A typically tenacious performance by Cadel Evans has put the BMC rider into the yellow jersey at the end of the first week’s racing in the Tour de France.
He stuck with the pace on the final climb into Avoriaz, as soaring temperatures and a punishing tempo meted out by Astana’s David Navarro caused many of the big names crack on the mountaintop finish. Yet even Contador faltered yesterday, as Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) attacked near the summit and only Euskatel-Euskadi’s Samuel SanchÃ¨z could answer. The defending Tour champion, perhaps surprised by Schleck’s uncharacteristic aggressivity, attempted a response then sat back down, and could only finish 5th.
Shleck claimed his first ever stage win in impressive style, though it wasÂ difficult to see the Astana-supplied hurt as anything other than a direct response to Lance Armstrong’s difficulties that have ended his yellow jersey dream. The Texan clipped a pedal and rolled a tub very near the bottom of the day’s final climb, landing heavily. He was then obliged to put in a large effort to rejoin the peloton, an effort that cost him on the climb, where he could not hold on. In fact, Armstrong came off his bike three times yesterday: the first in a mass pile-up 6km from the stage start; the last at a feed zone on the final climb when Egoi Martinez lost balance directly in front of him. Whatever one thinks of Lance Armstrong, or the likelihood of him actually competing for top spot in this year’s Tour, it is a shame to see him put out of the running by crashes, punctures and bad luck. He is now down and out, 12 minutes off the pace.
And Lance was not the only one: Sky’s Bradley Wiggins was dropped with 3.5km to go to the top of the Avoriaz climb, and is now more than 3 minutes down – a gap which again seems insurmountable. Andreas KlÃ¶den went backwards for the second day in a row and Ivan Basso, though he held with the main group, had lost time on stage 7 and looks less strong than his putative number two at Liquigas, the young Czech Roman Kreuziger.
Cuddles is the first rider since Greg Lemond to swap the World Champ’s stripy jersey for the Tour leader’s yellow one, and the Australian deserves this triumph. In the sort of form he’s in, he surely has a realistic shot at keeping the lead, though Schleck is only 20 seconds behind, and Contador 41 seconds behind him. However, 1’01” is quite a time gap and – if Contador is indeed mortal this year, and the balance of power tipping towards the Saxo Bank rider – then this Tour could be turning into a two-horse race.
The peloton rests today, and tomorrow’s mountain stage, 204 km from Morzine-Avoriaz to St Jean de Maurienne, with two awesome climbs of Col de la ColombiÃ¨re and Col de la Madeleine, may begin to provide some answers. However, with no mountain finishes until the Tourmalet on 20 July, and no easy transitional stages in between the Alps and Pyrenees, we are looking at an intriguing, protracted battle for supremacy between three great riders.
To celebrate Cadel’s taking yellow, BMC Racing’s wheel sponsor, Easton, has reminded us of its competition to win a set of wheels every day of the Tour de France. To have a chance of winning identical wheels to whatever Cadel is riding that day, check out this site for details.
All change on the GC:
1. Cadel Evans (BMC)
2.Â Andy Schleck (SAX) +20″
3. Alberto Contador (AST) +1’01
4.Â Jurgen Van Den Broeck (OLO) +1’03”
5. Denis Menchov (RAB) +1’10”
6. Ryder Hesjedal (GRM) +1’11”
7. Roman Kreuziger (LIQ) +1’45”
8. Levi Leipheimer (RSH) +2’14”
9. Samuel SanchÃ¨z (EUS) +2’15”
10.Â Michael Rogers (HTC) +2’31”