Now It Begins
Image from Velonews
After two weeks of trying to work out who has the best legs and is most likely to wear yellow into Paris, some real decisions are about to be made as the race finally reaches the Alps.
The true nature of the relationship between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador will be revealed under the pressure of the mountains and the inevitable attacks from their rivals.
Contador looks the strongest. But no one really knows how good Armstrong is. The American is yet to be fully put to the test in his return to the Tour de France.
Cadel Evans is more the three minutes behind and has only one option. He must attack. As Bernard Hinault, the five-time winner of the race said, “there isn’t 36 solutions, they must attack.”
Andy Schleck, although only one minute 49 seconds down, is in exactly the same position as Evans. Schleck needs to take just as much time as Evans in the mountains if not more because, based on past performances, he is likely to lose more than a minute in the final time trial. So like Evans he needs to take three minutes, maybe more in the mountains.
Defending champion Carlso Sastre is in the same boat as Schleck but coming from two minutes and 52 seconds down.
The wildcard is Bradley Wiggins. The Brit is yet to be truly tested in the mountains among the general classification contenders.
If Wiggins can stay with the more fancied favorites in the mountains he may provide one of the biggest surprises in Tour de France history. Back-to-back gold medals in the individual pursuit at the Olympics and third in the opening time trial indicate he could take time in the final test against the clock.
In addition to his climbing, the other question-mark against his name is his ability to time trial after almost three weeks of racing.
Knowing the struggles he had as a child after his Australian father left him and his mother to fend for themselves when Wiggins was only two years-old and how hard he has worked since the Beijing Games, a podium finish for him would be well deserved.
As Armstrong himself has said the race may be 50 per cent over but is less than 25 per cent decided.
It all starts now.