The Pyrenees, yawn.
When have three days in the high mountains of the Pyrenees meant so little for a tour de France winner? Thanks to headwinds in the first day and the two long flat finishes after big Andorre and Tourmalet climbs, we’ve yet to see an attack from any contender hoping to upset the Astana juggernaut. A short, futile dig by Evans, a minor acceleration from Schleck and nothing from Carlos Sastre.
One has to question the layout of the stages when the flat finishes discourage aggressive racing. While the breakaways have been exciting, the GC battle in the Pyrenees has largely been a yawn. A boxing match with no punches thrown. WIthout the daily soap opera of the Armstrong and Contador battle, the race would lack lack drama. All talk is of the Alps in the third week. A surprise given the role and reputation of the Pyrenees for deciding tours.
Today’s 160km stage to Tarbes was another dream-come true for a French rider. Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom) won in the last 50 meters, beating his day-long breakaway companion Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas). It appeared Pellizotti had the upper hand, forcing Fedrigo to lead out the sprint, but the French rider still had enough gas in the tank to beat him. A joyous team manager Jean-Rénè Bernaudeau kissed Fedrigo before he even got off his bike. Note to Jean-Rene: No smooches when a man is doubled over his top tube in exhaustion.
It was a hot and beautiful day in the Pyrenees. As scripted, a break of two went early (Fedrigo and Pellizotti, then a larger break and the day was spent watching Astana play tour guide for the peloton, guiding them up and down, pointing out photo opportunities and keeping the tempo steady. Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) was happy to keep his yellow jersey. Lance Armstrong has gotten through these mountains without out ever going into the red zone–which favors him over Contador.
For the Texan, the harder the Tour, the tougher the recovery and then age becomes a deciding factor. A relatively easy ride until the Alps limited Contador’s chances to distance his team-mate. All bets will be settled on Ventoux and Lance has plenty of time to rest. Meanwhile, the psychological pressure builds — and that is a battle Armstrong will always win over Contador. The Spaniard may be the best in the mountains but Lance is stronger when it comes to the mental stress. The Alps will be an Astana slugfest.
And so we bide Adieu to the beautiful and daunting mountains of the Pyrenees, knowing that they have settled nothing. Only whet the appetite.