This year, the Tour de France is an extremely close race. As we enter the last week of competition, the top six contenders are only seconds apart– an unusual occurrence, according to veteran race commentator Phil Liggett. Why the tight time gaps? Race organizers took away time bonuses for the overall stage winners. It used to be that when a rider won a stage, he would earn an additional thirty seconds off the clock.
Without those bonus points, there is less incentive for top contenders such as Cadel Evans to ride hard to gain four or five seconds and risk blowing up and losing more time.
So far this Tour, we’ve seen no stage wins by the yellow jersey wearer. The top riders generally stick together on the toughest climbs. Finally today, we saw an attack with race leaders stick, but it was a fight over seconds not minutes.
Only CSC has more than one teammate in the leading group. That works to the advantage of Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck. Evans, Denis Menchov, Bernarnd Kohl, Christian Vandevelde and Kim Kirchen have no helpers in the last miles. Their teammates cannot hang.
What happens next? There are a few tough mountain stages to come. That will provide opportunities to gain more time. But it seems this Tour will not be decided until the 32-mile time trial on Saturday, July 26, the penultimate day of the Tour. That’s where riders race one-by-one against the clock. It’s possible for strong time trialists to gain one or two minutes over rivals. If the time trial were tomorrow, my money would be on Evans. But it’s not, and any one of the riders sitting in the top ten could still win the Tour.