This is the maillot jaune edition, naturally. I would say we learned a handful of things from the first major phase of the race. One, the first major phase of the race always has been and always will be overrated (if it's rated at all). The Tour is won in the final week, regardless of what ASO tells us every year starting with the course rollout in December and continuing until, well, the final week of the Tour. Two, the first week of the Tour is a perfectly good time to torpedo your chances, if you aren't lucky or careful or both. Three, while a mix of skills is often relevant to determining the final outcome, "being Alberto Contador" is probably the single most important skill a rider can possess.
Apologies here: we had company all weekend and my ability to really watch these stages was compromised, so please feel free to contradict and fill in blanks as you see fit. Nothing new about that. Anyway, here ya go. Last week's ratings in (parens):
1. (1) Alberto Contador, Astana ↔
Then: "Considering Contador's special power is climbing, it's hard to say right now that the final outcome will ever be in doubt. This Tour could resemble the 1996 edition of Paris-Roubaix, where three Mapei teammates entered the velodrome all by themselves, and the "sprint" for the win was decided by a call to the team car."
Now: My take on the Polemica is that Bert is secretly kind of pissed. I mean, what on Earth was wrong with him taking off to Arcalis and putting 20 seconds into everyone? JB & co. are saying evenhanded things about "all working as a team" and "see who's strongest," in order to quell the media storm. But what they should be saying is "this is the best grand tour rider alive," and "he's about to eat your lunch."
Tourbecco's Take: "Highlight of the Tour so far: when Bad Bert told Good Bert to shove it, and he galloped away from the field with ease."
The rest, where they belong... on another page:
2. (2) Lance Armstrong, Astana ↔
Then: "My guess is that Lance gets better against the watch, but at some point Contador will climb away on his own. That said, the mere thought of Armstrong taking three years off and slipping right back into yellow is mind-boggling."
Now: Before people start jumping to conclusions, he has yet to finish ahead of Bradley Wiggins in a mountain stage. Perhaps that says more about Wiggo (stay tuned), though more likely it says more about those mountains. Point is, until we see Armstrong excel on the Tour's hardest days, we can't honestly say we know where this is headed.
Tourbecco's Take: "For a polished veteran he sure makes some odd PR choices. I mean, since when are black helmets a good image?"
3. (3) Levi Leipheimer, Astana ↔
Then: "Leipheimer has an established history of riding extremely well in the Pyrenees (both sides), and can be counted on to ace the Annency ITT as well. The biggest question mark has to do with his ability to survive the Alps, where he's had trouble, and Mont Ventoux, which he's handled pretty well over the years."
Now: Nuzzled up with his teammates so far. The Pyrenees were never going to be his problem. The question for Levi is whether he makes up anything at Mont Ventoux, or Annency, since he's probably going to get shelled at some point in the Alps.
Tourbecco's Take: "Word of warning: reflected light only seems as bright as the source. It's not."
4. (6) Christian VandeVelde, Garmin-Slipstream ↑
Then: "I know Garmin fans will find this ranking a tad low, but hear me out. I am proceeding cautiously with VandeVelde's outlook until the Pyrenees."
Now: Well, we don't yet have much info to go on, but Christian made it in on stage 7 with the big names, 21" behind Contador, while a lot of other supposed contenders did not (Kreuziger, Monfort, Kirchen, etc.). So I guess he's on form. He also has an extremely useful teammate in Wiggins actually ahead of him on GC. Many unanswered questions on this team, but it would be nice if they could parlay their current situation into some gratifying results.
Tourbecco's Take: "Is anyone else floored by the prospect of three Americans in the Top Four?"
5. (4) Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank ↓
Then: "Riding competently today hasn't stopped their top rider from digging himself a 1.22 hole to Contador, a truly dangerous game."
Now: This Tour is really going to test his nerve. Not only did the first week offer the usual assortment of pitfalls for a younger rider, but now Andy has to sit on that deficit for another eight frustrating days before he can do anything about it. The Pyrenees offered little redemption for anyone in need. That said, Schlecklet hasn't done anything terribly wrong. We fans should be rooting for him to be in prime form next week, we will be desperate for a real mountain battle by then.
Tourbecco's Take: "When you're only 24, the Tour is something that happens to you."
6. (CG) Tony Martin, Columbia-HTC ↑
Then: "Martin is the best-placed here and a strong top-10 contender, except that Monfort is probably more ready for such an effort, and they might all find themselves in service of Rogers."
Now: I dunno about Monfort, or anyone else on this team. Rogers, of course, fell and lost big time. Martin, meanwhile, seems buoyed by the white jersey and is sitting in on everyone else. Likely his day of reckoning is only a week off, but given his inexperience nobody can really say for sure.
Tourbecco's Take: "Dude still needs a nickname. The Cottbus Express?"
7. (NR) Bradley Wiggins ↑
Now: Boy, this is a shocker. Nothing in his recent past suggests he should be climbing around with the big boys. Time trialing? Sure, no problem. But surely the clock strikes midnight sometime shortly after the race enters the Alps, no? Maybe even to Verbier? I will assume I don't know anything about races that haven't happened yet, and score Wiggo appropriately high on the strength of his lying fifth and finishing with the first group Friday. But that's a rather unskeptical take.
Tourbecco's Take: "All due respect... No."
8. (8) Carlos Sastre, Cervelo Test Team ↔
Then: "Also, this year's course is a bit more front-loaded than the last. Sastre can find the 2.44 he's lost already on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, but that's a ray of hope for his podium chances."
Now: Er, course front-loaded? Not so much. Apparently I am such an astute observer of cycling that I fell for Le Tour's annual "those first two weeks will be surprisingly important!" ruse. Carlos knows better, though whether he can do anything about his other problems -- the whole Astana thing -- is another matter.
Tourbecco's Take: "If you could team up Sastre's patience with Andy Schleck's legs, you might really be onto something."
9. (9) Cadel Evans, Silence-Lotto ↔
Then: "Of course, subtract the Astana boys and you can imagine Evans picking off most of the guys in front of him over the next 18 days, but that's a pretty stupid hypothetical. Top five is almost surely his best hope now."
Now: It's hard to read people's minds, even moreso when relying on the media to help. One article today had Evans pluckily saying it isn't over, another had him admitting that maybe it is. Somehow I don't think the confusion is Evans'. The fact is he rides perfectly well in the Alps, probably won't mind the slow grind of Mont Ventoux, and wouldn't be in such dire straits if his team weren't completely hopeless in the TTT. Same sh%t, different day.
Tourbecco's Take: "One last podium place? Oy! Oy!"
10t. (NR) Rinaldo Nocentini, AG2R ↑
Now: I feel I'd be remiss if I completely left out the maillot jaune, so here's your token Nocentini mention. He has no history of excelling for more than a stage here and there. His time trialing can charitably be called indifferent. It is nice to see AG2R, one of France's less anonymous teams, on the front of the pack, but if anyone scores this as a victory for French cycling, they need to have their head examined. A middlin' Italian stage-hunter gets set up in Yellow while Astana hang back through the flat stages? Enjoy the fun while it lasts, if you call turning your team inside out every day fun.
Tourbecco's Take: "Nice practice for the AG2R boys. Too bad the Tour de l'Avenir uses national teams; this could be good practice for protecting Max Bouet."
10t. (CG) Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas ↑
Then: "This gruppetto consists of riders who might all be great fun to watch, but have absolutely no track record (yet) of success in the major climbs of the Tour."
Now: Best of the unknown young guys so far, and that includes his more heralded teammate Kreuziger, who couldn't hack it in the Pyrenees for some unknown reason. Selecting Nibali here is a bit of a placeholder, as the very different slopes of the Alps might show us another side of both riders and Kreuziger is still a very respectable 2.40, only 46" back of Vinny. But so far Nibali has been very strong, and someone I hope will impress even more as the race goes on.
Tourbecco's Take: "If the Kreuziger - Basso sniping match goes on long enough, Vinny will have to choose between the older Northerner and his Czech classmate. My money's on the latter."
Bridging Up? Vlad Karpets, Luis Leon Sanchez, Mikel Astarloza, Maxime Monfort, Linus Gerdemann
Falling Back: Roman Kreuziger, Mick Rogers, Kim Kirchen, Denis Menchov, Haimar Zubeldia, Laurens Ten Dam, Jurgen Van den Broeck
Peeling off the number: Robert Gesink, Oscar Pereiro