Friends: And it comes down to the time trial just like last year. Instead of having to overcome a deficit, Andy Schleck has to preserve his advantage. It will only be a slightly easier task than last year as he gets to ride last, and will know the time of Evans that he has to beat. Evans is superior at this discipline, but Schleck surprised everyone last year with his great effort to nearly overcome Contador, so he can not be discounted.
Evans has proven himself the stronger rider on stage after stage this year and has had to do a considerable amount of time trialing chasing breakaways and also breaking away himself. It will be an injustice if he does not win The Tour. This could be his last chance. Schleck is much younger and will have many opportunities in the future, so I'll be rooting for Evans as will the Aussies David and Rowan over at the Big Screen as soon as I send this off.
I was able to ride a good portion of the 26 mile time trial route in and out of Grenoble this morning after camping at just beyond the 25 kilometer to go mark. But I also had to walk a few miles of it, as some over zealous gendarmes wouldn't even let me ride on the sidewalk or the bike path along the route. They said the route was closed from eight a.m. to five p.m. and no ifs and or buts about it. I had managed six miles by 8:30 when I was first ordered off my bike, ten miles from the finish.
This wasn't the most idiotic of orders though from the gendarmes this year. That came in Gap when Dave, David, Rowan and I tried to slip through a gap in the barriers to go to a supermarket. The cop said we couldn't move the fencing. When we said we would put it back he refused. So we had to bike 100 meters further and then hoist our bikes over the barriers. Mine was too heavy and I was not in need of food anyway, so I just biked a little ways up the road and waited for the others to rejoin me.
As infuriating as this latest order was not being able to ride on the bike path or sidewalk even though they were empty of people and the road was a dead zone, I have suffered such mindlessness over the years I stoically accepted it. After fifteen minutes of walking along a stretch where there were gendarmes all too frequently I came to a long stretch through the woods with no intersections requiring officers. I was able to ride a couple of miles and then walked for another mile until I finally entered the urban sprawl of Grenoble and could ride a parallel street for a bit and then a bike path that was amply separated from the roadway that I could bike with impunity the last four miles.
I was the only one attempting to ride the course. There were already fans gathered along the route even though the first rider wouldn't be coming along for nearly three hours. The Devil was stalking the course at the three kilometer to go mark. I received a pat on the back as I passed and another exuberant chorus of "Musée, musée," now my own personal chant rather than his usual "allez, allez."
The Big Screen was at the 250-meter to go mark and had yet to be turned on at this early hour of 9:30. I hadn't passed any supermarkets so I continued on past the finish line towards another outskirts of Grenoble and found what I needed.
Yesterday was a rare stage where the entire stage was telecast since it was so short, only 70 miles, so short there wasn't even a feed zone. We were able to see the initial breakaway form. That is often the most exciting racing of the day, but today's was short-lived and hardly mattered as the first nine miles of the stage were a slight down hill and then the climb to the Galibier began, first over the Col de Telegraph. Contador did as Schleck did yesterday attacking early.
These stages in the Alps were a sharp contrast to the racing in the Pyrenees which was very safe and conservative with no attacks until the last few kilometers of the final climbs as the leaders felt each other out and didn't wish to over extend themselves. Andy Schleck had no problem going with Contador and stuck on his wheel just as Contador did to him on the Tourmalet last year. Evans had some bike trouble and fell off and was once again forced to chase down a minute gap that endured all the way to the top of the Galibier. They came together on the rocking 30 mile descent from the top of the Galibier to the start of the nine mile climb to the finish at L'Alpe d'Huez.
Contador once again attacked and everyone let him go. If he received the same reaction from the legions of fans packed along the climb as he did on the finishing stretch where I was stationed, he would have been assaulted by boos the entire way. The biggest reaction from the thousands in a rock concert atmosphere watching the Big Screen was a loud cheer when he was caught by two chasers a mile-and-a-half from the finish. This was the first crowd I was a part of that cheered Voeckler, though he fell off the pace on the climb to the Galibier and fell off even further on L'Alpe d'Huez. He was lucky to only lose three minutes. It could have been ten or more and might have fallen behind Danielson and out of the Top Ten.
The Garmin boys once again gave the best team effort. Hesjedal for awhile led the chase after Contador on L'Alpe d'Huez. Danielson was in the main group behind and Christian hung with Voeckler, just nipping him at the line. But the French could go crazy when Voeckler's young teammate, Pierre Rolland, was allowed to race on his own and overcome the 33 second deficit he had for the best young rider category. Not only did he take over the White Jersey but he won the stage, a rare unknown to join the pantheon of all the greats who have won this stage the 27 times it has been included in The Race since 1952 when Coppi won it. Lance won it twice and Pantani and Hinault and Zootemelk and Sastre and the older Schleck brother. And finally the French have won a stage in this race. Last year was an exceptional year when they won six stages. All six stages winners were invited to a visit with President Sarkozy. This year he has invited all 45 French riders who rode in The Race.