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Post-TTT Maillot Jaune Power Poll!

Le-tour-sm_mediumToday I joined the legions of Americans (mostly east of Pocatello) who had to go to work before watching the day's Tour drama unfolding live, but I say with some relief that there isn't usually that much to see in a team time trial. The teams ride, together or otherwise, and at the end they're given a time. Sure, the finer niceties of today's stage are very relevant to analyzing the team's ability to do the next TTT, but that's not til 2010 at the earliest. Everything else about today is in the past, including all the thrills and spills. And what we're left with is the beginnings of a maillot jaune battle. Let's start sorting it out, with the caveat that there are limits to what you can say before the Tour has gone uphill.

[And a process note: in future power polls we will quote past ones, for accountability purposes, as well as track the rider's movement in the poll. Since this is round one, we're keeping it simple.]

1. Alberto Contador, Astana

Subtracting the Astana sandwich he's in, plus a couple other non-climbers (sorry Cancellara) and Contador is actually off the front with no closer pursuer than Columbia's Tony Martin, 33 seconds back. And of the Usual Suspects, the closest is Christian VandeVelde at just under a minute. 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.Tourbecco_cropped_medium More likely the Accountant (try google translating "contador") will end the discussion with his legs at some point, however.

Tourbecco says: "I wonder how Lance feels about giving Contador the 'no gifts' speech back in 2007. D'oh!"

The rest of the gang, on the flip...

One more process note: if you are wondering who Tourbecco is, go here.

2. Lance Armstrong, Astana

Obviously there is an argument for reversing the order of the top two. No doubt that very thought rattles around the brain of one Johan Bruyneel approximately every 25 seconds. In my mind there is little doubt, however: Contador is every bit the known quantity right now that Lance is an unknown one. Even assuming Lance goes into yellow very soon, as he almost certainly will, Armstrong still has to drop Contador in the mountains in order to have a chance, just based on what we have seen so far. Contador beat Lance by 23" in the opening time trial, so if they stay together all the way to the final time trial in Annency, Lance will have trouble holding his current 19" advantage. My guess is that Lance gets better against the watchTourbecco_cropped_medium, 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.

Tourbecco says: "Um... kinda speechless at the moment."

3. Levi Leipheimer, Astana

With zero fanfare, Leipheimer is positioning himself for another Tour podium spot. He was excellent in stage 1, missed the split yesterday but otherwise has kept himself out of trouble, and watched most of his usual rivals drive their Tour hopes into the ditch along the way. Looking ahead, he should remain a huge factor. When riding his top objective for the season, 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, if Dauphine and stale Tour results are of much use. Oh, and he's doing the Giro-Tour double for the first time, another wild card. Regardless, Levi is so strong and accomplished at this point that I suspect Bruyneel has a third "quasi-protected rider" slot and it's Levi's to lose, though Klodi and Zubeldia will be close by if/when those Giro miles catch up to him.

Tourbecco_cropped_medium[And with that, I am excluding Andreas Kloden and Haimar Zubeldia from this poll, somewhat reluctantly, on the theory that at some point somebody on this team turns into a true domestique and sacrifices their overall chances. Left to their own devices, both these guys would fall squarely in the top ten. But something's gotta give.]

Tourbecco says: "The living embodiment of why 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' isn't just an empty catchphrase."

4. Andy Schleck, Saxo Bank

A year ago Saxo Bank were the master puppeteers, orchestrating much of the Tour toward a dramatic and successful conclusion through a highly effective three-week program. Now...? Riding competently today hasn't stopped their top rider from digging himself a 1.22 hole to Contador, a truly dangerous game. It's nice that Cancellara has held on to the yellow jerseyTourbecco_cropped_medium since Monaco, but if DS Bjarne Riis could trade Cancellara's alertness for Schleck's lack thereof when the peloton split up yesterday, you can bet he would. Riis, more than anyone else, knows that holding yellow in week one is fool's gold. The good news is that the Tour's focus now shifts to the mountains, where Schleck is a tad unproven but probably solid and possibly spectacular. The podium hasn't dropped out of sight yet, even if there are some other notable bodies now blocking the view.

Tourbecco says: "I love the Blues Brothers thing on his saddle, but does Riis know that the movie ends with Jake and Elwood back in prison?"

5. Roman Kreuziger, Liquigas

One of my favorite guys to watch so far in this race. Young Roman actually beat Lance Armstrong, Tony Martin, and Olympic silver medalist Gustav Larsson in the opening time trial, an awesome display of power for a kid who just turned 23. I try to stop myself from putting too much faith in youth at the Tour -- inexperience is exploited ruthlessly on the roads of France every year. But what's not to like here? In his only Tour (the Astana-free 2008 edition)Tourbecco_cropped_medium he was excellent in both the Alps and the Pyrenees. Now he's killing the time trial too. Contador may be the first mega-star of the Post-Lance generation (I know, I know...) but he will have plenty of company over the next decade.

Tourbecco says: "I thought the Italian teams were just here for eye candy?"

6. Christian VandeVelde, Garmin-Slipstream

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. Time trialing is supposed to be his big advantage, and yet he barely beat Andy Schleck in stage 1, and has his team to thank for his current 12th place. VandeVelde has seen his preparation derailed by the injuries he suffered in the Giro, and while he has obviously recovered most of his form after that mishap, I would caution his supporters to wait for the Andorra stage before assuming he's all the way back to being the VandeVelde of July, 2008. Tourbecco_cropped_mediumThis isn't a great course for him, but if he finds his best form in the next few days, it's not a terrible one either.

Tourbecco says: "Didn't he get Vaughters' tweet that the Podium was history? Wait, maybe JV was referring to us..."

7. Michael Rogers, Columbia-HTC

If my ranking of VandeVelde seems a tad ungenerous, this one might seem to lean too far the other way. But I still regard Rogers as a major curiosity at the Tour. Yes, his former prowess in the time trials seems to have gone away, but Mick 2.0 could climb the shorts off the former three-time world crono champion. The more well-rounded Rogers we see today is a team leader, coming off a Giro performance where he rode stride for stride with Carlos Sastre on the Block Haus stage, and squarely in his grand tour prime at age 29. IMHO, his past is of little use in evaluating his chances, since that Giro (which he may have riddenTourbecco_cropped_medium for training) was the first grand tour he finished since 2006. Don't sleep on Mick -- he may be the top-ranked Australian before this race is out.

Tourbecco says: "Speaking of Mapei... If there's a common thread to Rogers' employers (Mapei, Quick Step, T-Mobile, Columbia), it's not something Rogers will want to think about at the Tour."

8. Carlos Sastre, Cervelo Test Team

Hm, if memory serves me, someone around here predicted Sastre would squander little chunks of time over the first week and put himself in a bit of a hole. I wonder who that was...? Sastre does the same thing every year: mill around until week three and take a stab at the glory -- often a sound strategy, as last year's Tour victory showed. But Astana make this strategy much more dangerous by seeking early advantages and piling on the pressure from the start. 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. As long as Contador is upright, Sastre can forget about catching him.Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Tourbecco says: "Someone remind Carlos that Vroomen isn't paying him to be 2007 Oscar Pereiro."

9. Cadel Evans, Silence-Lotto

Quel domage! Nearly three minutes lost to Armstrong? On a course with no massive 50km time trials? This is kind of a shame, as Evans has looked tremendously strong and was sure to be in contention all the way to the base of Mont Ventoux, if he could just avoid any first-week pitfalls. 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.Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Tourbecco says: "Nice job proving the weakness in your team today. You did actually know that the watch doesn't stop until five guys finish, right?"

10. Linus Gerdemann, Milram

Der Leenoos can't be too shocked when his team put him in a 2.48 hole today; Milram might be getting their act together after a few years in the wilderness, but the team time trial doesn't take kindly to youthful rebuilding projects. Too bad, it's a major setback, but Gerdemann himself can probably count on better days ahead. And he has to like how Rabo and Silence have schlecked their chances.Tourbecco_cropped_medium

Tourbecco says: "Say what you will about the results, but that was the fastest herd of cows I've ever seen."

Chase Group: Franco Pellizotti, Tony Martin, Maxime Monfort, Vincenzo Nibali, Rigoberto Uran, Rui Costa, Igor Anton

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. Pellizotti is the only truly accomplished rider named, but he rarely ventures across the French border, and anyway his role amongst his young teammates is, well, evolving. 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. Uran, Costa and Anton are just kids... really talented kids. Stay tuned!

Off the back: Denis Menchov, Robert Gesink, Stijn Devolder, Mikel Astarloza, Kim Kirchen

Can we stop talking about Devolder and grand tours now please? Kirchen is actually decently placed, but like Astarloza his advantages were more in the early stages than the later ones, so any deficit right now is a problem. Menchov and Gesink are both reeling at the moment, wondering what else can go wrong. Is the fact that it's so early a good thing or a nightmare?