Spanish rider Louis Leon Sanchez of the of the Caisse d’Epargne team won the hilly seventh stage of the tour. While Sanchez’s ride was good enough for the win, the real “story” of the day is the ride of his teammates. Under the old adage that seconds are won in sprints while minutes are gained in the mountains, Caisse d’Epargne proved today that they posses the firing power to ride Alejandro Valverde to the win.
The climbs in stages 6 & 7 are difficult, with both stages featuring Cat 2 climbs. But, these aren’t the Pyrenees and Alps. Despite the more gentle rises and lack of hour-long climbs, these two stage were just difficult enough to reveal who’s on form and who isn’t.
I continue to pick Cadel Evans as the overall winner, but the ride will be difficult for him considering the apparent weakness of his team, Silence-Lotto. His team proved today to be a huge weakness for him. Yarslov Popovich, who rode Lance over several mountain passes in previous tours, cracked before the top of the final climb today. He finished with the third group across the line, back 33 seconds, on a stage that should have been a “ride in the park” when compared to what lies up the road. If he were on form, he would have ridden on Cadel’s shoulder through the finish. The next Silence-Lotto riders to cross the line were Dario Cioni at 2’30” and Mario Aerts at 3’17”. Wow!
While the overall win comes down to form and fitness of just one rider, it truly takes an entire team to win the Tour de France. Cadel has appeared overly cautious, often sitting back and just going along for the ride (look at rides by Kirchen in contrast: he’s aggressive in sprints, put in a serious effort for the time trial, and he isn’t afraid to gamble for the win). At first I though Cadel’s tactic was planned to allow him time to observe the other riders or maybe to create a sense of suspicion in the other teams. Now, I’m concerned that he knows that his team is not up to the challenge. Can one man ride to victory?
On a more positive note, the two American teams Garmin Chipotle and Team Columbia, are proving to be real contenders. Team Columbia rider Kim Kirchen is in yellow and green for the second day. His team has the experience and power to take him to the finish line. Question is, can a young rider like Kirchen stay focused and ride a smart race?