Andy Schleck, whom we like to call “Our Man” because he rides clean, has come back from adversity time and again and wears his cycling heart on his sleeve, broke away with a thrilling finishing kick to win the first dramatic climbing stage of the Tour de France 2010 in the French Alps.
Schleck astonishingly left race favorite Alberto Contador in the dust as he bulleted ahead with just under a kilometer to go and then sprinted over the line ahead of Spaniard Samuel Sanchez. It could be that Contador is waiting for the Pyrenees to make his move. It could also be that Alberto didn’t have the right stuff this time around.
Whatever, you can’t take anything away from Schleck, the Luxembourg wonder who wears the best young rider’s white jersey and who lost older brother and teammate Frank to a broken collarbone just a few days ago.
Andy didn’t take the yellow jersey, which deservedly went to Cadel Evans — but he narrowed the gap between Cadel and him to 20 seconds, and sent a signal throughout the peloton that this could finally be his year.
The other big news of the day was Lance Armstrong’s crash (and having to stop later on a climb to avoid going down in a crash ahead of him) and subsequent fade from the race leadership — nearly 12 minutes behind the stage winners — on the punishing slopes.
Much was made of the luck factor re Lance, who seemed to be miraculously blessed and crashless during his 7-Tour run, but the real culprit in his suffering was a spotty spring season, where crashes, repeated doping allegations and the celebrity demands of a 7-time Tour winner left Lance under-prepared for his final Tour. Without the pounding miles of the Giro d’Italia (he rode, but crashed out of, the Tour of California instead) under his belt, Lance just didn’t have the prep this year. Since he’s truly out of the competition this year, it will take the pressure off and enable him to take an elder statesman role for the rest of the Tour.
As of our writing, Lance still has not tweeted to his fans. We’ll look forward to his pithy assessment. [UPDATE: Lance’s tweet as follows — “When it rains it pours I guess.. Today was not my day needless to say. Quite banged but gonna hang in here and enjoy my last 2 weeks.”]
The frustration for fans through much of the stage had to do with the highly touted climb of the Col de la Ramaz with average grades of 7 to 8 percent. An attack by Team Sky was hyped by Versus commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, but although some big names were fading (including the yellow jersey Sylvain Chavanel), none of the general classification favorites made any semblance of individual attack. And the main group, despite the pace, was not cutting into the undistinguished breakaway’s lead — indicating that the pace was not really pinning the meter.
The pace accelerated on the final climb to Morzine-Avoriaz, but no single GC favorite pressed the question. Instead it was everybody waiting for someone to go. And no one did, until Schleck took flight, recalling the good old days of the Cannibal (Eddy Merckx) or the Badger (Bernard Hinault), when any slack pace was considered ripe for individual attack.
The Tour is far from decided, but Schleck has shown it’s far from a lock for Contador. We’re also keeping an eye on Ivan Basso, the Giro d’Italia winner this year who finished with Contador and the others 10 seconds behind Schleck.
Line of the day: Phil Liggett again scores with the observation that Lance Armstrong, after crashing, rejoined the pack “by the skin of his racing shorts.” Given the tattered condition of Lance’s garments after taking the tumble, Lance was lucky to have more shorts than skin showing!
Tomorrow is a rest day, and then another mountainous run in Stage 9 with a crocodile-teeth profile that could provide further separation in the ranks.