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Tour de France 2009- Preview & Predictions

Jul 3, 2009
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I have written a preview of the race, and will be updating it daily on my blog. The full preview can be found here....http://mtgilchrst.wordpress.com/

I am certainly open to any discussion on this...

Tour de France Preview



While I am not sure that the suspense for the final winner is there, I will still do my best to give you my picks for top 10 in reverse order. Admittedly, several of these placings will probably be close, and could be muddled, but hey….there’s nothing wrong with making picks I want to see, either. So, here we go…..

10. Christian Vande Velde (USA- Garmin- Chipotle) Admittedly, this is a pick based on homeland favoritism, and not as much based on logic or on results this year. I was impressed, though, with his ride last year, and I believe that he gained a lot of confidence on his ability to follow the best in the Tour, and that could help him when it gets tough. Unfortunately, his lack of fitness after his injuries in May could hurt him, but the course will help him ride himself into shape, with the tougher stages being in the 2nd half. A good start is key to his chances.

9. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg- Saxobank) I am giving him this pick because I see him supporting his brother this year, and not the other way around. Frankly (no pun intended), he has had a poor season, and he might not have the form to really be a contender this year, although if Andy is in contention, he will dig in as deep as he can, which may be good enough for a top 10 placing.

8. Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg- Columbia-HTC) While I don’t think that he will find the success he had last year, when he fought for early stages and wore the yellow jersey, I think he is a strong Tour rider who will quietly follow the leaders, and not make many mistakes. He will do well to finish here, but I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that he advances from last year. He will need to save his energy in the first half, and be aggressive in the second half. Perhaps he will take a dig at the polka-dot jersey?

7. Lance Armstrong (USA- Astana) Alas, this might be the best that the 7-time Tour champion will finish, if he is fortunate. His strengths include experience and panache, which could conceivably put him in the top 5, but after watching him in the mountains in Italy, I don’t see him matching the absolute best. If his training has allowed him to recover from the Giro, he could still vie for a stage, maybe, but there are too few time-trial kilometers for him to contend for much more. With that in mind, I don’t see him actively sacrificing himself for Contador, or even for Contador to need it. Armstrong will ride as a 3rd in command, and while not being a purely protected rider, he will perhaps be given his opportunity to take a chance at a stage win (by his team), should he fall out of contention in the mountains.

6. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg- Saxobank) Pundits seem to like him as a real podium contender, with Cycle Sport picking him 2nd. To me, I think he may be the 2nd best climber in the race, but he will need to demonstrate more in the time-trial to distinguish himself. He has enjoyed a good season, and is on good form, but I wonder if his team is as strong as in the past. Last year, they benefited by having three cards in the leader’s hand, and played off each other on Alpe d’Huez en route to the Sastre win. This year, I see Schleck as being the clear leader, and I wonder if he has the mental strength to deal with this. A good rider, and a future contender still, but he hasn’t proven himself to me, YET.

5. Denis Menchov (Russia- Rabobank) Frankly, Menchov looked really good at the Giro last month. Very strong in the mountains, and unbeatable in the time trials. Unfortunately, this may be part of the problem…he looked TOO good. I have to wonder if he didn’t spend too much of his energy in Italy. He will be a player in the race, but I have to wonder if he will be able to attack in the Alps and gain time over his rivals to finish much higher than this. I have to think that he may have hit a peak already. That being said, if you are not going to win the Tour, a Giro win and a Tour top 5 placing is pretty good consolation.

4. Levi Leipheimer (USA- Astana) This may be too high of a placing, but I am banking on some serious gains in the time trials. Levi looked tired in the second half of the Giro, but on the flip side, I think that when he realized that he was not going to win, I didn’t see him killing himself either. He is also on the best team, and will be one of the last riders with Contador day in and out. He showed in Spain last year that he can follow the best, but will never attack his leader. A podium placing isn’t out of the question, unless he has to sacrifice his own chances to help Contador.

3. Cadel Evans (Australia- Silence Lotto) I think that Evans’ chance to win the Tour is gone. He had has best shot last year, and he was beaten. He has absolutely no team to support him in the mountains, and as evidenced at the recent Dauphine, while he has tremendous form, he cannot win the race on his own. Like Leipheimer, he is one of the best time trialists, but will never be able to out climb the specialists.

2. Carlos Sastre (Spain- Cervelo) This spot is given to him in honor of his being the defending Tour de France champion. It is worth stating that he was the most consistent rider last year, on the best team, and he really only one the race on one day. I can say here, with no disrespect, that he beat the field that showed up, but would not have beaten Contador, nor do I believe that he would have beaten Leipheimer. With that in being said, he has proven himself a worthy champion, and has ridden well this year, with several strong days in the Tour of Italy. Even though he may be one of the most consistent Grand Tour riders of his generation, and he is clearly closer to the end of his career than the beginning, his win seems to have elevated his confidence and his stature. His new team, while not as strong as Saxobank, is solid, and will support him alone. He could conceivably ride the final slopes of Mont Ventoux, trading the stage win for the overall winner….

1. Alberto Contador (Spain-Astana) Contador will lose this Tour only if he has bad luck with crashes, injury or illness. It will NOT be due to lack of preparation (he has reconnoitered all of the key stages a la Armstrong), lack of form (he earned a decidedly low-key 3rd place in the recent Dauphine Libere where he simply followed the best wheels w/out any attacking), or lack of team support (see above….the best team in the world for stage racing). He will have to deal with the pressure of having the favorites tag on him from Day One, but he had no problem with that in last year’s Giro or Vuelta. Ignore all of the talk of team infighting, Johan Bruyneel knows where his golden meal-ticket is, and it is with Alberto Contador. The question here lies with the issue of how aggressive he is, and when. Contador has the unique ability to crush the field in the mountains by making repeated attacks on the worst slopes until he is alone. Being older and wiser, he may get the lead and ride conservatively to defend it, only to explode the race on Mt. Ventoux, but my money says that he will get antsy before that, and blow it up before that, making the final slope more of a victory march than a final shot at overall victory. Leipheimer, Armstrong, Kloeden and Popovych will provide solid support, but in the end, he will win this race despite them, not because of them.

In conclusion, I make these predictions based on reputation. It is a three week race, and things will change. There are several good riders who could find themselves on this list (i.e.: Roman Kruezinger, Andreas Kloeden, Oscar Periero, Samuel Sanchez, Luis Leon Sanchez, Franco Pellizotti, Michael Rogers, Tadaj Valevic or even Yaroslav Popovych). The great thing is that things will happen that we don’t expect. Riders will have good days and bad…relative outsiders will make inroads on the leaders, while favorites crack.

I look forward to another exciting race. Look for daily accounts and analysis of the race over the next three weeks, and sit back and enjoy. It looks to be one helluva ride!!!!
Jul 3, 2009
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Other TdF Predictions

Before I get to my yellow jersey predictions, I will briefly examine some of the other classifications. While the general classification will take the final headlines, there is a reason why the Tour is the best race in the world: it has the best riders in it, all wanting the prestige of a stage win, or even one day on a podium.


The points competition is based primarily on those won in the sprints. I have sometimes been a bit conflicted about this competition, as the flat stages, designed for sprints, usually have more points on tap than the mountain-top finishes or time-trials. This has become in reality the best sprinter competition, when sometimes the most consistent finishers have been some of the g.c. contenders. With that in mind, I think that it is clear to anyone who follows cycling that one sprinter stands head and shoulders above the others right now: Columbia-HTC British speedster Mark Cavendish. With a team who is skilled and willing in working to bring him to the line in the best position on the flat stages, he should be able to raise his arms in victory multiple times in the first week. It wouldn’t be completely out of the question to possibly see him in yellow, if he has a decent time trial, and Columbia equals their team time trial victory of May’s Giro d’Italia. The big question for Cavendish is not whether he will win stages, or even how many he will win, it is if he will make it to Paris to claim the green jersey. I will say that he is definitely motivated to do so, and has made it his ambition, so with that in mind, I would say that it his competition to lose. If he falters in the mountains, I would give secondary nods to last year’s green jersey winner, Oscar Friere of Rabobank, and past green jersey wearer Thor Hushovd. The Spaniard and Norwegian are both savvy enough to gauge their efforts, and strong enough to get through the climbs to finish. With many of the best sprinters of recent years sidelined, including Robbie McEwen (injury), Tom Boonen (not allowed to ride), and Erik Zabel (retirement), it would be easy to think that the sprints would suffer, but I think we may see the emergence of a newer generation, including Italian Filippo Pozatto and American Tyler Farrar.


I will go on record and say that it has been a while since the winner of this jersey has actually been the best climber in the race, rather he has usually been someone who has been allowed to get away from the bunch and gather up points in breakaways, while the real contenders concentrated on the final climbs, or on each other. To say that Virenque or Jalabert was actually a better climber than Armstrong for all of those years would be ludicrous; I would suggest that you have to go back to Tony Rominger or Claudio Chiapucci, who won them while finishing on the podium, to see a top climber who also finished on the podium (this excludes both Richard Virenque and last year’s winner, Bernhard Kohl, both of whom who have admitted to doping)

As such, it is hard for me to pick someone for this award, because the best climber in the peloton is currently Alberto Contador, but he will never waste his energy chasing this jersey. A rider like Carlos Sastre or Andy Schleck, both of whom are at their best in the highest mountains, will likewise not vie for this jersey, when they have overall aspirations. A rider like a Yaroslav Popovych, who might be used as a patsy in a break or two, could attract some points, but probably not day after day.

I read somewhere that Sylvain Chavanal might be a contender for this jersey: a good climber who is strong enough to get into the break on some of the mountain stages, but who will ultimately not be around on the final climb, but may be able to do this day after day. I will also throw out the name of Oscar Pereiro if he shows any form at all. I know, not a convincing pick, but until a rider is no longer in contention for the overall, I don’t see a top climber being distinguished. I would not be surprised to see a rider like Roman Kreuzinger or Denis Menchov finish with this either, or even Andy Schleck if he falters in the time trials.


I think that this jersey is Andy Schleck’s jersey to lose. A lot has been made over Roman Kreuzinger, who I think is a great talent, but hasn’t ever really shown his ability to be up amongst the best for three weeks. When you are dealing with overall time, I will concede that Kreuzinger is probably a better time-trialist, but he will lose real time in the mountains…Schleck will have to bomb not to win this.
Jul 3, 2009
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TdF 2009 Preview- Various Thoughts

First of all, I think that this is a pretty interesting course this year, with some interesting twists which will favor certain types of riders. The first thing that strikes me is the relatively low amount of individual time trial distances. In sum total, there is a short time trial (long prologue) of 15.5 km on the first day, followed by the team time trial of 38km on stage four. This amount in the first week is fairly standard, and I will say that I am in favor of the return of the team time trial. It may be because the better teams of the Americans (Garmin-Chipotle, Columbia-HTC, and Astana) tend to be skilled in this discipline, but also because I think it is a cool event, and worthy of inclusion in the best race. Team strength should count for something, and preparation is key for this event. I expect all three of the aforementioned squads battling for the win on Tuesday. The first stage is pretty long for a prologue, and I will say up front that the first yellow jersey on Saturday is Fabian Cancellara’s for the taking, but I think it is also an opportunity for riders like Armstrong, Leipheimer, Vande Velde, and yes, Alberto Contador, to answer some questions about their form, and indeed make some real time :)30+ seconds) over some of their closer rivals. On the flip side, with only one other individual time trial, in the last week, of 40 km, I see the advantage of the overall swinging more to the climbers than the thoroughbreds. Guys like Leipheimer, Evans and maybe Menchov, Vande Velde or Armstrong will have to make serious gains in this last time trial if they hope to get a real advantage over the pure climbers.

On the flip side, I consider the mountains of this race to be hardest in the second half of the race. This means a few things to the casual observer. It means that the favorites will have to be patient and attentive for the first two weeks, without wasting too much energy. There is a mountain-top finish on stage 7, but I doubt that anyone with real thoughts of victory really wants to be overly aggressive this early, and have to carry the burden of the jersey for two weeks. This stage will surely eliminate from contention, but I still see the favorites watching each other, and only getting minimal gains over one another.

The last week, though, includes three hard days in the Alps, the individual time trial, and the extra treat the ASO gave us this year: a penultimate day challenge up Mont Ventoux, one of the trickiest ascents in the world. It is rare to get this type of stage right before the end, and it will fuel the excitement which comes from the idea that anything can happen on a mountain. The favorites will have to stay strong all the way to the finish, at the end of a week which can only be labeled tortuous.

This wouldn’t be cycling if I didn’t have to address drugs. I wish I didn’t, but unfortunately, recent history suggests that it will be an issue. I will say that despite the open allegations, I am willing to concede one of two things: everyone in the sport is a doper, or most are honest, with only a few willing to take the risks by cheating. I am of the opinion that most of the riders are honest, with only a few people cheating. I have also become very cynical, in that I now sort of believe that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Riders may make their reputations on the Tour de France, but I don’t know that riders suddenly sprout wings they never had before the Tour (see: Schumacher and Kohl, 2007), nor are modest climbers suddenly head and shoulders above the best in the world (see: Ricco or Piepoli). I believe that experience and team strength play a real role in one’s development as a Tour rider, and there is a reason why few riders really succeed on their first time out. I am hoping that I can end this race without questioning what I have seen, rather, I will embrace the human spirit and the physical and emotional suffering which allow some men to go harder and faster, and achieve higher results than others. I want to see these men grit their teeth, and fight for every inch and every second which may make the ultimate difference. Call me naïve perhaps, but god damnit, this is my sport too, and I want more than anything to believe that what I am seeing is real, and not something chemically contrived.

Any 2009 Tour de France preview would be incomplete without an acknowledgement of the Astana situation, and its affect on the Tour this year. To put it in context, I will say that the most talent-ridden team I can remember of all time was the 1986 La Vie Claire squad, with 5 time Tour de France winner, Bernard Hinault, and ultimately, a 3 time winner in Greg LeMond. They were supported by yellow jersey wearers or stage winners including Andy Hampsten (4th that year), Niki Rutimann (9th), Jean-Francois Bernard (12th) and Steve Bauer (4th in 1988, 10th in 1985). That team was torn apart by intrasquad tensions between their two leaders, a defending and retiring champion in Hinault, and the ultimate winner in LeMond. The most dominant TEAM I have ever seen was the USPS/Discovery outfit from 2000-2005 (pick which one was the best). On those teams, the full team put aside their personal ambitions to support a chosen leader (Armstrong), and showed their strength by flexing their muscle in the mountains, and protecting Armstrong to seven wins in succession. It would not be unusual to have the peloton be whittled down to 30 odd riders on the 3rd or 4th peak of the day, and still have 6-7 Postal/Discovery riders be at the front, forcing the pace, and delivering their leaders to the end. These teams were not devoid of talent outside of Armstrong….they had Grand Tour winners like Salvodelli or Heras, classic winners like Hincapie, GC contenders like Hamilton or Landis (both pre-doping…I hope) or Yaroslav Popovych, or an Olympic champion like Ekimov. I give a solid acknowledgement that in 2007, when Contador won, and Levi Leipheimer finished in 3rd place, 31 seconds back, and Popovych finished in 8th, this result was every bit as satisfying as seeing Armstrong lead the team. The key ingredient was the intelligence and shrewd management of Johan Bruyneel.

Well, the two preceding scenarios have now intertwined. On the one hand, the Astana team, which missed last year (I will say as a Bruyneel/Armstrong bias penalty), dominated the season last year save for the Tour, with Contador winning the Giro and Vuelta, and Leipheimer taking a close 2nd in Spain. They have returned with the best stage racer in the world, determined to continue his march into the history books as the strongest rider of this era, only to be confronted with Armstrong’s return. And what a team it will be: Contador, the 2007 champion, and youngest rider to win all three Grand Tours, which he has done in the last two years; Armstrong, the 38 year old seven-time Tour winner, who came out of retirement to spread his message of cancer research, and scratch his competitive itches; Levi Leipheimer, 3rd in the 2007 Tour, and 2nd in the 2008 Vuelta…one of the most consistent stage racers in the world, and best time trialists on the planet; Andreas Kloeden, 2004 and 2006 Tour podium finisher, and now super-domestique deluxe; Yaroslav Popovych, 8th place in the 2007 Tour, while riding for Contador and Leipheimer, he has also won a stage of the Tour on his own, and finished 3rd in the Giro…a great Tour support rider in the mountains. Don’t forget about Haimar Zubeldia, twice 5th in the Tour, as a great time-trialist and climber. This team is constructed to do nothing short of winning the Tour de France, and dominating the standings on paper.

Now, I will say that the questions over who would be the leader of the race may have been justified back in August, when Armstrong announced his return, but I also believe that the current queries are now just coming from journalists who need to stir things up. Putting myself squarely in Bruyneel’s seat, I would say that Contador needs to be the leader of the team, as he is the one who is the best prepared to win the Tour. The riders are all saying the right things, deferring to Bruyneel, or saying that the race will decide. In the end, though, I believe that this team is comprised of the utmost professionals, and they will do their job. It could be interesting the first week, should either Armstrong or perhaps Leipheimer take real time out of Contador in the first time trial, and then be in a position to take yellow after the team time trial. There are two things I see happening here, should this happen. First of all, Bruyneel knows not to try and keep the lead this early; it is too long a race to waste energy from a team with real ambitions. Secondly, he would also be smart enough to realize that 10-20 seconds possibly gained in an early time trial (which would be unlikely given that Contador is the newly crowned Spanish time-trial champion), is nothing compared to the minutes that Contador can take from either one of them in the mountains. It would be entertaining, but nothing to worry about.

The real question comes to what role Leipheimer and Armstrong will play in the mountains. I have no doubt that they would ride for Contador if he were in trouble, but I would be more interested in knowing if they will be doing any real pulls at the front of the group when the contenders groups grow thin (or will Armstrong still be at the front). Levi has shown an ability to follow the best in the mountains, but I am curious to know if they will attack at all, perhaps sacrificing their own chances to let the field chase them, softening up the road for Contador, or if they will quietly and efficiently follow the leader to the end of the hardest stages. In any event, it will be a show within the spectacle to behold, and perhaps overshadow the fight for the yellow jersey, where who is winning it is actually superseded by how he wins it.
I'd put Armstrong in the top 5, probably on the podium.

Remember, he was motivated by seeing Sastre win. He might not beat Contador, but he's going to do everything he can to not be beat by Sastre. By doing that, he will prove, at least to himself, that he could have won last year.

As to his form at the giro vs. now... huge difference from everything I've seen.

Dr. Maserati

Jun 19, 2009
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Its long!!! ...but a good opinion piece.
One tiny correction is the Schumacher Kohl bit is 2008 not 2007.

If you have trouble sleeping you could read Prudhommes piece on the letour website!
Nice preview. Always interesting to hear the rationale behind someone's picks rather than just the picks themselves. Thanks.

I agree the King of The Mountains is a bit of a lottery.

It could be won by one of the top climbers "by accident" but I think it is more likely that the scenario you describe of lesser rider being allowed to get in a break and pick up up easy points will happen. Picking which rider it will be is the hard part but I try to look for someone who fits the following criteria:

1. Has ome climbing ability (obviously); and
2. Will lose significant time in the first individual time trial and team time trial and therefore not be a GC threat (more likely to be let go by peoloton in early breaks); and
3. Is on a team where he will not likely be required to rider in support of a GC contending team member in the mountains.

David Moncoutie is an obvious possibility (and has stated he is chasing the KOTM) but is a very short-priced favourite (less than 3-1 most places) with the bookies for a competition that is so open.

I kinda like Igor Anton and have had a few dollars on him at 30-1. Euskaltel really have nothing to ride for but stage wins and potentially KOTM. By the time they get to the Pyrenees he will be well down GC so he is a good prospect to get in a break in and around Basque country and rack up plenty of easy points. If he does this then he has enough climbing ability to protect a lead thereafter.

I'm also a Tony Martin fan but I suspect his time trialling ability will mean he won't be given much leeway in the mountains as far as breakaways go.
Jun 16, 2009
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I don't think sastre will be top 3 because he doesn't have a top team like csc were he can hide away and follow others wheels. he will lose time in both time trials and the team time trial
Jun 16, 2009
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This is my Top 10 in the tour:
1.Contador (all round rider, strong team for the mountains and ttt)
2.Evans (Unfortunately he will lose too much time in the ttt) hope i'm wrong!
3.(A)Schleck (strong in mountains, not strong enough in the tt yet!)
4.Menchov(Too tired from giro, loses time in silly places by making bad errors)
5.Leipheimer (2nd in line at a super team, he'll be a super domestique)
6.Sastre (can't time trial. won't be like last year with yellow on his back + bad team)
7.Kreuziger (Strong tt/climber but won't be able to match with the big boys)
8.(F)Schleck (strong in mountains, terrible time trialist, + will be working for bro)
9.Vandevelde (injury in the giro will be costly + bad mountain team + will get dropped in mountain top stages but will gain time in the ttt)
10. Armstrong (unfortunately I think he is too old, if he continues on next year he will be ripe at least top 5.)

Green Jersey: Oscar Freire (consistency and can win sprints in more hillier, uphill finishes. Cav won't win every day.)

Polka Dot Jersey: Christopher Moreau (if he is smart at his last tour he could easily win the jersey over Moncoutie due to pure climbing ability. Moreau should use the tatics of Virenque and Rasmussen for Polka Dots.

White Jersey: Easily, Andy Schleck

Can't wait for the tour

Leipheimer, Evans and Menchov are going to have to dominate the time trials this tour to get time on contador if they are going to win. If their was no ttt and a 40/50km IIT replacing it i would tip menchov or evans to win.
Here's a question: Does it matter that much that Andy Schleck is a poor time trialist? Or, to put it another way, has there ever been a Tour where individual time trialing ability matters less than this one?

The reason I raise this is that there are only 56km of individual time trialing in this year's Tour, and 40.5km of that is very late in the Tour. Time trials late in the Tour are strange beasts. Often, usual time trialing ability is superceded in importance by how well the rider's body has stood up to the previous three weeks. If you think Andy is one of the strongest late in the Tour and be in contention then you can probably expect him to ride a better final time trial than his regular time trialing ability wiould suggest.

Also, he will lose significantly less time in the team time trial than he would if it were an individual time trial over a similar distance. Even with the drag factor of his brother there are some super time trialists in that team to suck him along.

Of the main contenders I am certain the one who is disadvantaged the most is Cadel Evans. We know he a good time trialist but with such a stink team around him he will lose ground in the team time trial to guys who are clearly inferior to him individually. Also, his time trial performances in the final time trials of the last two Tours have not been overly impressive, so the individual time trial kilometres being back-end-loaded on this route doesn't help him.

Personally I don't see Cadel making the podium.
Jun 10, 2009
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hey just wondering where i can find live coverage of le tour in australia? is it live on tv? havnt been able to find it on the tv guides
I think Lance Armstrong is going to end up being a lot stronger than people think he is going to be. After his somewhat pedestrian performance in the Tour of Italy, a lot of the team directors and other riders seem to be largely writing Armstrong off. I wouldn't go as far as to predict that Armstrong is going to win the tour considering his age and the strength of the competition, but I think he is going to be right in the thick of it challenging for the overall victory.

I'm really looking forward to watching the race this year. There are so many riders (Contador, Armstrong, Menchov, Evans, Sastre, the Schlecks), each with different riding styles, that genuinely have a real shot at winning the race. With so many possible contenders I don't see one rider dominating the race, I think we're going to be in for an exciting race which is going to come right down to the end.
Jun 22, 2009
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Ferminal said:
It's still live, WA just join in a little later (miss 30mins or so).

Also when the Ashes are on, TdF will be on SBSTWO so make sure you're digital!

yeah that annoyed me. cause when it's ons sbs one i can record with IQ but not when it's on SBS two, grrrrr...!
Mar 18, 2009
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The Barb said:
Here's a question: Does it matter that much that Andy Schleck is a poor time trialist?


The Barb said:
Or, to put it another way, has there ever been a Tour where individual time trialing ability matters less than this one?

Not since the tour started to have time trials in the early fifites.
I don't want to turn this into yet another Lance thread but this seemed to be the best thread to say...

What about Lance going for the KOM?

If he realises early on that he ain't going to be competitive for the GC... so he is off the pace today and then in the first couple of stages he deliberately drops 4 or 5 mins on the GC and then he starts picking off KOM points...and does a Jalabert / Virenque special? So he's wearing red spots in Paris.

I know I am dreaming but anybody give my theorising any credence?

Probably not - I'll see myself out then ;)