Saturday, the bigs come out to play again, after Friday's brief suspension of hostilities. The second mountain-top finish of this year's Tour de France, Saturday's stage offers an opportunity for an ambitious rider to overturn the overall standings. The stage is short, but there is barely a centimeter of flat road to be found between Saint Gaudens and the summit of the Plateau de Beille. There are six categorized climbs on the menu.
Holy crap! That's a shit ton of climbing right there, ain't it? If it were longer, this would be one of those death march stages, where like three dudes reach the final climbs together. With the shortish length of the stage, the favorites should still have a few team mates along for the ride, but it'll be a small group in les Cabannes where the final climb begins. No time like the present for a little bike racing.
On Thursday, the first real mountain stage of the race, the favorites poked and jabbed at one another, but nothing especially decisive went down. That pattern should change on Saturday, though certainly there's still a whole lotta bike race before the Tour reaches its final mountain top finish next Friday on the Alpe d'Huez. Now, I'm just wondering who is going to attack first.
Pre-race favorite Alberto Contador currently sits 2:11 behind Fränk Schleck. Fränk? I feel like that's wrong. But it's not! It was really Fränk who went up the road on Luz Ardiden, while Andy Schleck sat on. If the two brothers play this tactic all the way through the mountains, it could be doomy for the other contenders. Really, it's hard to chase two climbers at once.
Contador needs to make some action and soon. He claims he has his rivals right where he wants them, and he's just waiting to make his move. Well, okay. Saxo Bank dissolved on Luz Ardiden. Maybe it'd be a good idea to put a rider in the early break? Just an idea, Bjarne.
Contador hasn't won six grand tours by accident. It's far too soon to count him out of this one. He might not want to wait too much longer, though, before he starts whittling down the gap that separates him from the top of the standings. He who hesitates loses the bike race. It's true!
Cadel Evans and Ivan Basso managed to keep Fränk Schleck from running out the clock on Wednesday and both enter this crucial mountain stage well-positioned. Evans, who has an advantage in the final time trial in Grenoble, sits 17 seconds behind Fränk Schleck. Basso sits 1:27 behind Fränk Schleck and 1:01 behind Andy Schleck. Like Contador, Basso will have to attack in the coming mountain stages if he wants to wear Yellow in Paris. Tomorrow would be a good time to put Szmyd on the front to do his Szmydy thingy.
Damiano... who? Cunego is just 9 seconds behind Basso and sixth overall. After the first mountain stage. Like, how long has it been since we've seen that? I don't even know when. Cunego looked to be on his limits at the end of Luz Ardiden, but he did make it to the finish with the favorites. I think I'm not going to say anything more.
Tom Danielson, also. He's in the top ten in the overall. Really, I never thought I'd see the day. Holding breath, crossing fingers, not saying a word.
With its draw-out finale, Friday's stage to Lourdes was never going to tempt the bigs into trying their luck. That's okay, the race was plenty exciting without them. Jérémy Roy, I do hope that dude wins a stage someday. He's spent three days and nearly 600 kilometers off the front of the Tour de France. He's won the combativité prize and wears the mountains jersey, but all he really wants is a stage win. Dear Tour de France Fairy, Please bring Jérémy Roy a stage win. Thanks in advance. xoxo, Gav. Think it'll work?
But there was no doubt once Thor Hushovd started doing his Thor thing that he had the stage victory well in hand. David Moncoutié had the unenviable task of trying to ride against Hushovd when the World Champion had victory in view.
It was the wrong breakaway at the wrong time for Moncoutié, though he was right in thinking that Friday was a day for the escape to survive. Working with Hushovd meant catching Roy and going to the line with a sprinter, which is never fun for a climber like Moncoutié. Moncoutié mostly sat on, not like that did him much good either. Maybe next time.
Hushovd, meanwhile, took his ninth career victory and won a stage in his sixth straight Tour de France. Not bad at all. Transfer rumors began immediately.
On to the final Pyrénées stage of this year's Tour. By the end of Saturday, we should have a reshuffled general classification. If not, I'm so flying to France and wacking the favorites about the head and shoulders with soggy noodles. Race, dudes, race! I suspect, in fact, that they will. See you tomorrow!