Schlecks' attack stirs ranks at Tour (cont.)
Dinner at the Saxo Bank hotel, meanwhile, should be a festive affair. The Schlecks need to enjoy today's stage victory, and their rise to second and third in the overall standings, because it's not going to last very long. They're not especially good time trialers; tomorrow's stage is a 40-kilometer contre le montre around Lake Annecy.
Let's say Lance takes two minutes out of Andy in the time trail. That would give him a half-minute cushion going into Saturday's decisive stage ending on the hors categorie Mont Ventoux. Armstrong's problem is, based on what we saw Wednesday, Schleck could take that time back -- and plenty more -- on the so-called "Giant of Provence."
Lance also needs to keep an eye on Kloden, who was lucky to be selected for this Tour, considering recent allegations against him. The German rider has twice finished second in the Tour, and may well better Armstrong in the time trial.
Armstrong may lack the acceleration that launched him to seven Tour victories, but he's making up for it, a little, in savvy. Contador's biggest threat going into this stage was Garmin's surprising Bradley Wiggins, who has suddenly learned, in his ninth year as a pro, how to climb with the best ascenders in the world.
Because Wiggins is also superb in the time trial, he has lately held Bruyneel's full attention. After letting the Schlecks ride away on the Romme, Armstrong made himself useful to Contador by sitting on Wiggins' wheel for the better part of 15 kilometers. Wiggo had to be pleased with that arrangement, secure in the knowledge that he would take time out of Armstrong in the time trial -- and possibly bump him off the podium in Paris.
But the Brit's podium hopes became much more remote when Armstrong, after giving the appearance that he was at his limit, lit the fuse, unleashing a sharp, nasty, vintage-Lance attack to which Wiggo had no answer. He ended up dropping 49 seconds to the Texan.
What we may be looking at, folks, is an all-Astana podium in Paris, with Contador on the top step, and Armstrong battling Kloden for the second step. The second and third place riders will smile and tell the world how pleased they are for the winner, and no one will believe them.