The 2010 Tour de France has seen action, adventure, competition, collision, controversy—and it is not yet over.
Four stages from the end, the yellow jersey is up for grabs. Realistically it comes down to a battle between two—Astana’s Alberto Contador and Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck.
But the if anything untoward should befall Contador, the next two in line—Euskatel’s Sammy Sanchez and Rabobank’s Denis Menchov—would find themselves with a fair shot at a Tour win.
Contador looks to be the final winner. With an eight-second edge on Schleck, Contador has only to stay close on the final mountain stage, and ride a good time trial, and he will capture his third yellow jersey in Paris.
Andy Schleck has not shown himself to be a top-rank time-trialer—unlike Alberto Contador. Schleck needed to make up a few minutes in the mountains to have a cushion for the time trial in Stage Nineteen, and he has not—yet.
With one epic mountain stage yet to ride, it is do or die for Schleck, and survive and win for Contador.
If Contador loses serious time on Stage 17, with its mountaintop finish on the 6940’ Col du Tourmalet, the Tour would be decided in Stage 19. If Contador had a mechanical problem as Schleck did on Stage 15, the next three riders in the General Classification would all have some chance.
In all likelihood, the 2010 Tour will be decided on the slopes of the Tourmalet. Andy Schleck will need to attack, repeatedly, until either he or Alberto Contador cracks. If Alberto Contador comes off the rest day well-rested, I don’t see how he can fail to wear the yellow in Paris.
The last mountain stage of the 2010 Tour, stage 17 features two Cat 1 climbs before the finish atop the Col du Tourmalet.
Look for Astana to drive the pace too fast for most riders, trying to drop Saxo Bank riders on the first two climbs. Unless Andy Schleck looks weak, expect Contador to attack on the final third of the final climb.
If Schleck shows the slightest discomfort, look for attacks on the Col du Soulor, the second climb. Schleck did not ride a great descent in Stage 15; maybe Contador will try to open a gap here, and expand it up the Tourmalet.
Either way, if Andy Schleck cannot gain two minutes by the end of this stage, his chances for his first Tour win are slim.
A sprinters’ stage, for whichever sprinters have made it through to this point. This will test whether HTC-Columbia can lead out a sprint without Mark Renshaw, who was disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct in Stage 11.
Thor Hushovd, Gerald Ciolek, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and “Ale-Jet” Alessandro Petacchi are the prime picks here—after Mark Cavendish, who can beat any of them head to head.
Stage 19 is a simple 52-km time trial. It could decide the Tour, but most likely will only decide the bottom two steps of the podium.
Rabobank’s Denis Menchov and Euskatel’s Sammy Sanchez are only two minutes behind Andy Schleck. If they can hold on in Stage 17, either or both could beat Schleck in the time trial and end up second or third. Of course, Andy Schleck might stun everybody with the best time trial of his life. This would be the right time and place for it.
The final procession down the Champs Elysées will only matter in the fight for the green Best Sprinter jersey. Traditionally no one attacks the yellow jersey here. The stage will still be exciting because it will be the last chance for the sprinters, and they will give it their all.
The ceremony will only formalize what will have already been decided: who will win the 2010 Tour de France.