As the Tour de France moved into the mountains Wednesday, I knew Stage 10 wasn't going to be a real decisive stage for the leaders. At the same time, I was really disappointed with the way the stage unfolded.
There were a lot of nervous riders out there as the monster stage awaits Thursday (Stage 11 has five rated climbs and the Tour's first summit finish). Maybe they didn't take the stage too seriously because they wanted to save energy. Also, unlike Thursday, Wednesday's last climb was so far from the finish line there wasn't really any need to do any major attacks. Still, I was really surprised to see no attacks at all.
But we all know this Tour is unlike any we've seen in a while. Wednesday was a good warm-up for riders and their teams as they felt their way on the bike through the mountain. With only a few teams sporting full lineups, plenty of transition stages between the Pyrenees and the Alps, and 10 stages to go, no one wants to show their cards just yet. That's likely why there was no action in the first mountain stage of the Tour.
It's not too difficult to hold back mentally and physically in a race like this. Why? Because you know how much you'll hurt if you do give too much too early. I think what is more frustrating for riders is when you have a good day and you do have the legs and you see how far ahead the breakaway is. But Thursday's stage will be a real eye-opener and I hope the Americans are up to the challenge.
Heading into Thursday, I think T-Mobile has an advantage. The team was smart to give up the overall lead Wednesday because they know it's a long race. As for individual riders, if you're one of the attackers, you have to persist in the beginning and act like the first climb is the final climb. When the breakaway establishes itself, you can moderate the effort and make it to the finish.
If you're Floyd Landis or George Hincapie, you should just concentrate on staying with the main contenders, staying within the peloton and concentrating on the last two climbs. With a hilltop finish, there's no chance for recovery and riders have no choice but to go 100 percent to the line. That's where riders like Landis and Hincapie will make a difference. Favorites will use their teams to set up a battle royale at the finish! Another cool side story to watch is the King of the Mountains race. Riders like Mickael Rasmussen will be vying for precious points in the Pyrenees.
I know some might not be used to having so many different overall leaders in one Tour, but that's the way you want it to be. It's boring to see the same riders on the front. This is a chance of a lifetime for riders who have spent the past few Tours within the top 10 or top 20 behind big names like Armstrong, Basso, Ullrich and Valverde. It's going to add more excitement to the sport.
With all the wild cards out there, I can see it being a lot more tactically challenging for teams to make the right moves. But the only thing I don't want to see come out of that parity is a situation where the overall leader comes from tactics, not strength. The Tour should be decided by the pedal, not the radio in our ears. If you have a team like Discovery, which is one of the strongest in the world, you can rectify small errors because there are more options [of high-placed riders on their team]. If you make an error with just 2-3 riders in a lead group, it can become a nightmare. If a contender like Landis is riding strong, but doesn't have the time to ride back on the breakaway, all eyes will look to him or his team to take responsibility [to chase]. If he can't, the race kind of stops and it will become a field day for an opportunist.
If, by chance, the overall leader after Thursday's stage is still wearing yellow in Paris, that rider truly deserves to win this race.
Levi Leipheimer: I will be really surprised if Levi doesn't attack Thursday. If he does, it will give him and his team a lot more confidence. He lost time earlier in the week and didn't look strong Wednesday. Maybe he's calling the field's bluff to gain more time over the next few days? Either way, Thursday will be a good place for him to start making a mark.
Floyd Landis and his hip injury: I was pretty surprised at the honesty and timing behind Floyd's admission of needing surgery after the Tour since he's in the last year of his contract and because hip replacement surgery for a cyclist is pretty much career threatening. So I have to salute his honesty for saying it because I don't know many teams that would give him the million-Euro contract he deserves if there's a question of health. He is such a hard worker, but I don't know if I would want to take a chance with a rider contract for that much money when he's going in for surgery after the Tour.
Some might say he's trying to call a bluff, but why do that? It's doesn't make sense. Why would you want to make up an injury when, (1) it's not going to change what people expect from you; and (2) you don't want to hurt your future.
I hope the best for him. I hope he's not suffering too much. I hope he's not doing too much to treat it right now -- painkillers are dangerous when you get into the heat. He has to remember that this is just a sport, and our next 50 years on the planet are more important than the 12 or so we spend as racers.
Team CSC: With Dave Zabriskie being such a strong time trialist, I am sticking with my dark horse pick of Carlos Sastre heading into the mountains. It will be important for Team CSC director Bjarne Riis to make sure the team doesn't have ants in the pants too early.
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, will be providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won last year's Paris-Nice race. For more information on Bobby, check out http://www.bobbyjulich.com.