21-year-old French climbing prodigy Pierre Rolland took second and was one of the three aggressors at the top of Le Saleve. Stage winner Cyril Dessel was better, or did a better job of timing his aggression, but the sight of Credit Agricole, AG2R and Bweeg (Tommy Voeckler) duking it out in a major stage race is a pleasant one. As I've often said, Cycling needs France back.
Leader Alejandro Valverde was nervously looking over his shoulder at Evans and Leipheimer, according to the man himself. But Evans said today "wasn’t really a day to attack. You could spend a lot of energy, but you might not get much from the effort." Valverde's DS Eusebio Unzue shaped up the race accordingly: "If Alejandro can get over the Joux-Plane in the yellow jersey, then everything will be decided on La Toussuire." So no sleeping in Saturday.
Valverde, for his part, was diplomatically realistic about winning: "I want to be careful not to use too much energy before the Tour. At the same time, I’m not here just to train and I love to win!" He also claims to have worked hard on his time trialing, for you conspiracy theorists ;0
Taken together? Tomorrow's trip up the Joux-Plane will be a test of survival but perhaps little more. At 125km it's a short stage, and but for one of the sport's most fearsome climbs it would hardly raise an eyebrow. Add in the long descent off the Joux-Plane to Morzine, and you've got very little chance for gaps. But legs will be sore Friday night, leading to Saturday's potentially decisive moments:
233 km with two massive climbs and an uphill finish? Yeah, I think by then we'll know who's here to win. My money is heavily on Leipheimer, the only guy among the big three with nothing to lose. But he's a cautious guy, and there are any number of superb climbers looming over his shoulder, with potential ambitions: Dessel, Maxime Monfort, Robert Gesink, to name a few.