CONTADOR AND EVANS WIN ON SAME DAY
It could hardly be more ironic than this.
On Thursday 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador (Astana) stomped his authority all over the Tour of Castile and Leon in Spain with a spectacular mountain top stage victory.
Meanwhile, 1500 kilometres further east, Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) - the man Contador forced into second place in the 2007 Tour - was doing exactly the same in the hardest leg of the Coppi e Bartali stage race in Italy.
The coincidences don’t stop there. Both races are five days long. Both have the same UCI classification - 2.1. Both are being raced in freezing weather conditions.
With snow piled high on either side of the road, Contador won after breaking away two kilometres from the summit of the Montaña Palentina. There’s just one day to go, so Contador’s lead in Castille and Leon is now all but unbreakable.
That’s in a race with contenders as strong as double Vuelta winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Tour star Carlos Sastre (CSC), 2007 Tour King of the Mountains Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) and Contador’s own team-mate Levi Leipheimer.
Meanwhile, round about the same time as Contador attacked, Cadel Evans put in a solo move 10 kilometres from the top fo the Valico di Gaiato climb to become leader of the Coppi and Bartali.
Amongst those who were crumbled in the face of Evans attack were former Giro winner Stefano Garzelli (Acqua e Sapone). Again, with one big mountain stage, it’s all over bar the shouting. Like Contador, Evans is home free.
For Contador, winning stage races like this is business as usual. He won Castille and Leon last year, after all. (Not to mention Paris-Nice and the Tour).
The good news for Evans is that he has finally broken free of the accusations of ‘never attacking and never winning’. So far this year he’s chalked up wins on the Ventoux in Paris-Nice, the toughest stage of the Tour of Andalucia and again in Coppi and Bartali. That’s every race he’s taken part in in 2008.
Under normal circumstances, cycling fans would rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of two Tour specialists clearly on top of their game, already upping the tension in the spring. Neither of them are holding back, even in March. Both of them have points to prove.
Except, of course, that Contador’s point is that he can’t race the Tour this summer.
“He shows he should be in the best races.” the Astana press release insisted with feeble monotony on Thursday evening.
Perhaps. But Contador’s decision to ride for the Kazakh team, which was his and his alone, has ended up with him being barred from the Tour.
The Tour does not want to see Astana present in 2008 in any of its races and under any circumstances -as ASO president Patrice Clerc made abundantly clear on Wednesday.
”They had their chance to clean up their act in 2007. It didn’t happen.” Clerc insisted. Not even a 25, 000 strong petition in favour of Contador, handed to the ASO boss at a meeting in Madrid, could persuade him to change his mind. Or team manager Johan Bruyneel’s repeated insistence that Astana have been singled out unfairly.
So the what-might-have beens and what-ifs remain. If circumstances were different, Evans and Contador’s lone mountain top wins in March would have been dress rehearsals for a spectacular battle come the summer. The Tour 2008 could have been the Ullrich-Armstrong duel that never was: rather than the tedium of Armstrong's domination and Ullrich's acceptance of his fate as Mr. Runner-Up, we'd have had two immensely gifted climbers slugging it out in the Alps and Pyrenees.
What better way, some might argue, to pull back the fans? Or would the sight of one of them wearing an Astana jersey, maybe even on the podium in Paris, cause them to turn off their television sets in disgust?
The jury is out on that one, probably permanently. Meanwhile, it’s looking better and better for Evans this July, whilst for Contador, this side of the summer winning the Castille and Leon Trophy is as good as it is going to get.
Funny sport, cycling.