95th Tour: Week 2 Review

by Jack  

As week 2 of this year's Tour comes to a close, it certainly didn't end without causing a lot of controversy. Unfortunately again, the main topic was not what happened on the road but what happened off of it.

We learned this week that in addition to Manuel Beltran (Liquigas) testing positive for dope, two other riders also were caught. Spanish rider Moisés Dueñas (Barloworld) also tested positive for EPO and was kicked out of the Tour but his team decided to continue the race. So far, even with these two riders testing positive, the general consensus was that this is still a successful Tour and that the cheats are now few and far between. But then the big news broke on Thursday. Italian rock star Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) tested positive for EPO. But this wasn't any old EPO. He was found to have traces of a new generation of EPO called CERA. Apparently some people think that the testing agencies haven't caught up and thought they could sneak by with this new drug. Riccò found out the hard way that this type of action will not be tolerated. Let's hope week 3 will be clear of negative news.

The biggest disappointment for me during week 2 was the inability for Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) to keep pace with the leaders. All other pre-race favorites asserted themselves and announced that they were here to play. Of course, we know Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) became the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey since 2004 but he is followed closely by Luxembourger Frank Schleck (Team CSC) and has no less than 4 riders within 1 minute of him in the GC.

The biggest surprise in a positive way so far has got to be the effort American Christian Vande Velde (Team Garmin Chipotle) has put in. He's kept pace with all of the leaders throughout the Tour including up the feared climb of Hautacam and has even attacked his fellow companions. In interviews, he's continuously said he is in the form of his life and that he expects to continue to stay with the leaders in the Alps. Let's all put our hands together for Christian. At a time when we thought American cycling has gone downhill with the retirement of Lance Armstrong and the Floyd Landis fiasco, Christian shows up and gives us something to cheer for. Of course, let's not forget that we would also be cheering for Levi Liepheimer if it weren't for ASO.

So as we continue to watch Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia) win every sprint stage, we also look forward to the next appointment for the GC contenders. They enter the Alps this weekend starting with Sunday's stage into Italy. Team CSC has shown they are the strongest team and promises to attack, attack and attack. Cadel has admitted what we already know, that his team is not the strongest in the race as he was isolated pretty fast during the tough Pyrenean stage on Monday. Look for a lot of fireworks on each and every stage in the Alps. Cadel has to not only watch Frank Schleck but also his teammate Carlos Sastre who seems to be riding well. In addition to those two, I actually see Denis Menchov (Rabobank) as the strongest challenger to Evans for the simple reason that he can time trial. Both CSC riders have to gain at least 3 or 4 minutes in the Alps to have a shot at holding off Cadel (or Menchov or Vande Velde for that matter) for the final yellow jersey in Paris.

I hope that both Valverde and Cunego can find the form we know they possess. Even though their shots at overall yellow is realistically gone, they can still ride for pride and go for the podium or a stage win. I'd like to see them win a stage in the Alps so I'm rooting for them.

Now that my initial guess at a top 3 has been shot, I foresee Evans struggling to keep the yellow jersey in the Alps. But the big question is can his rivals gain the required minutes before the penultimate stage time trial? Unless Evans cracks big time, I don't see this happening. As it's been proven in the past, the best time trialist that can climb usually is a sure bet to win the Tour. This year is no different. I see the top 3 time trialists battling it out for the podium. They are Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov and Christian Vande Velde.

See you in Paris.

Cavendish is the God of the sprints this year. Credit: Roberto Bettini

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