by Bob Roll
(called in from Albi, France)
The early part of the Tour was dominated by the World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara of team CSC. He didn’t win the Prologue by a couple of seconds but rather 13 seconds, which was a landslide over Andreas Kloden and the rest of the field. Most of the sprinters who could normally expect to contend for the yellow jersey, as well as the stage wins, were cast adrift by the yellow rocket ship of Fabian Cancellara.
That, however, did not reduce their zeal for stage wins one iota. Robbie McEwen took right up where he left off on last year’s Tour on a dangerous stage to Canterbury and was followed by Steegmans, Pozzato, Hushovd and Boonen.
When the tour reached the Alps the real racing began. The jersey changed hands a couple of times since Cancellara’s domination of the Prologue. First, being taken by Linus Gerdemann and since by Michael Rassmussen.
After the Alpine stages, which provided us with absolutely spectacular images, the stages included wins by Tom Boonen (again), Cedric Vasseur and Robbie Hunter.
As we look forward to the first decisive time trial the most successful Tour for any of the teams has been for Barloworld, which was invited rather than qualified for the Tour. The privateers on the team have, so far, delivered two stage wins, far eclipsing the success of mega-budget squads like Discovery and Astana. Also, team CSC could not ask for a better scenario. Quick Step has now taken out four stage wins and Thor Hushovd provided Credit Agricole with a huge stage win for the French team.
Some teams that will still be looking for success as the race progresses are FDJ, Agritubel, Gerolsteiner, Discovery, Euskaltel, Caisse d’Epargne and Astana.
One of the most interesting battles pitted Alexandre Vinokourov against Christophe Moreau. Christophe Moreau attacked repeatedly on the road to Tignes when it was obvious that Vinokourov was in an extreme state of agony. On the stage to Montpellier, it was Vinokourov’s chance to punch Moreau’s Tour Day France ticket.
Bike racing at the highest level is about 2 things – suffering and revenge. Vinokourov suffered on the road to Tignes at the hands of Christophe Moreau and repaid him on the road to Montpellier by putting his team on the front with the crosswinds and putting three and a half minutes into Christophe Moreau with all the other GC contenders in tow.
In order to win the Tour you must pick your moments when you are going to inflict suffering. But you must never forget when it is your turn to suffer, if you hesitate to accept it you are lost.
Looking to the first big time trial, Albi, we will have a clear picture of the contenders and the pretenders. Rassmussen is looking rather shaky in yellow and there is no shortage of lunatics ready, willing and able to steal the yellow jersey away. On the horizon the decisive stages of the Pyrenees are looming large.
It has been a great Tour so far. One for the ages and at this point it is still anybody’s bike race.