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Power Poll: Down to the Wire!

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Past editions of the Power Poll have resisted saying too much about the upcoming stages, in part because I tend to be wrong a lot and in part because the riders hadn't really been tested prior to today. Now the wraps are off, so consider this PP a look to Sunday's final GC.

 

1. (1) Alberto Contador, Astana ↔

Then: "What they should be saying is "this is the best grand tour rider alive," and "he's about to eat your lunch."

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: Coasting to victory. He didn't seem to dig too deep today, choosing perhaps to save a little bit for tomorrow -- the wise move, considering the strength of the Schleck Boys today, and their vulnerability tomorrow.  Now, he wins unless he blows up on Mont Ventoux, and I don't see much chance of that happening.

Tourbecco's Take: "Shoot me now."

To the flip:

2. (5) Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank ↑

Then: "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_cropped_mediumNow: The Luxembourg Climbing Sensation! Young Andy has solidified his standing as a future Tour contender for the next decade or so with his aggressive work over the last two days, proving that he's fine with the highest mountains as well as the three week format. Sure, it would have been nice had he not dumped 80 seconds in the first week, but the gap between him and Contador remains time trialing, something that may take more than the next 18 hours to correct. I suppose you can't rule out a win on Mont Ventoux, which would be a pretty huge memento of his breakout Tour.

Tourbecco's Take: "What do you mean Andy can't time trial? Didn't you see the end of Liege-Bastogne-Liege?"

3. (2) Lance Armstrong, Astana ↓

Then: "Before people start jumping to conclusions, he has yet to finish ahead of Bradley Wiggins in a mountain stage."

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: He and Schleck the Elder are a tossup, but I will go with Lance here, as his advantage in the time trial is a bit more certain than Frank's advantage today on the climbs. Now that we're done analyzing the Astana team's internal dynamics (right?), it's time to give Lance his due for doing pretty much what he said he would. He tested Contador to see who was strongest, and when the answer came back in the Spaniard's favor, Lance went about racing for his teammate as well as his own podium spot. For a guy of his stature, that's honorable enough. But he also came to France to make a case for the sanctity of his past wins, and... maybe we'd better shelve that for later.

Tourbecco's Take: "Lance tweets that he had a decent day today. No, wait, now he's getting a massage. Hang on... I think he's headed to dinner..."

4. (NR) Frank Schleck, Saxo Bank ↑

Then: [Crickets] In fairness, there were a lot of guys bunched together...

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: What the hell got into Frank? I will nominate today as his best Tour performance and this year as his best overall effort... quite a shocker considering he came in with a suspect knee. Yeah, I remember his win on Alpe d'Huez in 2006, but the race leaders didn't chase him that day. And I also remember his fifth overall last year, but more and more it looks like Astana's absence calls for an asterisk or something. I'm not sure which Schleck has proven more in the last couple days, but if either of them ever figures out the time trial, Riis will have himself quite a tandem going forward. The only sour note is how deep Frank dug today... not ideal before the crono.

Tourbecco's Take: "I would have given my cousin the stage win after he paced me on a climb like that, if he hadn't been murdered by evil Swedes."

5. (10) Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas ↑

Then: "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"

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: The Tour's other revelation. He met his match today on the steepest pitches, but only briefly, and his time trialing should help bring back a part of the deficit, as his phenomenal descending did today. Warning, I am more than a little biased here: southern Italian, unblemished rep, cool nickname, and a mad downhiller. That's the whole package in my book. Of course, Contador is THE whole package, but you get my drift. I'd bet the ranch on him focusing on winning the Giro in 2010, checking that off his list, before joining the twentysomething fray at the front of the next decade of Tours.

Tourbecco's Take: "Shouldn't he get a couple domestiques named Jimmy and Cheech?"

6. (7) Bradley Wiggins, Garmin-Slipstream ↑

Then: "But surely the clock strikes midnight sometime shortly after the race enters the Alps, no?"

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: So, that would make it about 1:30 in the morning now? Well, this crappy analogy ends with two more tests, one very much to his liking tomorrow and another Saturday where he could be in a world of trouble. No matter though, Wiggins is now a GC guy for the next 3-4 years, and on the right course (Giro?) he might get his podium spot. 

Tourbecco's Take: "Can we change his given name to Henry? Cuz his pygmalion trick is a smash hit!"

7. (NR) Andreas Kloden, Astana ↑

Then: [Crickets...] Actually I had been ignoring him on the theory that he was a domestique.

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: Nobody's fortunes fell faster on the Col de la Columbiere today than Klodi's. Sure, plenty of people saw their hopes snuffed earlier, but Kloden looked like a sure podium finisher for about a half hour, matching the Schlecks and his captain Contador stroke for stroke... until that one little acceleration, whereupon Andreas found himself staring into the abyss. The fact that he dropped 2.27, including more time in the final KM, tells me that he was about to implode whether Contador hit the gas or not. Anyway, what seemed like a dream ride now looks like a mirage, and Der Andreas' legendary time trialing won't mean much if he can't recover from today's desperate effort.

Tourbecco's Take: "Darn... I was hoping to see him handing bottles up to Contador from the third step during the Podium ceremony Sunday."

8. (4) Christian VandeVelde, Garmin-Slipstream ↓

Then: "Many unanswered questions on this team, but it would be nice if they could parlay their current situation into some gratifying results."

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: VandeVelde takes home the great teammate award, sacrificing his interests (somewhat) with a smile on his face in service of Wiggins' insurgent campaign. I say somewhat because CVV is pretty well locked into eighth place overall, which is on par with last year when you add in the Astanii, and impressive considering his less-than-ideal preparation. Chapeau!

Tourbecco's Take: "Nice guys finish eighth. Just like last year."

9. (NR) Roman Kreuziger, Liquigas ↑

Then: [Crickets] I had plenty to say before, but he dropped out of the last poll.

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: If VandeVelde is the best of the rest, Kreuziger may yet wind up the best of the rest of the rest. He sits eleventh, two seconds behind Astarloza, and needs 90 seconds or so on Cristophe Le Mevel, he of the 128th place finish in the first time trial. Anyway, he has gotten slightly better as the race has worn on, which bodes well for the future.

Tourbecco's Take: "So does this end the Basso-Kreuziger team leadership polemica?" [rubbing hands gleefully...]

10. (8) Carlos Sastre, Cervelo Test Team ↓

Then: " Carlos knows better, though whether he can do anything about his other problems -- the whole Astana thing -- is another matter."

Tourbecco_cropped_mediumNow: No Sastre Magic this time around. If I'm him, I'd take it a bit easy tomorrow and go all out for the stage win on Mont Ventoux. That's the only way he can save his Tour defense.

Tourbecco's Take: "Those journos who weren't asking him about his chances... not looking too bad right now."