Clearly Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador are the two alpha males fighting for supremacy in this year’s Tour de France. The two GC favorites put in a Herculean effort to chase down the remnants of the today’s breakaway on the descent of the Col de la Madeline and cemented their places atop the leader board, setting up a show down in the Pyrenees Mountains.
Race leader Cadel Evans cracked on the climb of the Madeline loosing more than eight minutes on the day and ending his chance of winning his first Tour de France. BMC team owner Jim Ochowicz revealed that Evans had ridden today’s stage with a fractured elbow sustained in Sunday’s eighth stage. Evans started the stage with his elbow heavily taped and put in a courageous effort but in the end, the Alps claimed another contender.
Evans was obviously distraught after the stage and teammate Mauro Santambrogio tried to comfort his team leader after escorting him to the finish. Sitting on the steps of the team bus, Evans was near tears as he tried to explain how the stage unfolded to Jim Ochowicz and directeur sportif John Lelangue. Evans said “I’m not at my normal level, but when you’re in yellow at the Tour de France, you’ve got to be there. The team was just fantastic but I’m the one who had the crash two days ago. I’m the one that is wearing the jersey and I’m the one that is vulnerable. I’m not my normal self if I get dropped by a group like that. Normally today was a chance for the stage-win and it wouldn’t have an effect on the GC. Now I’m pretty sure it’s all over for this year.”
With the demise of Evans, Andy Schleck dons the yellow jersey as the new race leader, 41 seconds ahead of Contador. Will Saxo Bank choose to defend the jersey over the next four days before the race moves into the Pyrenees? Clearly they have the fire power to do so but does directeur sportif Bjarne Riis want to expend his team’s energy before hitting the mountains? Stages 11 and 13 are really the only days left for the sprinters before the race hits Parris. Obviously HTC will be looking to narrow the gap between Cavendish and Hushovd and will be looking to control the pace so it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Saxo Bank to defend and Schleck to remain in yellow heading into the time trial on stage 19.
Look for tomorrow’s stage 10 to be a day for a breakaway to stay away as the peloton rolls through the foothills of the Alps to central France and the showdown in the Pyrenees. There are three more stages that provide opportunity for Saxo Bank to wage its war against Contador. Stage 14 should be an epic day as Schleck and Contador are likely to do battle up the HC Port de Pailheres followed by the summit finish atop the Cat. 1 AX-3 Domaines.
Stage 15 also provides a chance for Contador and Schleck to do battle but there is a 21 kilometer descent into Bagneres that will allow for anyone dropped to catch back on to the leader(s). I believe stage 16 will be a day where a small, albeit elite group will finish together with over 60 kilometers from the day’s final climb to the finish. However, the drama should be high on Stage 17 with its finish atop the epic Col du Tormalet.
Obviously this Tour is a long way from over and in a tour where it appears that if anything can go wrong, it will. Schleck and Contador have separated themselves from the pack but can Schleck separate himself from Contador to take his first Tour de France victory?
GC after stage 9:
|1||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||43:35:41|
|2||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana||0:00:41|
|3||Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi||0:02:45|
|4||Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank||0:02:58|
|5||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:03:31|
|6||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack||0:03:59|
|7||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank||0:04:22|
|8||Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne||0:04:41|
For more great Tour analysis, although he’s probably writing about World Cup today, visit my good friend Tim Liew @ The Armchair Sportsfan.