On paper, Astana had one of the best Tours in recent memory. First and third is hard to fault, especially when considering that the squad dominated the critical moments of the race, and met every challenge of a resurgent SaxoBank squad. So I should be recanting everything I said about the team back in June…right?
I’m not so sure. It’s rare to have two prima donnas taking catty swipes at each other so soon after a competition. Even “Kobe how my ass taste?” took a full year to bubble up. You think both Lance and AC would be willing to keep their yaps shut; Contador made some pretty compelling arguments with his legs over the past three weeks, and Lance’s Tour palmares speak for themselves as well.
I think it’s safe to infer that there was enough friction between the two to make the 40 seconds Lance stole in headwinds on Stage 3 seem like a slight bump of shoulders. it’s tempting to credit Johan Bruyneel for ushering his young charge to the line, but given the Belgian’s comments after Stage 17—and the fact that Contador seemed to feel compelled to pad his lead against his own teammates—it may be that Contador’s ’09 win will be viewed in spite of Johan’s leadership, not because of it.
It’d be going a bit far to say that Johan wanted the Spaniard to lose—”We Might as Well Win”, right? But I get the sensation that had Levi Leipheimer not made an untimely exit, Johan might have cooked up a little breakaway magic between his three lieutenants to humble Contador, or at least take some of the spotlight off his performances and put it on to the rest of the Astana team. Certiainly, Stage 20’s crawl to the top of Ventoux could have put SaxoBank over a log if Astana could have sent a rider up the road while retaining a numerical advantage behind.
As a final, strange footnote, perhaps the most unexpected outcome of the big freeze between LA and AC for me has been the reaction of the European press. You’d think it would be the French, who’d long nipped at the Texan’s yellow-clad heels, to be the ones to revel in his “demise” (if one can call finishing on the TdF podium a comeuppance).
But instead, the French have warmed to the man they once dubbed “The Iguana”, and it’s been the reporters from Spain, where Armstrong formerly had his European base of operations, that have trumpeted his supposed fall from glory, and fanned the flames between the 7-time Tour winner and the reigning champ.