The first major Tour de France crash couldn’t have made a greater impact. The Stage 1 results were never expected to favor Alberto Contador, but he was at least supposed to stay upright as he began his three-peat quest. But given all that has gone against Contador, a crash was inevitable, leaving his chances for his fourth Tour de France win on the ropes after Stage 1. Yet if that is the case, then the results would leave the sport of cycling to breathe a sigh of relief.
The worst case scenario for the Tour, and for cycling, is for Contador to win his third straight yellow jersey, and then get stripped of his 2010 and 2011 titles a few weeks later. His positive doping test from months ago is under review, as he could get banned from competition when the verdict comes in early August.
But after Saturday’s crash, the Tour is now a bit more wide open than before, although Andy Schleck is now more of a favorite to step in. The incident wasn’t even Contador’s fault, as Kazakh Maxim Iglinskiy crashed into a spectator and caused much of the main pack to halt. Since Contador was among that pack, he had to suffer for these mistakes.
To those who now see him as the new symbol of an ever-corrupt sport, this can be seen as poetic justice. To those who are hoping he doesn’t win, so that he can’t be stripped of the 2011 yellow jersey next month, this can be seen as a great relief. However, the race still has three more weeks left to go.
The Tour is usually won on the second week in the mountains, so it can’t really be won or lost at this early stage. Contador is behind the main pack by a minute and 15 seconds, according to Reuters, but a lot of it still can be easily made up. Of course, even if he marches up the standings, he will likely have to overcome Schleck at the end, which could be harder with this kind of deficit.
Schleck has finished second to Contador for the last two years, and has been waiting for an opportunity to finally break through. Now the Tour de France is exceedingly wide open for him, assuming he doesn’t get into a crash of his own. If he avoids mistakes, and if he can hold off Contador in the middle-to-late stages for once, then the yellow jersey may finally be his.
But since Saturday’s results technically favored Philippe Gilbert, the race isn’t a two-man competition quite yet. Schleck and Contador will likely lay low for Stage 2 and beyond, before making a bigger move by the end of Week 1, or the start of Week 2.
Reuters- “Crash delays Alberto Contador as Philippe Gilbert wins”