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Well, not exactly the day I predicted.
It was pretty obvious who had the strongest team in Friday's Stage 7, the Tour's first mountain stage. Team Astana rode like it had the yellow jersey, controlling the pack for most of the climb up to Arcalis.
Again, the Tour is coming down to those few seconds. It's pretty mind-blowing how those little things come into play during the race. As each stage goes by, the margin for error becomes less and less.
I was a little surprised Fabian Cancellara lost the yellow jersey so early today; that was a bummer for me. He's been in top form since Tour de Suisse. Seven days seems to be his number. He had yellow a full seven days in the 2007 Tour, as well.
But now that the race has reached its first mountain stage, I thought I'd give a progress report of the top contenders thus far:
I don't know if that was a planned move or a spur-of-the-moment thing; the move surprised me. With the way Astana was riding, they could have just stayed together and kept going until the end. Maybe Astana got wind of Rinaldo Nocentini being in a position to take the yellow jersey (which he did) and launched Contador to see what he could do.
As far as the team dynamic goes, I don't think there's going to be a problem for the next week or so. It's a long race and it isn't over. Friday was like a little appetizer for the main course next week and the dessert for the final week. Now that Contador is ahead of Lance, things will be a bit calmer and Lance will work for his teammate like he did Friday. And I'll say it again -- Astana has so many cards to play right now. If this card doesn't work, they'll play another card if they have to.
As for Lance, he was two-tenths of a second away from the yellow jersey the past few days; maybe that's as close as he'll get. Maybe not. Either way, this doesn't diminish the Tour for him. It's definitely not over; maybe that's why there wasn't a full-blown chase at the end of Friday's stage. He knows there are two more weeks to go.
Again, I am bummed he's not riding for another team so we could see a great rider going up against the other great contenders of the race. He's only two years younger than Lance, so he doesn't have many more chances at winning a Grand Tour because of his age. Still, he always gets stronger toward the end of a stage race, so he's a dangerous rider to watch out for.
I also appreciate his attention to detail and he seems to be in my kind of mindset when it comes to his bike. He uses O.Symmetric chainrings. (I first used them in 2003 and still use them now when I ride. The more oval-shaped rings help you get over the dead spot of a pedal stroke quicker and stay on the power part of the stroke longer.) It's cool to see the trend didn't die and some guys in the peloton still use them.
Having said that, he could factor in to the Astana tactics because he's so strong. He's in the same boat as Levi. Either will work for Contador or Lance in a supporting role. It takes a little bit of the fun out of the event, but ...
He has to be preparing for the huge Mont Ventoux stage on the second-to-last day of the Tour and the overall classification. Being 1:24 behind the overall leader, he's not in a situation to take a risk just to wear yellow for a day. He'll stay around Levi, Lance and Andy Schleck and wait for his opportunity. He's also a guy who has the ability to time trial, which comes in the last week of the race, and can climb altitude because he lived in Boulder, Colo., for so long. That's a good combination of talents to have going into the last week of the race.
Bobby Julich will be providing analysis for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. He retired from pro cycling in 2008 and is currently the technical director for Team Saxo Bank. The American finished third overall in the 1998 Tour and won the Paris-Nice race in 2005.