PEZ: Will we be seeing more of you on Eurosport, this Tour, Brian?
Brian: I was on for the opening stages, with Magnus Backstedt but they want to keep it varied; they’ve had Stephen Roche (’87 Tour winner), Rob Hayles (former world Madison and team pursuit winner) and Malcolm Elliott (former Vuelta green jersey). I think they want me back for the closing weekend but I have a family holiday trip to Scotland to fit in before that and the finale of the Tour clashes with the East Yorkshire Classic in England – which I’ll be covering for TV for our company Cyclevox.com – so I’m not certain, yet.
PEZ: Brice Feillu’s win on Friday?
Brian: I think he showed a mature head on young shoulders; I also think that the break got more time than Astana would have liked – Lance wanted the jersey on that stage. I think Lance knew that it would be difficult after that because Alberto would assert himself. But back to Feillu; there was a lot of jumping about in that group – guys get carried away, because it’s le Tour – but Feillu kept a cool head and watched, waited and timed it just right; it’s good to see young riders coming through, especially French ones.
Brice Feillu kept a cool head, rode smart, and finished with the win in Stage 7.
PEZ: Nocentini, a surprise?
Brian: No, he’s a classy rider, he’s been up there in Paris-Nice but this is the first time he’s showed in a three week tour. And on Saturday, he was only in trouble when the Schlecks were attacking.
Rinaldo Nocentini looks strong in yellow.
PEZ: The Cancellara dream?
Brian: I didn’t expect him to crack, I have to say. But I was talking to David Millar the other day and he was saying that it had been a very difficult first week – you have to remember that Cancellara expended a huge amount of energy in that TTT. However, Cancellara does want to win, one day; he’s been world and Olympic champion – it’s the only thing that’s missing from his palmares. Cancellara/Indurain – they’re not that different, never climbers, but big strong guys; get a long time trial back in and parcours that suit him a little better and it’s certainly possible that he could win.
Fabian Cancellara had a brilliant first week, but Brian thinks there’s a lot more to come from the big Swiss.
PEZ: The three days through the Pyrenees weren’t too savage.
Brian: Everyone is thinking about the last week, already – I think that the Ventoux is in a lot of minds. No one is putting any pressure on Astana, at some stage Evans, Sastre and the Schlecks have to take time back – and that last week is very tough. Astana look very strong just now, but in the Alps their rivals have to get together and see if they can prize open the cracks.
The Pyrenees didn’t amount to too much in 2009.
PEZ: Wiggins – a revelation.
Brian: He’s lost weight, he has a new coach and he’s realised that he hasn’t made a success of the road; despite an amazing track career. He was World Junior Pursuit Champion and had been a top track rider for a long time. But he’s matured and wants to do well on the road. When I first met him, he could tell me about the times he’d seen me ride the Milk Race in the 80’s – his heart and interest are on the road. Look at Ekimov, he made the successful transition from World Pursuit Champion to very successful road rider. Can he last three weeks? – we’ll have to wait and see.
Bradley Wiggins has been one of the revelations of this year’s Tour. The Alps will show just how much of a revelation.
PEZ: Other surprises?
Brian: The highlight for me is to see Feillu coming through.
I’m also very impressed with Columbia and Cav in particular, previously his positioning in the bunch could let him down, but this year he’s been in the right place at the right time, never getting caught out with the splits – he’s a different rider.
Mark Cavendish has had a strong Tour so far – expect to see more of him this week.
Brian: Menchov, perhaps, but you have to remember that was an immensely tough Giro – Di Luca was hitting him every day, chipping away at him and I’m not sure that he’s recovered.
I’m also disappointed that the sprinters haven’t showed – just Cav and Thor Hushovd (Tyler Farrar has been in the mix, too. ed). Where are Boonen, Bennati, Napolitano – and we’ve only seen a little of Freire?
Thor is in green, and the odds look good for him to take it to Paris.
PEZ: A nice little move by Hushovd on Saturday to take green.
Brian: I’ve got to know Thor, with being involved in the set up of the Cervelo team. At the training camp in Portugal he was riding on brute strength, but the team have been giving him exercises to cultivate better use of his muscles to achieve a smoother pedalling action. For me, Thor is the favourite for green – I’d love to see Cav win, but I think Hushovd will score more points in the intermediate sprints and he can climb better than Cav.
Brian: As I said on Eurosport the other day, it’s hard to see past Astana – they are so strong and when they have AG2R helping, like they did on Saturday, it makes it easier for them. I think that it could become a very negative race once they are in yellow; it could go back to the US Postal days where they are on the front all day, every day. I think it’ll be hard for Lance to get the jersey now that Alberto has his nose in front; Contador is the type of rider that if he feels good, he goes – and that’s what he did on Friday.
What else is there to say? Astana is an all-star team.
PEZ: Sanchez’s stage win?
Brian: Very cunning – he rode it perfectly, just doing enough, using the others to chase, shaking his head that he was finished. He won’t get away with that again, though! Astarloza was very strong but there can only be one winner on the stage; it wouldn’t have been fair if Efimkin had won.
Luis Leon Sanchez took a great stage win on Saturday. Perhaps there’s another in store before we’re done?
PEZ: And the winner is?
Brian: Contador, I’ve said that from the start. Lance could be second; in fact Astana could be one, two, three, most likely with Kloden. Levi cracked in the Giro and they had him working, yesterday. When Contador won the Tour the first time, he wasn’t under pressure, but this year, all eyes are on him – if he wins and Lance is second then he can say; “I helped Alberto to get that difficult second Tour win.”
It’s hard not to go with Contador.
With thanks to Brian for the thought provoking comments. We’ll be hearing from him again, over the next two weeks.