First observation: do not stand too close to Bradley Wiggins because he is red hot, inflammable and ready to explode.
He destroyed the windy 53k time trial, beat Tony Martin and almost caught his two minute man Tour champion Cadel Evans. This is scary stuff for all his Tour rivals. He’s won Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie and finds himself 34 seconds up on his nearest GC rival after four stages of the Criterium du Dauphine.
He’s got killer form, supreme confidence and maximum focus but without the damaging stress he used to put on himself. The fact that two teammates — Chris Froome and Michael Rogers — also made the top six just proves again that Sky will have a powerhouse team in the hunt for yellow. Only two questions: can he hold this form and will he be lucky enough — unlike last year — to keep his bike upright in Le Tour?
Second observation: Cadel Evans still has work to do. No reason to get nervous although his wife and adopted son shouldn’t expect to see him home anytime soon. Cadel is uber-dedicated and knows how to come into a grand tour on form. He admitted there’s still some improvements to be made and he will make them in time. He gritted his way around the time trial with his usual “kicked puppy” expression but we still see him on the podium.
Third observation: Andy Schleck is having a doomed season. The Inner Ring blog pointed out with great clarity that when you consider recent history, Schleck is probably on track physically. He was getting the same dire predictions from critics at this time last year and still was the best climber in the Tour and second overall. It’s the mental and the mojo that’s the real problem. The accumulation of crashes, illnesses, negative pressure, bad luck and team strife seems to be taking a toll mentally. Just bad mojo all around. Not even his long time mentor and persona non-grata in Franca, Kim Andersen seems to know what’s going wrong — or doesn’t want to tell Bruyneel. We’re getting that “off the podium” vibe.
Fourth Observation: Nibali not ready. Maybe he’s just fooling everybody but 31st in the time trial, a full 3:31 down won’t have anybody in lime green breaking out the expensive Barolo. That’s after his underwhelming performance in the Bakersfield time trial at the recent Tour of California. We don’t question the man’s talent but the preparation seems like it’s not ready for prime time. Is his running dispute with Liquigas-Cannondale management a distraction? He’s supposedly out the door and headed to Astana after this season for major Kazakh coin. He might not be going out with a bang.
Fifth observation: Give it up Denis Menchov. According to past history, the Russian knows how to deliver a top result in a time trial. Not today — over three minutes down. Engine room, we need more power! Must call Dr. Ferrari for emergency secret meeting! Le Tour was his top priority and we all know how steady Menchov rides — no great days, no bad days, war of attrition and slow crawl to podium. Dull but effective. Guys like Menchov are old diesel motors and this tour will be won in the final week. We see him fading faster than Basso in this year’s Giro d’Italia. This may simply be the accumulated negative effect of having such a cheap haircut for so many years.
Sixth observation: Sylvain Chavanel is rocking. A fifth place in this long time trial prove that Chavanel is red hot again after a strong classics campaign. We’re thinking he takes a stage in the first week and maybe grabs a few days in yellow. He’s an aggressive rider and often shines in La Grand Boucle. We’ll know more by the end of the Criterium du Dauphine, but Omega-Pharma Quickstep may not miss Tom Boonen.