OK, I've got to talk some bike racing. The Tour de France is the big prize, but many aficionados believe the best racing is in the spring, when the hard men rule and the Grand Tour contenders hone their act for the big show.The European spring racing season is in full swing, with Paris-Nice ending Sunday with a victory by Alberto Contador, who also won the Volta ao Algarve. He's started two stage races this year and has won them both convincingly. Cadel Evans raced Tirreno -Adriatico this week, where he is finished a respectable third. Frank Schleck also raced Paris-Nice, but wasn't too visible, brother Andy delayed the start of his season after a knee injury, and Lance Armstrong finished 7th in the Tour of Murcia and has now decided to race Milan-SanRemo this weekend. Levi Leipheimer dropped out of contention early at Paris-Nice. A lot can be said about where the various top riders intend to be at this point in the season but so far Contador is showing the best form of anyone in the pro peloton. He's made few mistakes and his Astana team has been adequate. Mistakes will likely prove more costly in the heart of the season and "adequate" may prove to be "less than" in the Tour, but Contador has comfortably gone two for two in a couple of big stage races so he is confident to the point of easing back on his schedule. On the other hand, Lance Armstrong just added the brutal Milan-SanRemo to his already heavy schedule, indicating that he is not where he needs to be. At Murcia, Armstrong focused on the time trial and had a mediocre performance. The alarm bells have got to be ringing.
Milan-SanRemo was won in a dramatic fashion last year by Mark Cavendish, establishing his credentials as a classics rider. He's not in top form this year, having had a long recovery from oral surgery, and Lance will want to prove, at least to himself, that he's got some chops. Armstrong is unlikely to win, but he needs to ride well, if for no other reason to prove to himself that can compete.
Armstrong and Contador will meet in the Criterium International on March 27 and 28th. It will be an interesting opportunity to see who has what and/or what they are willing to show. Contador will go to the race to win. Lance is likely to keep his intent close to the vest, then rationalize any perceived weakness as the result of his still riding into form. A few years ago, that was taken as fact, as we knew that come July, Lance was going to bring it to the Tour de France. Right now, it looks like Contador has the edge, Evans and Schleck are next tier and I really don't know where Lance fits in the order of Tour contenders. I'm sure he still has the competitive fire and I hope he still has the wheels.