Tour analysis: Is the race now over?
Is the Tour over?
Not necessarily, but the strongest climber in the race now leads, with several days in the mountains to come, and only bad luck or carelessness will prevent Contador from riding into Paris in yellow.
The Spaniard is in a supreme position of strength. Nobody could follow his initial acceleration, and unusually for the Spanish rider, who often gains quickly before settling into a more steady rhythm, he gained all the way to the line. On Ventoux, which has an average gradient very similar to Verbier (7.5 per cent for Verbier, 7.6 per cent for Ventoux), but is 12 kilometres longer, it’s hard to imagine Contador resisting the temptation to win in yellow.
Of his rivals, Andy Schleck is neither climbing nor time trialling as well, and Wiggins can’t match him in the mountains. And Astana are too strong for him to be vulnerable to the kind of tactical ambush which won CSC the Tour last year.
What is over, however, is the debate which has been raging since before the season even started, about who is going to lead Astana at the Tour. The decision has been a long time coming, but it has definitively been made.
How high can Wiggins finish?
Bets have been placed between the British journos in the Tour press room, and dinners are at stake, with predictions between 10th, and first overall.
We’ve got a feeling that second is not out of the question, with third a little more likely. It’s going to depend on how he manages the gap between himself and Andy Schleck. Wiggins still has 40 seconds on Schleck, plus whatever he can gain in the time trial, which should be 90 seconds to two minutes, judging by Monaco, where Wiggins put 40 seconds into the Saxo Bank rider.
That gives Wiggo a cushion of around 2-30.
But Schleck has three days in the mountains to add to the 23 seconds he gained on Wiggins today. Tuesday’s stage to Bourg St Maurice isn’t likely to create gaps, but Wiggins will be entering unknown territory on the five-col stage the next day to Le Grand Bornand, Schleck can do more damage to Wiggins on the Romme and Colombière than he did today, and again on the Ventoux.
The heart says second for Wiggins, but the head says third.
Why did Saxo Bank ride so hard at the bottom?
Contador attacked relatively early on the climb, just past the six kilometres to go marker.
But the damage had already been done to the lead group by then, by rival team Saxo Bank. Saxo Bank’s pace whittled the group down to a handful of riders, with the intention of setting up Andy or Frank Schleck.
Instead, it gave Contador his springboard. The searing pace set by Saxo Bank until then made it impossible for anybody to respond, even Andy Schleck, who was supposed to be the beneficiary.
Why did Kloden chase behind Contador’s attack?
With Contador ahead, it shouldn’t normally have been Astana’s responsibility to work behind him.
But with Andy Schleck also up the road, Kloden was defending Armstrong’s second place overall. Tactically, it was justified, although its main effect was to pace Wiggins, Frank Schleck and Nibali up before Armstrong faltered.