Who is Going to Win?
So who will win this thing? There are six riders within a minute of the lead. There are three big stages left: a mountain stage with two HC climbs and a down hill finish, a stage with three HC climbs and an up hill finish, and a 53 km time trial. It is possible that time could be gained on Thursday with category 2 and 4 climbs right before the finish, but I think its unlikely.
So that's what we have: three stages and six contenders. Here's my take of the favorites:
1. Cadel Evans: I still consider him the favorite, but it was close between Evans and Menchov. Menchov climbed better today, but I think Evans will make up for any lost time in the last time trial. Evans has 30 seconds on Menchov. If he climbs poorly like today, he might lose that time and more, but I don't think he will lose more time than he can make up in the final TT.
2. Denis Menchov: He climbed very well today and he can time trial. He only lost 7 seconds to Evans in the 30 km time trial on stage 4. He has won the Tour of Spain and should have the endurance to last to the end. My gut feeling is that Cadel is more consistent than Menchov and that will pay off. Other than that, I think the Tour is between these two.
3. Christian Vande Velde: Its hard to believe I have him listed as the third favorite. He is the only other rider left who can time trial and climb. The others listed below him don't have CVV's time trial ability. He has shown an ability to climb with the best. Unless he loses large amounts of time to the climbers below he should be on the podium.
4. Carlos Sastre: He has to make up a great deal of time to overcome the final 53 km TT. Sastre lost 1:16 to Evans in the first time trial. I think he needs at least 2 minutes and probably more on the time trialers above to win the tour. My guess is that won't happen. On stage 4, he had a better TT than both F. Schleck and Bernhard Kohl so he gets ranked above them.
5. Bernhard Kohl: He is climbing great, but like Sastre his TT skills leave something to be desired. He lost a 1:27 to Evans in the 30 km TT on stage four. Like Sastre, I think he needs more than 2 minutes and Evans and Menchov before the final TT. He might be able to count on the others ignoring him, but his ride today solidifies him as a rider to watch.
6. Frank Schleck: He is a very talented climber, but he doesn't time trial. He lost 1:47 to Evans in the first time trial. He will need more time than the other climbers if that is a real indication of his TT skills right now. He could gain huge time in the next two days and he has the benefit of having a teammate high in the GC as well.
Any of the six riders could win, in my opinion. The climbers (Sastre, Kohl, Schleck) could gain huge time during the next two stages and put the Tour out of reach. To do this, they will need to drop Evans, Menchov, and to a lesser extent CVV. I don't think they will be able to do this, but it should make for some good viewing.
As far as CSC having the number, I think they would be better off having the Schlecks ride for Sastre like Postal/Disco. They could set a tremendous pace that Evans, Menchov, and CVV could not follow. Sastre should be able to time trial better than Kohl.
The only time trial I looked at was stage 4, so if someone else has some other TT comparisons to add, that may be interesting. Your comments are encouraged.