If you’re following the Tour, you know today’s stage finishes atop Mont Ventoux, a 6,700-foot summit in Provence. The climb from the town of Bedoin is about 21 kilometers. Average grade is 7.6 percent, but there are long stretches of 9 and 10 percent grades and some pitches as steep as 12 percent. Here’s a good everyday-cyclist’s description of the Bedoin route.
The climb is one thing, the weather on the mountain is another. Forecast today is for a high of 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) at the foot of the climb in Bedoin. None other than Phil Liggett is reporting via Twitter that gale force winds–his term–are blowing at the summit (around 9:30 a.m. local time, a good five hours before the race will be on the mountain). Warm temperatures on the stage leading to the climb and winds on the slopes, combined with the urgency of the race leaders to hang onto their places, would raise the difficulty of the stage to extreme. Did I mention that half a million people are expected on the mountain?
So, the mountain is a known. The weather conditions are becoming clearer. What we don’t know is the race outcome. Here’s a guess at the overall standings after Stage 20, and we’ll judge how educated it was later.
Yellow Jersey, or My-Yo-Jawn: Contador will hold it. No one in the entire field has shown they can successfully attack him; conversely, he’s shown he can attack just about anyone at any time with a fair to excellent chance of success. It would have been interesting to see the outcome of his Stage 18 attack–the one that dropped Andreas Kloden–if he hadn’t sat up. How much time could he have picked up on the Schlecks before the descent. Twenty seconds? Thirty? Maybe that wouldn’t have been enough for him to stay away on the descent. Add to the fact he’s the strongest man his 4-minute 11-second advantage. The only way he loses yellow is a spectacular mishap or blow-up.
Second place: Andy Schleck. He’s got a minute and change on Armstrong. He could have a bad day and go backwards, but as in Contador’s case there’s no evidence of a bad day in store. Plus, he’s got the world’s most dedicated and reliable teammate in his brother Frank
Third: With four riders bunched at 38 seconds apart–Armstrong, Wiggins, Kloden, Schleck–this is the G.C. battle to watch. I’m pulling for Armstrong, but his words after Verbier–about how quickly he was at the limit and how clear he was that he didn’t have what it took to contend for that stage win–were direct and honest. At the same time, the Tour has changed since Verbier. The competition has been wrung out a little. None of the three men who could push Armstrong out of third have demonstrated they’re superior to him. In fact, Armstrong toyed with Wiggins on Stage 18 and dropped him at the top of the last climb. Frank Schleck was one of the many riders surprised to have Armstrong blast by them during his great bridge attack on Stage 17. And Kloden? Like Frank Schleck, he’s been the good teammate. I don’t see him attacking to get on the podium unless Armstrong simply can’t make it. So: advantage Armstrong, and the podium you’d have seen Friday is the one we’ll get Sunday.
Unless all sorts of crazy stuff happens. Sometimes it does during the Tour.