– By Chris Carmichael –
If Andy Schleck can match his performances from the Pyrenees and the Alps tomorrow, he will retain his second place position in the overall standings, and certainly his lead in the Young Rider’s white jersey competition. But he’s been attacking relentlessly for days, and he dug deep yesterday in order to ride a phenomenal time trial, so it’s not out of the question for him to have a bad day tomorrow. Furthermore, he hasn’t conceded the race for the yellow jersey, either.
When he gets to the foot of one of the hardest climbs in cycling sitting in second place on the general classification, he’s not just going to sit back and ride tempo to the top. He and his brother Frank have seen that their attacks make everyone hurt – even Contador looked to be under pressure at the top of the Col du Colombiere on Stage 17 – and they’re going to throw everything they have left at Contador in an effort to crack him and steal his yellow jersey. The big question is whether Andy Schleck will push himself over the edge, and hand the advantage over to the riders behind him in the standings.
The Schlecks should provide for a fair bit of entertainment and drama on the Ventoux.
Lance is in the best of situations and the worst of situations. In order to remain in third place, all he needs to do is stay with Bradley Wiggins and Andreas Kloden, and stay close enough to Frank Schleck so the older of the Schleck brothers doesn’t leapfrog his way too far up the leader board. But he’s also in a difficult position because second place isn’t entirely out of reach. If Lance has a very strong ride on Mont Ventoux, and Andy Schleck struggles, it’s possible for Lance to reach the top 90 seconds faster and move up into second overall. At the end of the day, I think Lance’s first priority will be to defend his third place position, and he’ll only make a move on Andy Schleck if he’s with the Saxo Bank rider and Wiggins is already off the back of the group. Challenging for second place would be nice, but not at the risk of losing a position on the final podium in Paris.
The revelation of this year’s Tour de France, Wiggins has one last chance to claim a step on the final podium in Paris. On Stage 17, Lance Armstrong left him behind on the Col du Colombiere and extended his lead over the Garmin rider from 9 seconds to 62. The very next day, Wiggins used his time trial power to bring that deficit back down to 11 seconds. And today, based on a small gap that formed in the final surge for the finish line, Lance gained 4 seconds. So Wiggins will start tomorrow with just 15 seconds between him and the podium (assuming everything else stays status quo). Working in Wiggins’ favor is the fact that the route to the final climb is nowhere near as difficult as the kilometers that preceded the Col du Colombiere on Stage 17. He’s shown that he’s able to stay with the leaders, with or even in front of Armstrong, when he’s relatively fresh. Stage 17 was a war of attrition, and even then he only lost contact with Armstrong within the final two kilometers of the last climb of the day.
Lance Armstrong will have a number of cards to play tomorrow – 2nd overall is still a distinct possibility?
Andreas Kloden is in a difficult spot. He’s currently fifth overall, but within striking distance of a step on the final podium in Paris. The trouble is, two of his teammates are ahead of him in the standings. He’ll be a great asset for both Contador and Armstrong – as he has been the entire race – and depending on the way the race shakes out, he may find himself with the opportunity to move up in the standings.
Frank Schleck And Vincenzo Nibali
Vincenzo Nibali is the wildcard in the tactical scenarios for Stage 20. He’s obviously a strong climber, but he’s far enough away from the podium that he may be given some freedom to attack – if he has the legs to do it.
For Frank Schleck, the aim will undoubtedly be to inflict as much damage as possible on everyone except his own brother. As we saw in Stage 17, Frank and Andy working together can whittle the led group down to just them, Contador, and maybe one or two other riders. If Frank has the power to repeat his performance from Stage 17, and riders like Armstrong, Wiggins, and Kloden falter, the Schleck brothers standing on the second and third steps of the final podium in Paris in not out of the question.
The Tour returns to the Mont Ventoux for the first time in a long while tomorrow. The stage is set for a fantastic show.
One thing makes it very difficult to make predictions about Stage 20, and that is its position as the penultimate stage of the 2009 Tour de France. Normally, riders have to evaluate the long-range impact of their tactical decisions because there are more stages to come, more mountains to climb, more time time trials to complete. But not tomorrow. Yes, there’s one more stage into Paris, but that’s mostly a procession followed by a short circuit race that ends in a mass sprint. Barring a last-minute crash, the top ten positions in the overall standings are pretty much set before the final stage even starts. That means riders can leave everything on the slopes of the Mont Ventoux, give their last ounce of effort, save nothing for later. To be honest, I can’t remember the last time we’ve actually seen that kind of scenario in a stage race (you see it all the time in one-day classics).
What I do know is that when you take the very best athletes in the world and you give them an opportunity to push to their absolute limits, they will take that opportunity and deliver astounding performances. I think Stage 20 will be one for the ages, and at the end there will be no doubt as to the fact that the men standing on the final podium in Paris deserve to be there.
• Chris Carmichael has been Lance Armstrong’s coach for 20 years and is the founder of Carmichael Training Systems (CTS). Chris’s newest book, “The Time Crunched Cyclist: Fit, Fast, and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week” has just been released and signed copies are available at www.trainright.com. There you can also get information on CTS’ Create Your Own Comeback program, the free Do the Tour…Stay at Home™ training program, and the free CTS Tour de France Newsletter. You should also follow Chris on Twitter.
PEZ Tweets: Be sure to sign up for our PEZ Twitter Feed at Twitter.com/PezCycling