Yesterday, during my day of avoiding any Stage 3 spoilers on the internet (and before I headed down to Lakeside Lounge to watch the two-hour replay during happy hour), I started drafting a post with a list of things I want to see during this year's Tour de France. It's a list of things I'll be watching out for and pulling for, in the name of an exciting tour. I had no idea that I'd see some of it on Stage 3.
That evening, with a crispy Hoegaarden in my hand and a Neighburrito in my belly, I watched Columbia split the field in a stunning manner and with eight of their nine racers represented, drive a huge, late breakaway, and set up Cavendish for the win. The exciting part, however, is that Lance Armstrong was in it and Contador was stuck napping in the peloton forty seconds back. Everybody is speculating about Astana team dynamics and drawing comparisons to La Vie Clair in 1987. Will Armstrong and Contador be riding against each other? For this to happen, Armstrong needs to be a credible GC threat.
The most boring scenario, of course, would be that Armstrong winds up not being a GC threat by the time the race gets particularly difficult, Contador is the only Astana contendor, and the race plods along with a handful of climbers marking each other, racing conservatively, riding up some mountains and then into Paris. Yawn.
But if Armstrong could win the Tour, what would happen then?
Which brings us to yesterday's stage - too early in the Tour to draw any conclusions, but ripe for questioning. Why did Columbia drive the pace from 30k out when they've got the fastest sprinter setting up? Did Armstrong know to be at the front, perhaps thanks to a word from his former faithful domestique and New York City our-boy Big George Hincapie? Rumor has it that Contador let the initial gap open up. Here's a new angle - Armstrong is a master of confounding doubletalk (Belgium Knee Warmers had a great bit on this a while back, but I can't find it now), and Bruyneel is a master tactician. What if all this stuff about it being Contador's year is just smoke? What if Contador let that gap open to give Lance a boost in the GC prior to today's TTT? What if other GC riders mark Contador later in the race only to have Lance fire off on an attack?
Now, as you'll see on the list below, I'm also hoping that thie Tour de France will also feature somebody who's not Lance Armstrong. I can't stand the constant Lance check-ins, I can't stand his faux-nice-guy demeanor. Maybe I'd be able to if they didn't happen every ten minutes, if every other article were somehow about him. There are 179 other people in the race, after all. And here I am departing from my own wishes, but for a good reason: Lance Armstrong, throw down or shut up. You said you were coming back to win the Tour de France. All this nonsense is for naught if you don't make a good show of it.
And so, here's my list of hopes and dreams for this year's Tour:
1: An exciting, dynamic bunch of shaking-up of the General Classification, since there are enough people who can compete with each other. Hopefully this will be assisted by,
2: Lance Armstrong doing pretty well. I mean, for all his fake-humble words, he did say he was going to come back and win the Tour de France. If he challenges it, it could lead to,
3: Interesting Astana intra-team dynamics, with Armstrong and Contador both potential GC threats. Maximum drama probably won't ensue, but you never know!
But more importantly,
4: Occasional TV and news coverage of somebody who's not Lance Armstrong.
5. Lots of George Hincapie leading out Mark Cavendish, but also,
6. That Cavendish gets soundly beaten in a few sprints.
7. That the two radio-free stages go so well that maybe everybody thinks that going radio-free would be a decent idea. Cyclocosm has a good bit on why people who clamor for radio-free racing are missing the point, and Sprinter Della Casa has a good bit on both sides, but coming down against race radios.
Your thoughts on the whole affair?
See you at Lakeside...