The 2011 Tour de France, is a head on collision of two heavy weights of the cycling world. Andy Schleck riding with the pressure of leading his new team Leopard Trek and capturing the yellow jersey that’s eluded him for 2 consecutive years and Alberto Contador, who has had his off the bike incidents with the World Anti Doping Agency. Contador has the experience of winning the tour 3 times
(2 consecutive years), he too also has the pressure of coming to a new team, Saxo Banx Sungard, Schleck’s former team which stated it did not have the money to sign Andy to a longer contract. This single action has created the rivalry that is Andy and Alberto. If Contador can win this year’s TDF he will be compared to the greats of cycling, in the world such as Eddy Merck, Lemond, Armstrong, and Hinualt to name a few of the greats.
July 2nd, the opening stage to the tour was a typical start to the tour, the hustle and energy can only be seen in person. Once the wheels hit the ground the race was anything but normal. With the crash that trapped Alberto Contador behind the main contenders, makes one question what were Saxo Banx’s tactics? Why would you have you’re ace in the back of the peleoton when every other team that has a general classification challenger was in the front of peloton protecting their rider? The crash cost Alberto 39 seconds, which is ironically the same amount he lead Andy Schleck after the chain drop incident of the 2010 tour de France and would eventually drop behind 1:20 off of the yellow jersey worn by Philippe Gilbert. Gilbert rode a brilliant race and blew apart the field within the last 300 meters.
July 3rd, the second stage of the tour was the team trial. A race of truth as the individual time trial is referred to be the legendary Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. The team trial is the test of deep a team is from top to bottom. This would be a day for the American team Garmin-Cervelo who had never won a stage in the tour. The Garmin team had put all of their efforts into winning this stage even tracking the weather for 4 months prior to the tour, once the tour route was announced. With their effort to win this gave Thor Hushovd the yellow jersey.
July 4th was American Tyler Farrar’s day; Farrar was a question mark for the Garmin Cervelo team after the death of his close friend Wouter Weylandt, who tragically died during a crash in the Tour of Italy. The Garmin team again worked as a well oiled machine as they had the day before during the team time trial. The race started with the Schleck brothers Andy and Frank in the top ten well within the yellow jersey and Alberto Contador having dropped back another 22 seconds to put himself 1:42 seconds behind Thor. There was and still is some thought that Alberto may be able to get close to Andy and be a challenger for the yellow jersey but how much energy will he have to defend the jersey after having to make up the time deficit he’s created for himself this early in the first week of the tour. Alberto would finish 1:38 behind Andy and Thor would retain his yellow jersey.
Stage 4 showed that Alberto still has the legs and the ability to factor in this tour. The race would end on a photo finish with the Australian Cadel Evans stealing victory from Alberto. The finish helped Alberto gain 8 seconds back from the 1:38 he followed Andy by, the reason why there is so much importance on the time difference between Alberto and Contador because these are the two heavy favored winners for this years tour. This attack and attempt to win the stage shouldn’t surprise the cycling community, Contador is man with his back to the wall and will do anything to protect his pride even with doubt creeping in the community questioning if he still has it with all the distractions the looming suspensions and the possibility of having a tour win stripped from him.
My final thoughts after the first 4 days of the tour are that the tour hasn’t been won by anyone just yet but it may have been lost by one Spaniard, with the pride of a nation upon his shoulders.
Written by Five Tool Sports Cycling Expert Will Raschke