Perpigan, July 20
A second phase of the Tour de France begins today, the morning after the Tour’s first rest day. And what a bizarre and time-warped Tour de France it is — similar to a Pepe le Moko clock about which legendary cycling historian Pierre Chany once wrote: “When the clock strikes noon, it’s 10 o’clock or 3 o’clock, or even 5 o’clock!”
In other words, this “second” Tour is not the same for everyone. If you had to place bets this morning, you could imagine that of the riders in front and the riders behind, the riders ahead are not necessarily those who are best-placed on G.C. For example, consider Roberto Heras, the winner of the last Tour of Spain, a noted climber who is about to begin three days of racing in his favorite terrain. For him, a five- or six-minute deficit is so little that his name should be put among the list of favorites.
On the other hand, consider a hypothetical situation in which the following have emerged from the Alps unscathed: Jan Ullrich, say, in the yellow jersey, or a Christophe Moreau, a Laurent Jalabert, or a David Millar. None of these riders can rule out having a bad day in the approaching mountain stages in the Pyrenees, where the advantage will go to those with lighter builds.
With this in mind, one must ask whether the race organizers, in picking three new summit finishes after those at L’Alpe d’Huez and Chamrousse, are not giving too big an advantage to the climbers? Were they not dreaming, when pulling out their scissors, of making a made-to-measure suit for the masters of altitude like Marco Pantani? But this would be forgetting that it was on this type of terrain, at Sestriere in 1999 and Hautacam in 2000, that Lance Armstrong dominated; and that at the summit of Mont Ventoux last year, he cut the Italian down to size. Consequently, though the climbers may have a theoretical advantage here, an upset still remains a possibility.