Friday, July 25, 2008

What If Astana And Contador Where In The Tour?

By: Graham Watson

How would it be different if Team Astana was in the 2008 Tour? Despite the many distractions of working any Tour de France, I’ve spent many a moment wondering ‘what might have been’ if Astana was here to play its cards the way it would have liked to. The team would have probably been like any other big league team early on, content to let others make the gains and take the glory, before moving themselves into effect in the Pyrenees. Contador would have equalled the ride of Menchov, if not Evans himself, in that time trial at Cholet, and the team would have then taken control over the Col du Tourmalet to ensure that at least one Astana rider went with Saunier’s duo of Piepoli and Cobo on Hautecam. Frank Schleck would have been surprised to find a Kloden or even a Leipheimer with him as he rode on the wheels of Piepoli and Cobo, while Evans would have had the shadow of Contador on his shoulder the whole way up the climb. Depending on the strengths of Levi and Andreas, Saunier’s pairing might still have won the stage – but Schleck would have been looking back at Contador and Evans all the way to the line, that’s if he made it that far alone…

For sure, Astana would have never let the Danny Pate/Egoi Martinez/Simon Gerrans/Jose Luis Arrieta escape get away so easily on stage fifteen. There was no team remotely interested in their escape until way after the long descent of the Agnello was over – now that’s a big oversight in the Tour. Even allowing for Pereiro’s spectacular crash, and the ensuing neutrality that the peloton imposed upon itself just afterwards – the entire Caisse d’Epargne team, with the exception of Valverde, stopped to comfort Pereiro – that escape should never have had the fifteen-minute advantage in the first place. Team Astana would have led the peloton up the Agnello, not actually catching the escape, but keeping it within reach. This is not what Silence did, a factor that went against Evans’ interests – for it gave CSC an easy ride to the foot of the final climb, allowing such powerhouses like Jens Voigt and even Fabien Cancellara to apply their awesome strengths to CSC’s cause…and the result was the Yellow Jersey.

Clearly, a Contador in his best form would have danced away from the head of the race long before that final, so exciting, last kilometre into Prato Nevoso. If CSC had even dared to launch an assault, as it did on stage fifteen, Astana would simply have ridden harder, and harder, until the threat had been extinguished – all of which would have made for a very different finale. With just two Alpine stages to go, plus that important TT next Saturday, I’m sure that Contador would be as near to taking that Yellow Jersey as if he was already wearing it. Astana would lead from the front on stage sixteen to Jausiers, ensuring Contador’s rivals were at least with him, if not actually far behind, as they crossed the stage’s final summit of the Col de Restefond, not worrying too much about who else actually won the stage. And stage seventeen to Alpe d’Huez? This would be a Contador showpiece, an epic move on the Tour’s most legendary ascent that would extend Contador’s overall advantage. Quite simply, whoever wins this Tour – be it Schleck, Evans, or Menchov – they are doing it in the knowledge that it is a gift made from heaven.

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