The drama of the Tour de France got a lot more interesting today with Lance Armstrong moving up to 3rd place in the G.C. today in the Tour de France, and Astana team leader Alberto Contador 19 seconds behind in 4th place, leaving everybody asking:
* Who will don the Yellow Jersey after tomorrow?
* Will Armstrong give up his lead to help Contador?
* Which rider will Team Astana support?
Armstrong finished with the breakaway group with two other Astana riders, while Contador finished in the second group back with almost the entire Astana team, including American Levi Leipheimer.
You're Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel. What do you tell the team?
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Thought #1 Who is in better shape overall? Who has delivered more over the course of the year, and shown himself capable of delivering? Contador might theoretically be in better shape, but what of Leipheimer?
In this case, I'd probably set some sort of informal deadline--say the first time trial. Have a team meeting, and get everyone to agree that that man's the leader.
Thought #2 Go with Armstrong, provided he shows himself to be up to task. Contador's mouthing off prior to the Tour cannot be rewarded.
Bottom line: within the team if not to the world, there has to be a leader. At some point, he's going to have to make a choice. Perhaps he already has...
Thought #3 Use the perception of infighting between Armstrong and Contador as a distraction. Leipheimer for the win!
Lance had the skill/tactics to know to make the jump as the breakaway was pulling out, but he also had the luck of being in a position where he could make that instant jump. Maybe Leipheimer or Contador would have done the same if they were able to jump then. It's possible that they saw it coming, but didn't count on the break actually succeeding either. It's probably too early to make all-out efforts if the breaks are not worth catching, or if you already have a teammate in it.
My prediction is that Contador will be the leader, but that Lance will still try very hard to stay as close to him as possible.
Here's a twist...all this drama on Astana has been planned and played to create buzz. Look at how it's being presented, so the world will talk about the controversy. That's not bad, BTW, just business.
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Re Armstrong's experience, there's this quote from him today: "It wasn't that they didn't take advantage. It was just that they weren't there. When you see what the wind is doing and you have a turn coming up, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out you have to go to the front."
I've seen plenty of stupid stuff from DS'es in the past, including Bruyneel, that when something seems to be perfection I am sometimes not so quick to give credit. This worked really well for Astana, how much was deliberate and how much happenstance I cannot say.
If I were Bruyneel and had the value of hindsight, I'd order the team to stay near the front, watch Columbia, and when the winds started, get Lance/Haimar/Popo into the front and then have Rast and Paulinho soft pedal in around 25th place and allow a gap to form, as soon as a situation occured where no GC contenders were up in front (Rodgers doesn't count). Brilliant.
With a gap in place and all 9 Columbia's in front, they started burning cases of matches. Glory be, Skil-Shimano decided to get involved. Do ZERO work, in front or in back. Let Saxo and Liquigas panic in back trying to decide if they want to worry about Lance or not. I didn't see any Cervelos or Garmins chasing while watching this AM, I don't think Cervelo is worried about Lance and Garmin has to focus on tomorrow.
Now, one of two things happens. First, the split is reeled in, Columbia, Saxo, Liquigas, burned some gas. Second, the split stays out about 30 seconds and now you are within 10k or so of the finish. Send Haimar and Popo to the front to guarantee the break stays away so that Columbia continues to bury themselves into the ground.
Tomorrow, kick Columbia's tired butt into the ground by at least 10 seconds and put Lance into Yellow. Yes, Bruyneel wants to win at all costs, but Lance standing up there putting on the yellow Jersey is a close second. Note this meant Levi and Kloden could NOT go into the break. I highly doubt Saxo will be able to keep Fabien in Yellow, and by splitting off Wiggins, Garmin has been nuetralized as well.
Contador is still option #1. Lance and Levi are probably options 2A and 2B, with Klodi option 3. It's very valuable to get Lance 40 seconds today - even assuming there is no doping going on there is always the chance Contador could crash out of the race.
That said, Lance probably was just opportunistic and had 2 riders at his side. I do think that the order to send Haimar and Popo to the front was as much to keep Columbia working as for the extra seconds.
..."The post-race polemics continued on Monday, with Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) blaming Contador for the split. "When the split happened I was right on Contador's wheel," he said. "If it's true there were 29 guys in front he must have been 30th and I was 31st. It was him who caused the split."...
...go figure...& as posted, "it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out you have to go to the front."...hmmm...who could said that ???...prob'ly somebody who's gonna pay attention to every obvious detail for the next 2 1/2 weeks...
I liked Armstrong's quote that “it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out you have to go to the front”. That definitely came across as a jab to Contador. Also good was Cavendish's statement that those who missed the break were “racing like juniors'. That seemed pretty targeted at one guy as well.
I don't know whether or not Cav or Hincapie gave Lance some sort of signal as some have speculated, but I do love the way the drama is unfolding on Astana. It is shaping up to be a very interesting tour, and I personally hope that we get a repeat of the drama from the '86 tour. Hinault may not want to hear it, but I think Armstrong has that same desire to win at all cost that he did in his years of racing, even the later ones. It is easy to make statements about team unity as Hinault did after LeMond reluctantly helped him win his fifth tour in ‘85, but it is harder to stand by those promises later when an opportunity arises and that killer instinct kicks in. I think the same is true with Armstrong. He may have been able to play that role of super-domestique in other races this season, but that is going to be hard for him to do in France. I don’t know whether he can win an 8th Tour at 37, but I don’t think he can, or will, stop trying.
I believe that even if Bruyneel chooses to stand behind Contador as the sole team leader at some point (which will not happen), Armstrong will probably continue to take every opportunity that he can to TRY and grab bits of time here and there. And why shouldn’t he? As he said today, he is a 7-time winner so he deserves some credit. No matter how the Astana rivalry plays out, it makes for an interesting race. This is shaping up to be a great Tour.
The post-race polemics continued on Monday, with Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) blaming Contador for the split. "When the split happened I was right on Contador's wheel," he said. "If it's true there were 29 guys in front he must have been 30th and I was 31st. It was him who caused the split."...
Who is to say that Bruyneel did not ORDER the split? That split helps Astana, including Contador.
Now there are comments surfacing from other rider(s) that Contador was the rider that caused the split, or at least was at the front of the resulting peleton when the split happened....if it was Johan's idea, then brilliant!
...johan bruyneel, as team director wants another feather in his "TdF" cap... ...alberto contador wants another feather in HIS 'TdF' cap but has all but confirmed that he'll ride for a spanish team next year... ...lance armstrong definitely wants another feather in his 'TdF' cap, if he can pull it off after years of active retirement & he & bruyneel are pretty much assured of putting a new team together next year because... ...alexander vinokourov is making loud threatening noises about 'his astana team'...
...ergo, bruyneel is almost assured of glory w/ either of his two leaders or even kloden or liephiemer if everything else falls to crap...
...he sits back, does his usual marvelous job & he's in the 'catbird's seat', any or either way...(but his team needs to win)...
...armstrong, no matter how it plays out is also in the 'catbird's seat'...late 30's, retired for years & yet considered a favorite as a former 7X winner ???...damn, son, that's some powerful ju-ju...win, lose or draw, he's doing it & he's well respected by every rider in that bunch...
...pretty much WIN - WIN for johan n' lance...
...but as we all know, it still has to be played out on the roads n' in the mountains of france...