The Tour de France through Stage 8 is surprising and predictable. Thor Hushovd, Cadel Evans and Frank Schleck are leading the way, but by next week, the Tour should be quite different. By next Sunday, Andy Schleck or Alberto Contador will be expected to have total control of the event, although Contador has a very long way to go.
Contador is still trying to dig out of the hole from his Stage 1 crash, as he remained 1:42 back after Stage 8. Schleck on the other hand, remains on track, as he was tied for fifth at 12 seconds back.
While Hushovd remains ahead, everyone knows it will be a matter of time before he drops off, at least in the yellow jersey standings. His main quest is for his third green sprinters jersey anyway, but he is more than 50 points behind in that race while Philippe Gilbert holds the lead.
Stage 9 has already been a brutal one, with more than a few damaging crashes. Contador got in a wreck for the fourth time, but according to the Associated Press, he recovered quickly and didn’t drop down the standings any further. However, Contador is still clearly not at his best, and he is slowly running short on time to get back on track.
At the least, he didn’t suffer the fate of Alexander Vinokourov and Jurgen van den Broeck, who were part of a hard high-speed crash that caused both of them to withdraw from the Tour de France. All of these crashes, and the likely lead change from Hushovd to Thomas Voeckler, have provided a hard end to the first act of this race.
As the second week begins, the early leaders will give way to riders that actually have a better shot at victory. This formula is how Contador and Schleck established their showdown last year, before Contador took utter control by the start of week 3. But since the defending champion is struggling to get on track, it may provide an opening for other challengers to Schleck.
French rider Voeckler is firing up hometown fans during Stage 9, as he did when he led 10 stages in 2004 before being caught by Lance Armstrong. Will he have a repeat performance over the next week, or will others take control of the standings before the coming Contador-Schleck showdown- if there is one?
The Tour de France has been fairly harsh to unlucky riders in the first week, and the biggest endurance tests of all are to come in the mountains. Truly, the next two weeks will be a real test of survival to those who are still standing so far.
Yahoo Sport- “Overall Time Standings”
Associated Press- “Spain’s Contador crashes at Tour de France”
SB Nation- “Tour de France 2011 Live, Stage 9 Update”