Never seen so many grimaces of pain in my life.
Only three riders could reasonably say they enjoyed their day on the Col de la Madeleine. Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador who were the only two capable of dancing on pedals up the 25 kilometer torture test. And Sandy Casar who was in the break and managed to win the stage. That always wipes the agony off your face.
Everybody else had the same look: a grimace of pure, uncut misery. Cadel Evans, who’s normal facial expression is one of irritation, came past me shaking his head, gritting his teeth and dying on the bike. He finished the stage eight minutes down and joins the Lance Armstrong club of major tour contenders eliminated by bad luck. Lance clipped a pedal and did the 65k skid; Evans has a fractured elbow.
Top riders like Alexander Vinokourov (Astana), Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) all suffered on the Madeline. I was two kilometers for the summit so the pain was up close and personal. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) had to dial it back or risk blowing. Andrea Kloden also had the “I hate this &$%# climb” facial expression.
Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Euskaltel – Euskadi) rode like a man possessed but lost Schleck and Contador a few kilometers before the summit. His jersey was unzipped and he did not smile for the cameras. Nevertheless, a terrific ride to jump up the GC into third place.
I will say that Levi Leipheimer came pass looking focused and Lance Armstrong rode the climb hard, holding nothing back. This may bode well for the chances of Levi. He survived the stage without appearing to take several years off his life.
What on the face of it was a wide open tour after Morzine now looks like a private club with two members: Alberto and Andy. They might also be suffering but the difference was, they sure didn’t look like it. In fact, they had a great time on the Madeleine, their new favorite way of eliminating other riders.
It sure put a smile on their faces and not too many others.