Andy Schleck went up the famed Galibier with a smile on his face.
Not a grimace like Ivan Basso or the clenched teeth and hard jaw of Cadel Evans or the hors category suffering on the face of Alberto Contador or Thomas Voeckler.
Despite the 23 kilometers of brutal climbing and gradients up to 9%, Andy Schleck was grinning, his eyes relaxed, his pedal stroke smooth and relentless. This Galibier was a piece of cake.
He was winning the Tour de France and nothing feels better than that. He was making history, dropping everyone, clocking two minutes, then three, then four.
Alberto Contador, his legs heavy from the Giro, was blowing up, drops from the chase group, tour over and done — he can turn his attention to his August legal case before the Court for Arbitration in Sport.
Fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez can’t handle the pace and fades. Euskatel Euska-dead. Ivan Basso does nothing but ride his tempo so he doesn’t explode like Mount Etna. The courageous Frenchman Thomas Voeckler latches on to Cadel Evans; wheel hoping that Evans might carry him up the mountain.
Nobody had the legs or courage or force of will to attempt to chase down Schleck except one man: Cadel Evans. The Aussie kept looking for help but got zilch. He dragged them all forward, the only other rider with enough strength to even stabilize the gap.
Schleck dances up ahead on his own and the roars from the crowd were huge. We were eight kilometers down and not a single spectator was rooting for anyone but Andy. The French love him like an irrepressible and emaciated puppy dog. He’s sweet, he’s fun, he pumps out serious wattage on serious climbs.
Slowly Evans claws back time, 10 seconds here, ten second there, but he’s running out of mountain. Andy Schleck has blown the Tour de France apart and made it a two man race. At 57 seconds behind, only Evans is left to mount any serious challenge — unless you’re counting Andy’s brother Frank.
Leopard Trek gets the big win and the grin. Gone are the snide remarks about Schleck’s questionable bike handling skills on a wet, technical descent. Gone the whispers about not taking the Tour seriously enough or fishing too much, or partying too hard. Gone the loose talk about him not having a killer instinct, being a sucker for Alberto Contador’s fake friendship.
That big smile on his said plenty of things toady on the Galibier. Mostly, it said I will win the 2011 Tour de France and do it my way — riding hard and having a really good time.