After what can only be described as a phony war, the Alps mark the beginning of real hostilities, writes Matthew Keenan.
There are stll many questions to be answered in the Tour de France (AAP)
After two weeks of trying to work out who has the best legs and is most
likely to wear yellow into Paris, some real decisions are about to be
made as the race finally reaches the Alps.
The true nature of the relationship between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador will be revealed under the pressure of the mountains and the inevitable attacks from their rivals.
looks the strongest. But no one really knows how good Armstrong is. The
American is yet to be fully put to the test in his return Tour de France.
Cadel Evans is more the three minutes behind and has only one option. He must attack.
As Bernard Hinault, the five-time winner of the race, said, “there isn’t thirty-six solutions, they must attack.”
Andy Schleck, although only one minute and forty-nine seconds down, is in exactly the same position as Evans.
needs to take just as much time as Evans in the mountains, if not more,
because based on past performances, he’s likely to lose more than a
minute in the final time trial.
So like Evans he needs to take three minutes, or more, in the mountains.
The defending champion, Carlso Sastre, is in the same boat as Schleck but coming from two minutes and fifty-two seconds down.
The wildcard here is Bradley Wiggins.
The Brit is yet to be truly tested in the mountains by the general classification contenders.
If Wiggins can stay with the more fancied favourites there, he may provide one of the biggest surprises in Tour de France history.
gold medals in the individual pursuit at the Olympics and third in the
opening time trial indicate he could take time in the final test
against the clock.
In addition to his climbing, the other
question needing to be answered is his ability to time trial after
almost three weeks of racing.
Knowing the struggles he had as
a child after his Australian father left him and his mother to fend for
themselves when Wiggins was only two years-old - and how hard he has
worked since the Beijing Games - a podium finish would be well
These are just a few of the contenders within striking distance, others like Christian Vande Velde, Kim Kirchen, Tony Martin and Roman Kreuzinger are also likely to feature.
As Armstrong himself has said the race may be 50 per cent over but is less than 25 per cent decided. It all starts now.