Jul 21 2009
Proponents of the notion that the Tour was at long last “clean” pointed to Contador’s relatively pedestrian ascent of Arcalis. They will take less heart in the young Spaniard’s record-setting performance at Verbier. John Wilcockson, with the prerequisite credulity of a man whose latest book is titled Lance Armstrong: World’s Greatest Champion sees a difference in the wind.
That’s not to say I think Contador is doping—I don’t. While his initial jump was fantastic, and he built his lead all the way to the line, Sunday was far from the knockout blow his wild podium gesticulations suggested. Both Schlecks got clear and gained time on Lance and Kloeden, shortening Astana’s GC leverage, and the Spaniard’s two nearest GC rivals—Brad Wiggins and Lance Armstrong—have an excellent chance of regaining time in the mid-Alps TT.
Lance Armstrong, for his part, had one of the more notable performances on the day. His climbing improvement since the Giro seems believable, given the apparent weight-loss at his waistline and under his cheekbone, and had he not chased down Contador’s earlier escape with the elder Schleck, both he and the team might be better postured on GC.
As much as I personally dislike the Cult of Lance, I respect the skills, and find the pronouncement of his death in the Spanish press entirely premature. If he is truly capable of an “A” level performance, compared to his self-assessed “B-” from Sunday, Contador might not want to breathe easy just yet—especially considering the sudden crowd support the Texan might get. For years, the French have been dying to watch Armstrong struggle; now that the gift has been given, they may feel more a bit more sentimental toward its bearer.
Despite a gutty performance through a jour sans, I think it’s safe to cross Cadel Evans off the list of this year’s contenders—which, ironically, may just save his Tour. The strongest teams will almost certainly have bigger fish to fry should Cadel go wandering again, and there’s plenty of glory still to be had in this year’s race. Just be careful to give the man some space after the stage, even if his shoulder is feeling better this time around.