Thursday, July 2, 2009

One the Eve of the Tour. Who leads Astana?

The Tour de France 2009 starts Saturday with a 15.5k Individual Time Trial in the Principality of Monaco. This year's Tour promises to be full of drama and surprises as Lance Armstrong guarantees worldwide interest, even though most people close to the sport give him only an outside chance of winning. Team mate Alberto Contador is rightly the clear favorite, followed closely by 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre, Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans and Giro d'Italia winner Denis Menchov. Lance and Levi Leipheimer probably fall somewhere below those guys with oddsmakers, along with Andreas Kloden, Christian Vende Velde and others.

The big drama is supposed to be the intrateam competition between Armstrong and Contador.
Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong are master tacticians and strategists so I don't think they are going to allow a LeMond/ Hinault-like division of the team in which one faction is chasing down another based on nationalities and personal loyalties. I think it's more likely that Lance will play a role similar to that of Frank and Andy Schleck in last year's Tour, where, as genuine threats, they kept everybody occupied as Sastre rode away for the win. If Armstrong is competitive, he will attract attention with every move and the leaders don't dare let him make any kind of a big play, even with Contador as the favorite. On the other hand, if teams decide to focus on Contador and risk letting Lance get up the road, all bets are off. The big question is whether or not he is strong enough to be a true contender. The team is strong enough to let Leipheimer or Popovych go with Lance without leaving Contador isolated. As usual, the Tour will be decided in the mountains and it could take this year's summit finish on Ventoux in the penultimate stage to settle things.

Let's rock! This is going to be fun!!

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