 9th and 13th position, respectively. Others of note are team Garmin's Christian Vande Velde in 8th and defending champ Carlos Sastre in 16th.
The other jersey leaders included Thor Hushovd in the green sprinter's points jersey, Egoi Martinez wearing the polka dot King of the Mountains jersey, and German Tony Martin in the white jersey as the best young rider.
Week 2 of the Tour offers a number of long, mostly flat stages that will likely offer the sprinters a chance to shine again, though there are enough hills and terrain features to offer a few surprises along the way. Look for the next big shakeup to happen in stage 15, when the Tour enters the Alps with a hilly stage that ends with a Category 1 climb into the Swiss resort town of Verbier.
It's been a fun Tour so far, especially to see Lance Armstrong return with a vengeance. But only the next two weeks will tell if he can ride all the way back to the top of the podium in Paris. Stay tuned!