To the uneducated eye, today might have looked like the Disco boys tapping out the old Postal Two-Step (step 1: go really fast, drop everyone else; step 2: Lance attacks.) But careful analysts will note that Lance was forced to ride on his own in a small group for over 10k on the final climb of Courchevel today, outnumbered the entire time by Illes Balears. Not only that, but dropped riders were constantly clawing back on, and both Leipheimer and Basso were able to limit their losses due to Lance’s isolation over the final kilometers.
Sure, the end result was still excellent, but this squad, no matter how much Lance tries to talk it up, is nowhere near as strong as it was at its peak in 2002. With a teammate in the final group, like he used to have in Heras, Landis or Azevedo, Lance would have had at least a shot at a stage win against Valverde. Where was Azevedo today? The spritely climber from Portugal was one of the first riders shelled on the final ascent. Soon after, Triki Beltran cashed his check. In fact, the last two riders with Lance today weren’t pure climbers but the unflappable George Hincapie and the all-arounder Popovich; these two aren’t pancakes (as Lance would put it), but they lack the burning uphill speed to shred a 12-man heads-of-state group.
So what happened to the climbers? Simple: DC simply doesn’t have enough fat men. Pavel Padernos can crank like a mofo, but he can’t do it for 3 weeks. The squad needs hard dudes like Eki, Benoit Joachim and the recently departed Victor Hugo Pena to keep the skinnies fresh for the climbs. As the race goes on, I think this shortcoming will continue to become more and more obvious.
Anyway, sweet stage. I love recalling the little things you forget about Tour climbs, like Mancebo’s O-face or the French cameras constantly cutting back to Christophe Moreau, so that the entire country can see how badly their best rider sucks. Valverde is the man for cranking big fat gears; I consider today a victory for opponents of compact cranksets everywhere. Nice also to finally see the King of the Mountains fighting it out with the leaders at the end of a mountain stage. Big Tex might have his hands full with Skinny Denmark over the next couple of stages. It’s just a shame Rassmussen can’t TT his way out of a wet paper bag.