By Jonathan Vaughters
Tomorrow’s TT is going to be the turning point in this year’s Tour de France, folks. We will get to see if the race will continue to be a tight, well-fought battle all through the Pyrénées, or if Lance Armstrong will dominate.
The rolling TT on small roads and a typically pesky wind should favor the truly strong riders as opposed to TT riders. Also, this type of parcours will cause time gaps larger than normal, so look for that.
Lance doesn’t have to win the TT in order to show that he’ll blow everyone out of the water in the Pyrénées, but he will have to take big time out of Mayo and the rest of the Euskaltel horde. Otherwise, I think the pesky Spanish climbers could make life really hard for him in the hot mountains bordering their homeland. Laiseka and Zubeldia can attack from afar, forcing USPS to ride harder than they’ve had to in the past, which could set up Mayo for a knock-out blow, if he maintains his strength in the second and third week.
More obviously, Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton will either gain or not lose much time on Lance in the TT, as these two along with Armstrong will make up the podium tomorrow. Although they represent a bit less of a threat in Pyrénées than Euskaltel, it does add two more riders that will be within a tight time margin. A race lead always is more difficult to defend when more rivals are close, as each attack must be taken seriously. Stress can build quickly when this is the case.
I also don’t exclude the possibilty of Hamilton having a quick enough ride to actually take the race lead, if Lance is having a poor day. If this were to happen, it would change the whole face of the TdF, as Lance will have to attack, and a somewhat weaker team would have to defend. The race would rip apart in the Pyrénées if this were to pass.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned Alexandre Vinokourov yet. Vino’ is a great attacking rider, but i think he’ll lose a bit of time to the specialists in the TT, although not enough to keep him off the radar for the next set of mountains.
I’ve already spoken of six riders who will be hard to control for USPS! Not in the last four Tours have there been so many rivals this close so late in the race. That’s why tomorrow will be the day when the Tour turns toward its conclusion. Of course it won’t give the final answer – but I think we’ll have a good clue by the end of the TT.