As we leave the Alps behind us we look back at one thing: Heat. We had heat in the form of temperatures and we had heat in the form of competition. After last years tame opening battles in the Pyrenées this years opening mountain-stages were a veritable fireworks-display. Some guys can handle the heat and some can not.
On the attack
Loyal helpers. On stage 8 to Avoriaz we saw Dani Navarro on Astana drilling it at the front for what seemed like an eternity. Under his relentless pressure the front group shrunk to a small select elite. His work followed that of teammate Paolo Tiralongo, another strong support rider who has spent many seasons supporting ...... well I'm not quite sure what and I don't think he is either. Now though, he and Navarro are trusted with helping the No 1 rider in the peloton and they are rising to the occasion, giving everything they've got and doing it in an awe-inspiring way.
Today on the monster alpine stage we saw both the BMC team and the mountain support riders on Saxo Bank doing the same for their captains. BMC started the day by controlling things in a manner no one thought they could before the race started. Later, when the day turned into a nightmare for Cadel Evans they were once again there for him in a way that he has never seen on his days at *Lotto and he was visibly moved by their effort at the finish. The image of Evans leaning on teammate Mauro Santambrogio at the finish will surely be one of the lasting ones from this Tour de France.
Saxo Bank's effort was more like we have come to expect of them. Young Danes Sørensen and Fuglsang shouldered the responsibility given to them by setting a murderous pace that put most of the peloton in the red and ultimately launched Schleck and Contador. Up the road Jens Voigt was dropped from the breakaway only to connect with his young captain on the upper slopes of the Madeleine. Riding through ,what looked like and must have been, oceans of pain he offered respite for Schleck and helped open the gap to the groups behind. The pace he forced his body to produce must have taken years off his life but at the end of the day he and his fellow teammates had the ultimate prize for their efforts, The Yellow Jersey......and more work.
Off the back
Radio Shack While they didn't have a decidedly bad day today the accumulated result of last stage's disaster and the anonymous ride today leaves a picture of a team that is a shadow of it's former self. They were probably looking for an effort today that would revitalize the team and put them back on track in this Tour but it just didn't materialize. They tried several times in the hectic start of the stage to get into the day's long break but despite strong attempts by Brajkovic and Horner they ultimately missed out. Lacking a presence in the break it was up to Leipheimer to save the day but he, along with most of the field of favorites, had no answer as Andy & Alberto rode away. Armstrong rebounded strongly to stay in one of the frontgroups until the finish but this matters little now that he is out of the top of the GC . Ultimately, what looked like the absolute strongest team three days ago now seems lost in limbo. They have to regain their sense of purpose pretty fast if this isn't to be a wasted Tour de France for them.
Bradley Wiggins. With every second Wiggo loses in the general classification the chorus of "I told you so's" grows louder. The truth is that these haven't been two good stages for him and things are very likely about to get worse and not better. These were the days that were supposed to suit Wiggins and the problems many had foreseen for him in this TdF weren't expected to start until the fierce days in the Pyrenées. Now he is out of the running already after the Alps and for Sky the problem becomes how to salvage their Tour-premiere when their expensive signing has shrunk into obscurity? For Wiggins too this might be a rude awakening to the fact that sometimes watts/kg will only get you so far and there are qualities required of a Tour-champion that he quite simply does not possess yet.
"For me there is only room for one arrogant brit in the Tour and that is Monsieur Mark, he has better hair"