Wednesday, July 08, 2009


First Cuts

OK, I’ll admit it. I didn’t fully account for how much the team time trial would shape the general classification in this year’s Tour, largely because, in a blatant and shocking display of cowardice, I’ve avoided making any GC predictions at all. But just looking at what yesterday’s throwdown did to Cadel Evans’ overall chances was enough to reawaken me to the power and influence of the TTT now that it’s no longer neutered by the fixed time gaps used in its two prior Tour appearances.

Silence-Lotto’s dismal 13th place performance has left Evans sitting in 35th position at this point, though, as always, the placings following the TTT don’t mean much. What does matter, though, is time, and Evans now finds himself 2:59 adrift from the lead, 2:36 of which were lost in yesterday’s team time trial. The big sites can calculate how far back on the true contenders he is for you, but I'll go ahead and tell you it isn't pretty, and for a guy who came second in last year’s Tour by less than a minute, that’s a pretty big blow.

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) has never struck me as a particularly emotional man, but if Evans is looking for a shoulder to cry on, Menchov might be a good place to start. The reigning Giro d’Italia champion had a fairly mediocre opening time trial, bled a few more seconds on the great stage 3 breakaway, and then threw himself to the pavement early in the TTT. With its principal motor apparently rattled, Rabobank never really seemed to recover. The team was never expected to be among the top four teams in the TTT, but it should have been fairly close – not finishing 11th and dropping 2:21 in the process, leaving Menchov a yawning 3:52 from the front of the race. Maybe it’s bad juju from having a Russian leader and a Spanish sprinter, or maybe it’s something else, but the Dutch TTT mystique of decades past seems to have finally and completely worn off. Between Rabobank’s 11th place and Skil-Shimano’s DFL, Peter Post must be ready to slap someone.

Losing a couple of minutes early in the Tour de France is, generally speaking, nothing to get terribly weepy over – it’s a long race, and there’s still all of the mountains and another TT left to come. But if you look specifically at the riders expected to fight out the overall, and their capabilities, yesterday’s TTT was likely the death knell for Evans’ and Menchov’s chances. Both riders fall solidly on the time trialist end of the climber-time trialist GC spectrum, and in losing time to riders like Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong (both Astana) in the first two races against the clock, and to the Schleck brothers (both Saxo Bank) in the TTT, their serve has effectively been broken. Now, the other contenders will enter their preferred hunting grounds in the Pyrenees and the Alps, and Menchov and Evans will likely adopt their usual “minimize the losses” mountain strategies. Unfortunately, when you’re already behind, minimizing your losses isn’t much of a strategy at all.

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