Though I missed today's stage, which ended a tad early on the one day my kids slept in a bit, it sounds like the groundwork was laid for some immense racing over the next few days. Some highlights:
- 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.