Robbie McEwen was thought just days ago to have completely salted away the Green Jersey competition with three stage victories and an unbeatable closing speed that, two stages ago, had him holding a commanding lead of 23 points over Tom Boonen and thirty or more over Oscar Freire and the rest. But after today he is still visible on the horizon... and not likely to disappear anytime soon. Not off the front anyway.
First off, he still has a serious lead, but there is a three way race:
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 232 pts
2 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank 207
3 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick-Step-Innergetic 204
25 points over Oscarita, 28 over Boonen. Not too shabby, but if you look at the course profiles, he may need every one of them to hang on. Boonen was plainly faster today, even at their top speeds, which raises some eyebrows after the last two weeks. Moreover, Robbie won't be making it over any serious climbs in the coming days in the lead group, not without a major, energy-depleting effort at least, and three of the remaining four stages which won't be contested by the GC folks all contain enough uphill slopes to leave him out of the fight. By comparison, Boonen is an outside threat to make it over these climbs in decent shape, and Freire an even more likely survivor. If either of these guys get away like Oscarita did today, they could play catch-up in a hurry.
Tomorrow: Robbie could survive the five cat-4 climbs tomorrow, though he isn't likely to be fresh as a daisy for the sprint. Prediction: Robbie is there, but loses a couple more points.
Sunday: Robbie's worst nightmare, a transitional stage with some positively fat climbs. He's going to work his ass off getting over the Cols de Perty and Sentinelle, both cat-2s. Prediction: he hasn't got a prayer of making it to the sprint, but I bet Freire will, and will make up serious ground this day. Oscarita won't win the stage, but he'll hang on to the first large group for a dozen points or so, might even take the intermediate sprint before the Sentinelle.
Next Friday: The cat-2 Col de Berthiand looms over this race, and could cause Robbie huge trouble, as it's 30km from an intermediate sprint and 65 km from the line. Everyone will be exhausted after the Alpes though, so the competition might not happen. Prediction: they all stay together at the line; Robbie coughs up a couple more points.
The Final Stage: The parade into Paris. More Robbie's speed, and if it's all on the line, the competition will be very intense. Definitely stay tuned...