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Pontarlier, July 16
We finally notice it once it enters its second week: this Tour de France is not like the others, and even if it does not claim, with its 3462km, to be the shortest in history (the first editions, almost a century ago, were less than 2500km), it nevertheless equates to a rather low average stage distance. Therefore, since the team time trial, the succession of fairly short stages, multiplying the number of stops, creates the impression that we are postponing, day by day, the head-on collision with the race’s core. A second reading would lead us to believe that the organizers are controlling the suspense.
Whatever it may be, according to this approach, the mountains are getting closer but without really arriving: There is in this approach something of a strip-tease. The sprinters will value this, since they will find at Aix-les-Bains, after 185km, the setting for an ultimate confrontation. In return, the true climbers will just be biding their time, and we think we speak the truth in saying that they are raring to go!
It remains, though, that a strip-tease is a strip-tease, a suspense in suspense. The mistake would be to rush things, especially as the proximity of the high mountains invites us to ask various questions, one concerning the general classification: Has it evolved over the course of the past four days? And if yes, in what sense? For the theory at the foot of the Alps is often two-pronged: Either the candidates for the yellow jersey, a little unsettled by the prologue and team time trial, are back at ground zero; or recent tiredness has again accentuated the time gaps. To this is added the principal question: What will become of Lance Armstrong, the winner of the two preceding Tours, and, on paper, the centerpiece of this Tour? Logic would tell us that he is still on course for a third victory.