I think we are due for some actual positiveness about Andy.
Though this is not all positive, as I still believe he should ride the Giro.
Nevertheless, this will not happen, so how can he win the Tour with a route that is most unfavourable to him? It is difficult to remember a TDF with less significant mountains. Even in ’09 we had the Le Grand Bornard stage (nothing looks as decisive in 2012) and Venteoux (would have seen greater time gaps if Andy and Alberto hadn’t stopped and started the whole way up). This year we have only three genuine high mountain stages.
And two of those are less than 150kms in length.
If Andy races in a relatively normal fashion, which might mean accelerating on the final 6kms of stage 7, 11, 16 (of the final climb) and 17, then he will likely finish on the podium. In fact Andy is probably the most reliable rider to be on the podium. But it is difficult to see him win. Because he is relying on all of the GC riders who are decent in the TT to have a really bad day somewhere in the mountains. Because if one of them doesn’t I just can’t see Andy making up the time required to win.
He might gain twenty seconds on stage 7. Forty on stage 11. Twenty on stage 16 (losing some on the descent). Forty on stage 17. That’s only two minutes. Not enough to hang on against the likes of Evans, Menchov and possibly Sanchez in the time trials.
So to win he needs to try something out of the ordinary, like he did last year (only he should not have needed to do that then with the course being soooo favourable to him
). So this is my proposal.
Stage 7 is nothing extravagant. If he can get time he takes it, but even an attack from the bottom of the final climb may be unwise. With gains unlikely to be large, it would be smarter to conserve a little energy here for two days later, when he will need to ride as good an ITT as possible.
Stage 10 is tempting, given how much the Grand Columbier might suit him, but it’s not worth the risk of being caught in the run in to the finish.
Stage 11 is obviously a stage to try something. But it is only 140kms, and still being relatively early in the race, it would be more difficult to totally destroy the peleton. So I suggest that Andy’s domestiques push a hard pace on the final two climbs of the day, thinning out the group but not attacking, because Andy does not want to have no team mates left at the bottom of La Toussuire. By this point there maybe twenty riders, and Andreas or Chris can go to the front to set an even fiercer pace, hopefully putting some GC riders really under the pump. Then with 10kms to go and with less than ten riders in attendance, Frank takes over. Now we have riders strewn out all over the mountain. And when Andy feels like it he goes. He cannot win the Tour here. But he can take some relatively serious time. One minute on some. Maybe two minutes plus on others.
But that’s nowhere near enough, so now he hides in the peleton for a while.
Until stage 16.
This is the one stage where Andy can win it. It’s 197kms and has some very tough climbs. So what if the hardest come early? That gives greater scope for an outrageous all out attack.
There are three reasons why this is the stage to go all out. The length, the fact that it comes in the third week with a weakening peleton, and that it is the second last mountain stage rather than the final one. There might be a little more leeway given to early attacks then what there would be on stage 17.
Plus it also comes after a rest day
On the first climb of the day – the Aubisque - there will be a breakaway. An Andy domestique must be here. Someone like Andreas or Maxime; a strong guy who is out of GC calculations. This said rider will work hard with the group to ensure that it is the break of the day, and so over the Aubisque there ought to be a significant advantage over the peleton, who would not want to be riding too hard so early in the stage.
The Tourmalet is where the race will really start. Maybe one-third up it, another domestique goes. There should be no reaction from a major GC contender as that would be too risky. So this rider gets 20-30 seconds up the road, and then 6-8kms from the top Andy explodes from the pack.
Most probably can’t follow, or are too hesitant to try, given that we are still about 85kms from the finish. Before the top of the climb Andy catches his team mate, and the two ride together on the descent. It could be hoped that the sheer difficulty of the first two climbs will have already thinned out the support acts for Evans, Menchov and others. The peleton could find itself in a bit of disarray. Andy should already have at least a minutes advantage over the top.
Meanwhile the RSN rider in the leading group has been doing none of the work on Tourmalet. He is now just happy to sit there and wait, for his task to come later.
The problem with this plan is that the next climb – the Aspin – is not long. Well it’s listed as 12.8kms, but much of this is a false flat. It’s basically just a 5km climb. So does Andy shed his team mate here? I was thinking yes, but now seeing this profile probably no. With a harder climb we could have a situation where Andy drops said team mate near the bottom of the climb, then catches up to other team mate in reduced leading group before the top. I think now that Andy has to hope that just with working with his team mate that they can catch their other support act before the top of the Aspin.
And then we have the Peyresourde which is tough enough for Andy. It’s about 10kms all up, with the climbing really starting on the third one. So here Andy and initial breakaway team mate ride away from whoever else is with them. The hope would be that the peleton is at least three minutes in arrears.
The rest of the climb is consistently reasonably hard, so super domestique gives his absolute all now for as long as he can, and when he can go no more then it is up to Andy. The other option would be to work together and descend to the finish in Luchon together, however, it is difficult to imagine the domestique being close to as strong as Andy on the Peyresourde, and would the two of them working together be keeping the same pace as an angry peleton of GC elite?
Probably not. But I do see this stage as being the one opportunity for Andy Schleck to take major, major time on all his rivals. Stage 17 would be a case of doing the best he can, which may include just trying to stay with the other climbers on the MTF. And then it’s a matter of resting up for the final ITT.