It's weird posting the first power poll after only four stages but, hey, some of the most significant action that will determine the eventual winner just happened in stages two and three. But its still weird as we haven't even hit the mountains yet and so we don't know who has their climby A-game. You can see the pre-race Power Poll here for laughs as it's been shot to hell (near Arenberg forest). But that was then. Now?
Riders in contention to win the race
1. Albert Contador (1)
2. Andy Schleck (2)
3. Cadel Evans (8)
The pre-race ranking is in parenthesis.
That's it folks. Just three riders still have a chance at winning this thing in the remaining...jeebus! 16 stages. So before explaining why I ranked these three in reverse order that they are in at the moment, let me say why it's just these three.
For the moment, imagine the Tour as a big Classic. Now think of the moments right when the final selection is made. What you have is a few riders with a small gap, just a few seconds. But the riders behind just can't quite find the horsepower to close that gap. And that gap slowly increases...5 seconds...10...30...a couple of minutes. The final winner is from those final few riders. Quite possibly the process repeats itself with the eventual winner opening up a little gap and the other couple of riders unable to close it down. Just think of how Cancellara did it at Flanders and P-R this year or Boonen and devolder the last couple of years.
The same thing just happened. Right now the gap seems like other riders can shut it down but the odds favor the leaders.
But, I hear you saying, your analogy is dumber than doorknobs! Because if you play it out correctly it would mean that if this were a Classic that the decisive break occurred with 200 km to go and that's way too far out for the winners of Flanders say to attack from! Right you are! And this is where the analogy breaks down-and favors the Big Three riders listed above. Unlike in Paris-Roubaix or Flanders, Tour riders get to rest each night as they toil around France. They don't have to keep pushing onward. Plus many of the stages remaining, like the one today and the next two, have nothing to do with the GC race. The GC boys can keep their reserves topped up for the mountains. Plus there's more that favors these three as you'll see on the break.These three riders contain the best two climbers in the race and almost all of the remaining decisive stages in the race are mountain stages. Face it folks: you can come up with scenarios where Andy and Bert lose time in the mountains but all of them are unlikely and all of them involve something other than other riders just out-climbing Andy and Bert. Maybe, just maybe, one of them will bonk. The odds that both of them bonk? Close to 0%. And I'm not even mentioning Evans yet, the rider with the largest cushion on the rest of the GC hopefuls.
Unlike the Giro the remaining stages have not much of a chance at upending the race. There's several reasons too. First is the weather. Its summer. Nice and warm. Much different then the springtime Giro where the weather can get much nastier like on the famous stage 12. Yeah it can rain on the Tour's parade, but nothing like that Giro stage 12.
Second, Saxo Bank and Astana, and BMC have not seen too many of their riders drop out yet. Even with Saxo losing Frank Schleck, these are three teams that have the power to close the deal. (I'll get to BMC in a minute though.) This may change of course, but go back to past Tours and you see that it rarely does. The idea that we'll see a real jailbreak where Astana and Saxo and BMC can't stop serious GC rivals from gaining multiple minutes is really far-fetched in this Tour. For all the CARNAGE! we've seen so far, Frank Schleck excepted, it doesn't hold a candle to what happened in the early stages of the Giro.
Third, look at the stages and you'll see maybe one stage which could go pear-shaped. At this point in the Giro we had yet to see the Strade Blanche-esque stage 7. The Tour equivalent to that stage 7 was stage 3. Been there, done that-and it had the opposite effect on the GC boys than we all had predicted. There's also no team time trial yet to be raced in this Tour. The Giro's stage 12, which looked tough even before the awful weather has no real equivalent in the Tour. The closest might be stage 10, the one to Gap, but again the weather will probably be nice and the riders will have just had three straight stages of the Andy and Bert show wherein those two inflict serious punishment on the field.
In fact this Tour is lining up almost perfectly for Andy and Bert and Cadel. They came out of stage 3 not only in better shape than expected but in commanding position of the rest of the GC crowd. Now they get three days of letting the sprinters fight with close to zero chance of a GC challenge. After all, it's not the Big Three who have to nurse their wounds from stage 3, it's their rivals. Also these three flat stages are critical for the Green Jersey competition. There aren't many more flat sprinters stages left once we hit the Alps. Lampre, HTC, and Cervelo will be all over the front of the peloton, chasing down the breaks. Which will leave the Big Three well rested for the Alps and if you are thinking that Andy and especially Bert aren't gonna attack in the Alps, hard, then you aren't reading the race. The Alps will be where we see that little 5 second gap from my Classics analogy widen out to a couple of minutes. That is clearly Bert's M.O., if not Andy's. The odds are we'll head to what we thought pre-race was the decisive portion of the race-the Pyrenees-with the races all but decided.
So there's almost no opening for the riders that I list below the Big Three.
Why is Cadel third? Because he is the worst climber of the three and because he had such a great and tough ride in the Giro. I'm not the first one to say here that he should tire in weeks two and three and tire he most likely will. He won't give up easily for sure as the guy is such a great competitor. Andy and Bert though are each better than Basso at climbing and they will start attacking starting on stage 7. Stages 7, 8, and 9: yes, the way things have shaken out we should now be looking at the Alps as actually more likely to produce the real fireworks in this year's Tour. It will be the Alps if we can see anyone able to bridge the gap up to the Big Three. Without a doubt Bert will attack hard in the Alps and look to distance Cadel before the Pyrenees are even on the horizon, and Andy will go with him as best he can. Stage 12, a stage that is very similar to a staple from Paris-Nice that Bert has won the last two times, will also see a Bert and Andy attack. How well Cadel can play defense will determine if the Pyrenees are decisive or not.
That said, I still am saying that Evans has a chance to win. It all depends on his energy reserves. If he can look strong through all the mountains he can win it on that last TT. Right now, I'm not predicting that but let's see him try.
Why Andy Schleck second? Because he needs to beat Contador in the mountains since that 30 second lead he has is not enough to hold off Contador on that last time trial. It says here that he has not yet shown us that he is up for that task. Plus losing brother Frank is a big blow. Saxo can no longer play a tag team game; Bert and Cadel don't have to worry about Fuglsang. Andy will fight hard, I'm sure, but history says this is still Bert's game to lose and he should overcome Andy just enough to win going away. And if Cadel can hold up enough, he could also pass Andy on that time trial.
But again, like Cadel, Andy can win this race. If this is the year where he finds that extra gear to distance Bert, and Cadel, then he can win. I must admit images (good ones) of the 2007 Bert vs Rasmussen mountain battles come to mind where those two traded roundhouse punches as they clawed up the mountains. Note too how Levi back then kept in contention. That could be Cadel, letting the other two exhaust each other then he makes his move.
Why is Bert first? He should be the best climber and time trialer of the three. The fact that he just rode the last 30 km of the cobbles stage with a faulty brake ad broken spoke and finally a flat and still cut his loses should tell everyone he's rounding into form and to me that brings up the question if he will make the Tourmalet stage 17 have all the excitement as last year's Mt. Ventoux. I'm guessing right now that Bert is more likely to do that than not. And when it happens and we are disappointed, remember the fun we all had on stage 3 with the cobbles.
Sure Contador can lose. But like I said in the pre-race poll, he has to lose. If someone else wins, its because he messes up somehow. Andy and Cadel are basically the only two who can take advantage and they both have to have the best race of their careers. Next weekend though will be huge.
Speaking of next weekend, can anyone claw back to the Big Three? Below I have the riders ranked in likelihood of doing that. But first a couple of things.
- All of the riders below are not likely to do the job.
- We haven't had the mountains so we don't know who can hang with Andy and Bert. If could well be Carlos Sastre, who I have ranked 22nd, is as likely as Denis Menchov, 4th. B asically all these guys have yet to sort themselves out and their final placing could be any order you can imagine.
Riders looking for that third spot on the podium
4. Denis Menchov (3)
5. Brad Wiggins (4)
6. Lance Armstrong (13)
7. Roman Kreuziger (7)
8. Alexandr Vinokourov (16)
Like going through the cobbles which naturally breaks up the riders into clumps, I am doing the same here, though the clumps are fairly artificial. This first clump contains a bunch of pre-race favorites and at this point I deem them most likely to take advantage of any slips by the Big Three. There's not really much that you can say that distinguishes them yet other than some get more press than others.
- Vino is last because he rode the Giro like Cadel. Plus he is still working for Contador. But with him being here it must be noted that Astana is the first team that has two listed serious contenders for the GC, though Sky, and Radio Shack are not far behind.
9. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (20)
10. Nicholas Roche (23)
11. Ryder Hesjedal (21)
12. Luis Leon Sanchez (18)
13. Thomas Lovkvist (Hon. Mention)
I separated these four because they have good times so far and they are (except for Lovkvist at the Giro last year) untested in a Grand Tour GC race. All have strengths and weaknesses (duh) but we have no idea if they can handle three weeks to end up in the top five. My guess though is at least one of them, probably two, will surprise us and hang around the Big Boys through to Paris and secure a top ten placing and maybe top five. I have no idea who though. Not yet. It's much easier to criticize their chances ahead of time so I am giving them their due now.
Desperate Times Lead To desperate Measures
14. Levi Leipheimer (11)
15. Michael Rogers (12)
16. Samuel Sanchez (5)
17. Janez Brajkovic (Hon. Mention)
18. Andreas Kloden (14)
Three Shackers plus a couple of team leaders that just didn't have it on cobbles but could make a big move starting next weekend. Knowing Bruyneel's recent Grand Tour strategies it isn't far-fetched that all of the Shackers finish very high even on a team lead by Lance. Samu is looking at stage 9 and that closing descent. All of these guys again could make the podium. No one has cracked yet.
Poke 'Em With A Sick! See If Something Happens!
19. Vlad Karpets (Hon. Mention)
20. Christophe Le Mevel (22)
21. Joaquin Rodriguez (10)
22. Carlos Sastre (19)
23. Ivan Basso (9)
I was tempted to cut this poll off at Kloden but since we haven't seen any pesky mountains , I held off. Basso brings up the rear because, again, he rode the Giro (did well I hear) plus his teammate is higher up the pecking order here. Of these five I give Le Mevel, J-Rod, and Sastre the best chances to get back into this race but they have to do it in the Alps. See how important the Alps are shaping up to be? The cobbles rattled everyone and the Alps will no doubt cut out several more, if not most of this poll.
Dropped from contention: Frank Schleck (6), Christian Vande Velde (15), Robert Gesink (17). Two have crashed out and Gesink I think is a dead man walking with that fractured ulna.