Post Stage Analysis

Alberto Contador Wins Chrono Stage Ahead of Cancellara
Armstrong moves up to third overall as Andy Schleck defends second

Alberto Contador lit up the roads around Annecy today and took his second stage win in this year’s Tour de France. The 2007 Tour de France winner also added to his lead in the general classification, and now holds an advantage of 4:11 over second placed Andy Schleck of Saxo Bank. Former World Champion Fabian Cancellara finished second on the stage, while Mikhail Ignatiev, a former silver medalist at the Worlds, finished third. Lance Armstrong, meanwhile, moved up to third in the general classification, but his position remains precarious, with Bradley Wiggins sitting just 11 seconds behind him. Andreas Klöden, meanwhile, trails his team-mate by 13 seconds and climber Fränk Schleck, who began the day ahead of Armstrong is 30 seconds behind the American. With Mont Ventoux still to come, the final podium position remains very much in play.

The Story

Mikhail Ignatiev of Katusha set an early time to beat, and held the fastest time through the first two time checks for most of the day. Fabian Cancellara rode fastest through the descending section of the course, and took Ignatiev’s place in the hot seat. There he remained for much of the day.

Though heavy rain fell at times throughout the day, the rain stopped and the sun peaked through the clouds as the top riders in the general classification left the start house. At the first intermediate time check, Bradley Wiggins overtook Ignatiev’s time, and looked set for a scorching good time. The British crono specialist rode smoothly, his upper body motionless. Though he lagged slightly behind Ignatiev’s time at the second time check, Wiggins had the fastest time through the third intermediate check.

A fierce battle, meanwhile, raged behind him among Lance Armstrong, Fränk Schleck, and Andreas Klöden, with the two Astana riders steadily eating away at Schleck’s podium position. Both Armstrong and Klöden have a history of riding well in the cronos, and it was no surprise to see them out-riding Schleck on this flat course. At the finish, Armstrong succeeded in his effort to overtake Schleck in the general classification, and now leads the Saxo Bank rider by 34 seconds. Andreas Klöden also passed Schleck and rode into fifth in the general classification, 13 seconds behind his American team-mate.

Wiggins appeared on track for a stage-winning ride, but by the fourth check point seemed to tire and lagged 27 seconds behind the best time set earlier in the day by Cancellara. At the line, Wiggins finished sixth behind David Millar. Garmin-Slipstream team manager Jonathan Vaughters reported later that the top riders in the general classification faced a stiff headwind in the final 5 kilometers, an obstacle the earlier riders did not encounter. Despite his rough ride in the finale, Wiggins moved up the general classification to fourth and trails Armstrong by 11 seconds in the general classification.

With Wiggins finishing fifth, Cancellara’s hold on the stage win seemed secure. But out on the roads, Alberto Contador, wearing the Yellow Jersey of race leader, was riding a furious pace. At the first time check, Contador passed through 18 seconds faster than Wiggins. The current Spanish National Champion in the crono never looked back. At the 28.5 kilometer point, Contador rode 30 seconds faster than Wiggins. At the line, despite the head wind, Contador finished 3 seconds ahead of former World Champion Fabian Cancellara to take the stage victory. Today marked Contador’s second stage victory at this year’s Tour de France, and he has now won both a mountain-top finish and a time trial stage.

After the stage, Contador said, “I am very happy” to win the stage. “I was thinking more of the overall ranking, and I didn’t really know what the stage result would be,” he explained. The Astana rider’s radio stopped working after 15 kilometers of today’s stage, and he had no idea of his time splits. “I was motivated to beat Cancellara after he beat me in the Olympics last year,” Contador concluded.

General Classification Update

Here is the current top ten:
Alberto Contador Astana
Andy Schleck Saxo Bank 4:11
Lance Armstrong Astana 5:25
Bradley Wiggins Garmin-Slipstream 5:36
Andreas Klöden Astana 5:38
Fränk Schleck Saxo Bank 5:59
Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Doimo 7:15
Christian Vandevelde Garmin-Slipstream 10:08
Mikel Astarloza Euskaltel-Euskadi 12:38
Christophe Le Mével Français des Jeux 12:41

With the big mountain stage on Mont Ventoux yet to ride, Alberto Contador has the race lead well in hand. Behind him, the battle remains intense for the podium positions. Andy Schleck successfully defended his second place today, and holds an advantage of 1:14 over Lance Armstrong in third. Andy Schleck has consistently out-climbed Armstrong this Tour, so he seems well-placed to defend his second place position.

The battle for the third podium position remains tight. Lance Armstrong sits third at 5:25 behind Alberto Contador. But Bradley Wiggins is just 11 seconds behind the American. Wiggins had a rough day in the mountains on Wednesday, and will face a tough task in dislodging Armstrong on Mont Ventoux. Andreas Klöden, meanwhile, sits 2 seconds behind Wiggins and 13 seconds behind Armstrong. Klöden has seemed to climb better than Armstrong during this Tour de France, but among these three much will depend on who has the legs on the day.

All three will be watching Fränk Schleck, who climbed away from them on the Col de Romme with brother Andy. Fränk Schleck rode solidly against the watch to finish 1:04 on the stage behind Armstrong. Schleck now needs 34 seconds to take the third podium position. If he brings the same climbing form to Mont Ventoux that he did to the Col de Romme, Schleck may succeed in un-seating the American.

Looking further down the general classification, Vincenzo NIbali remains seventh, while Christian Vandevelde successfully defended his eighth place position. Nibali has ridden consistently through the mountains, but has not ridden at the level of the Schleck brothers. Assuming all goes well, he should hold his seventh place position, because Vandevelde will ride in support of Bradley Wiggins. The Italian, meanwhile, sits 1:23 down on Klöden, 1:26 down on Wiggins, and 1:35 down on Armstrong. A bad day from any of these three riders could see Nibali advance up the general classification.

Rounding out the top ten, Mikel Astarloza of Euskaltel-Euskadi overtook Christophe Le Mével from Français des Jeux. Astarloza is now ninth and Le Mével is tenth. Both Astarloza and Le Mével have climbed better than Vladimir Karpets, currently in eleventh, but at only 55 seconds down on Le Mével, the Russian could slide into the top ten.

Other classifications: There was no change today in the Points Classification where Thor Hushovd continues to lead Mark Cavendish by 30 points. The Norwegian has a nearly insurmountable lead in the Green Jersey race, after chasing intermediate sprints through the mountain stages. In the Mountains Classification, meanwhile, Franco Pellizotti continues to lead Egoi Martinez by 78 points.

Andy Schleck extended his lead slightly in the Young Riders classification. He holds a 3:04 advantage over Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Doimo. That gap will likely hold through to Paris, because Schleck has consistently climbed better than Nibali. Nibali should successfully defend his top ten position in the general classification, a significant improvement over last year when he rode both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.

Astana maintains their lead in the teams classification by 16:14 over Garmin-Slipstream and 23:45 over AG2R-La Mondiale.

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow’s stage is a transitional stage running between Bourgoin-Jaillieu and Aubenas. The Tour heads south into Provence with this stage, and draws ever-closer to the grand finale on Mont Ventoux. The course climbs three categorized climbs, and the category 2 Col de l’Escrinet summits with 15 kilometers to race to the finish. The Col is 14 kilometers in length, but the gradient is a relatively gentle 4.1%. From the Col de l’Escrinet, the course descends to 3 kilometers of flat riding.

With Mont Ventoux the following day, the general classification teams will likely let a breakaway go up the road in search of the stage win. Most of the general classification riders will likely save their legs for the final showdown on the Géant de Provence, but the Col d’Escrinet offers an opportunity to attack should anyone wish to take it. With 15 kilometers of descending to the finish, it will be a big ask to gain time there, though. Most likely, the general classification will remain unchanged until the Tour reaches Mont Ventoux on Saturday.

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Course Preview

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Terrain Type: Crono course, mostly flat, with one climb.
GC Importance: An essential day for the general classification riders.

The Climb:
Côte de Bluffy 3.7 km, avg. 6 %, Catégorie 3

The crono course traces the lake in the city of Annecy. The course is mostly flat, interrupted by one category 3 climb. Annecy sits in the shadow of the Alps, just below the Col de la Forclaz. Run-off from the Alpine snows feeds the lake, which is known for its clarity, and a series of canals runs through the city. Annecy’s iconic landmark is the 12th century Palais de l'Isle, a grey stone fortress which sits in the middle of the canal du Thiou.

Annecy has hosted the Tour de France twice before this year’s edition. Both previous visits came during the 1959 Tour, when both a start and finish took place in the lake-side city. Rolf Graf won stage 19, which finished in Annecy, while Brian Robinson won the following stage which began there. Frederico Bahomontès wore the Yellow Jersey on both days, and celebrated overall victory in Paris that year. Bahomontès won the mountains classification six times at the Tour de France, though he only won the general classification once. Nicknamed the Eagle of Toledo, he also achieved the rare feat of winning the mountains jersey in all three of cycling’s grand tours.

Profile Details

The first 25 kilometers of this 40.5 kilometer time trial are flat. The course passes through Sévrier and Saint-Jorioz, as it heads south along the shores of the lake. The first of two intermediate time checks comes in Doussard at kilometer 18. At Doussard, the course reaches the southern tip of the lac d’Annecy, and the course begins its trip back northward to the finish.

The course passes through Gilliers and Angon on the way to the feed zone in Talloires at kilometer 25. At Talloires, the course turns away from the lake and doglegs east to climb the category 3 Côte de Bluffy. The Côte de Bluffy climbs 3.7 kilometers at an average gradient of 6%. The climb summits at kilometer 28.5. The climb is short, but the gradient is not easy. It comes late in the time trial, and the smart riders will gauge their efforts carefully to ensure they do not detonate here.

The final time check comes at the summit of the Côte de Bluffy and there remains 12 kilometers to go to the finish. The course descends gradually over the next 6 kilometers until it reaches Veyrier-du-Lac. From there, it’s a flat run-in to the finish on the avenue d’Albigny along the lake in Annecy. The stage finishes on wide roads, and there are few corners to break the rhythm.

Who To Watch

Deep in the third week of a grand tour, the outcome of a time trial like this one depends less on who is a specialist against the watch than on who has recovered best from the stresses of the previous days of racing. This stage comes directly after three climbing stages, though a rest day breaks up the succession of difficulties. All the same, the riders who have recovered best from the hard climbing days in the Alps will ride best against the watch in Annecy. Stage racing is all about recovery.

Among the general classification riders, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans have shown especially well against the watch so far this season. Evans and Contador have traded results, with Evans coming out on top at the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré, and Contador placing higher in the Tour’s opening time trial in Monaco. Contador’s team-mate, Levi Leipheimer, meanwhile, came close to beating a flying Denis Menchov at the Cinque Terre time trial during the Giro d’Italia. Leipheimer placed third in the 2006 Tour de France on the strength of his consistent climbing and solid time trialing. Perhaps he has a repeat in mind for this year.

The ambitions of Leipheimer and Contador are complicated by the presence of returning Lance Armstrong, who seven times won the Tour de France, and dominated the crono stages during his previous career. Armstrong did not do a stellar ride in Monaco and rode far from his dominating form at the Giro d’Italia. All the same, Armstrong has said he wants to win this Tour, and has admitted to tensions within the team over his competing ambitions with Contador. If he wants to wear Yellow in Paris for an eighth time, Armstrong will need to ride well here in Annecy.

The Garmin-Slipstream riders Christian Vandevelde and Bradley Wiggins also time trial well, and if their form holds through the mountains, they both should do strong rides here. Wiggins has no previous history of riding high in the general classification, because of his long-time focus on riding the Olympics on the track. This season he showed well in the opening mountain stages of the Giro, but fell back under the cumulative effect of multiple climbing efforts. Vandevelde, meanwhile, has returned from serious injury, and it’s impossible to predict how well he will ride in the final week of this Tour.

The category 3 should help the climbers, but they will need to use the mountains to gain their advantage. Carlos Sastre can ride a decent crono when the situation demands it, but the watch is not his best friend when it comes to winning the general classification. Likewise for Andy Schleck, who has improved his skills against the watch, but remains better in the mountains. Fränk Schleck, meanwhile, has not shown much of anything in the crono, and will be hoping to survive the day in Annecy. Both Sastre and the Schlecks will be dreaming of Mont Ventoux.

The kids at Liquigas-Doimo, Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger are both strong in the time trial, but this year marks only their second attempt at the Tour de France. By the third week of this race, they may find themselves several time zones out of the general classification, though a top ten finish for either rider would be an excellent result. Let's see how they survive the Alps, then we can talk about Annecy and the general classification.

On the subject of young riders, widely-touted Tony Martin finished second in the elite time trial at Worlds last year and second at the German National Championship this year. Martin made his grand tour début at the Giro d’Italia last year, and finished 128th in the general classification after struggling in the high mountains. A year older, Martin may find better luck at this year’s Tour de France whose mountain stages are easier on paper than those of last year’s Giro. All the same, it is likely too early to talk of Martin as a general classification contender just yet. He should achieve a good stage finish in Annecy, but probably will not figure in the general classification battle.

For the stage win, this course should favor the specialists, but much depends on how much work these riders do for their team leaders. In the normal way of things, Fabian Cancellara is unbeatable against the watch, but he will be doing a great deal of work to support team leaders Fränk and Andy Schleck during the second and third weeks of this year’s Tour. Cancellara typically has not placed especially high in the third week time trials as a consequence. This dynamic often applies to other crono specialists during the three week Tours, because their big engines play an important role in helping the teams control the race, keep their team leaders in a good position in the field, and bring back threatening breakaways.

Other riders to watch: David Millar, Bert Grabsch, David Zabriskie, Gustav Larsson, Denis Menchov.

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