It's a weird question to ask when we haven't even ventured into the mountains, but one wonders. Will tomorrow's jaunt Mt. Ventoux or the next day's even harder trek (possibly) make a difference? Is Evans' lead just too much to overcome? Possibly more to the point, will anyone really try? Below I assess the main contenders. First here's the current GC top ten:
1 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto 11.16.19
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0.45
3 Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team Columbia - High Road 0.48
4 Frantisek Rabon (Cze) Team Columbia - High Road 1.07
5 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 1.09
6 Stef Clement (Ned) Rabobank 1.33
7 Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Quick Step 1.46
8 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 1.54
9 Koos Moerenhout (Ned) Rabobank 2.01
10 Mikel Astarloza Charreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 2.07
1. Cadel Evans-current yellow jersey holder. The question for Cadel is how hard will he defend his lead if he gets pressured? Judging from last year's Dauphine where he attacked Valverde only to come up just short, I'd say yes, he'll try quite hard. I'm guessing that Cadel thinks that a hard effort in the Dauphine, like last year, does not hurt his chances in the Tour at all and so he'll stay glued onto at least Contador's wheels and not let anyone else get a large lead if he can at all help it. To use Hillary Clinton's phrase, he's in it to win it.
2. Alberto Contador-45 seconds behind Cadel. Bert is the only goat within current shouting distance of Cadel, meaning Evans should shadow Bert. But we know from the past that Bert can blast away from any rider on a mountain climb. Will he tomorrow and/or the next day? My guess is doubtful. Contador is saying he's not here to win the race and to me his TT today showed that he's not in top form yet. The main question remains is that he's said he's been mainly training in the mountains so maybe he has something there that he hasn't had a chance to show us. But again, I think not really. Oh, he'll take a dig or two at Cadel, but I think it'll be halfhearted. Cadel I think could even gap Bert if he wanted to (which he probably won't). The other card here though is Haimar Zubeldia, 3'01" down. If Astana is serious about contesting they could send Haimar up the road, which Cadel would have to worry about and so burn his domestiques, leaving either Haimar for the win or opening up a chance for Bert to make a late attack. But is Astana serious about contesting the win? Not sure if they want to use Zubeldia that way before the Tour.
As an aside here I want to talk a bit about Bert and sandbagging. I've seen a bunch of posters say that he is doing just that. I totally disagree and in fact say that Bert's about as honest a racer in predicting his form and a race as anyone out there- probably because he's totally confident of his abilities to beat anyone if he's in good form or close to it. The thing is he's so good that his "not my best" is top five in any stage race, minimum. That means when he's downplaying his chances he's thinking he'll only get top five or podium rather than win the damn race. He also predicts quite accurately how any mountain stage will go. Anyway, back to the race handicapping on the flip...
3. Stef Clement-1'33" down to Cadel. (With all due respect to Grabsch, Rabon, and Millar, they aren't here for the overall.) Stef is a real dark horse here. I don't know if you've been following him this year, his first at Rabobank, but IMO he's turned into a good mountain domestique who'll be at minimum quite important to Menchov's and Gesink's chances in the Tour. So in this race it's not crazy to think that maybe Rabo will play a game with Clement and Bobo Gesink (2'38" down) and try to spring either the next couple of days. (More likely than Astana IMO.) Stef is much closer to the overall lead than Bobo so I give him a chance, although it's not likely to succeed as Cadel will stay close to these riders as well. Still a late attack by Bobo could succeed-if his form is good and I'm sure of that.
4. Alejandro Valverde-1'54" down to Cadel. The Green Bullet is a real wild card here. Most of us are thinking that, hell he's not riding the Tour so he might as well lay it on the line here, but I'm not totally convinced that he thinks he won't be allowed in the Tour and if so he might hold back a bit and not really try in the mountains. But then again, he might not worry about his form come Tour time (like Cadel) so we might well see him blasting away tomorrow. Regardless, I'm sure Cadel will be watching him. Caisse d'Epargne has a good team here so they might well try to ride Evans into the pavement, leaving room for others to also attack Cadel. Still, almost two minutes down is awfully far back. Note: I don't see Gutierrez as quite being able to pull off a double move with Valverde like I can imagine Astana, Rabobank, and Liquigas possibly doing.
5. Mikel Astarloza-2'07" back from Cadel. Strong rider but history says that Cadel is better in the mountains and at two minutes back, Cadel would basically have to lay down for the Euskie rider to win. He's also too close for Cadel to let him go on a break.
6. Vincenzo Nibali-2'12" down to Cadel. Somehow I see Nibali and Ivan Basso (3'28" back) playing games in a similar fashion to the Rabobank duo above provided Basso has anything left in his tank. I say he does and they try to light things up tomorrow. I can also see Cadel letting Basso go on his own tomorrow-which could make things dicey for Cadel.
7. Christian Knees-2'37" back from Cadel. What? Knees has a chance? Shirley I'm joking! Yes, I do think he has a chance, though a small one. He has some climbing ability and you never know-if Knees is feeling frisky and Cadel thinks he's to far back to worry about then good things might happen. All right I seriously doubt this scenario will pan out but at this point I'm clutching at straws.
8. The Rest of the Field. Bak (2'13" um back), Gutierrez (2'47" back) and others. I can easily see Cadel letting riders gap him who aren't who he perceives as a threat. The question is how far back does one have to be to be not such a threat? Bak? Gutierrez? Trofimov (3'13" down)? Moos (3'26" down)? Or do you have to be further back like five minutes or more? We'll see who has the form-and wants to use it.
So give me a scenario of how this race will play out. And stop calling me Shirley.