2009 Tour de France, stage 3

Columbia-HTC was pretty upset at the rest of the peloton for not working with them to reel in the breakaway group of four riders. With the crosswinds and several S-turns on the road, it was the perfect combination of factors that a split occurred at the same time Columbia stepped on the gas in yet another attempt to chase. They had all nine riders initially in this chase group and had no intention of letting up. They were going to make the other teams pay for not participating. (See stage summary here.)

One of Lance Armstrong’s greatest assets is his attention to detail and that includes race tactics. He is always ready to deal with either disaster or opportunity. He was in a perfect position to follow the break, and that is exactly what he did. Armstrong initially did not participate in the chase/break. However, as the peloton continued to not organize itself, he ordered his two teammates to help drive what became a decisive break. It was a great execution of race tactics on the fly.

One of Alberto Contador’s weaknesses is his occasional inattention during innocuous stages. In both his ’07 Tour and ’08 Giro victories he lost time in an “easy stage” by not covering gaps in the main group. Today’s stage was another case of him not paying attention. However, this time he was in good company because all the other contenders except Armstrong were also caught out.

If the race were to be won on physical ability alone, it is Contador’s advantage all the way. However, Armstrong did not win 7 Tours by accident. Like Tiger Woods and Roger Federer in their sports, Armstrong has a psychological advantage over his opponents. Luck seems to always go his way because he is prepared to take advantage when opportunities present themselves. The only way Armstrong can win this year is by playing the role of the unflappable, cagey veteran. Contador is the superior rider in 2009, and if he keeps his head together at some point he will bury Armstrong and the rest of the field.

Contador is a runaway favorite to win. He has not lost a grand tour in two years and his current winning streak is three. The worst thing for him to do is be drawn into a mental game with Armstrong. There is no intra-team leadership battle as long as Contador rides his own race and concentrates on what he needs to do in order to win.

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