I’m a big fan of the grand tours of bicycle racing. Currently ongoing is the greatest grand tour of them all, the Tour de France. The big American news of this tour is that seven time champion Lance Armstrong is back in the mix, except this time there is some confusion regarding his role. For the uninitiated, the TdF is largely a team event, though the glory generally goes to the individual riders. These two concepts are not at odds; both have their place in the sun. Bike racing at this level requires a team of so-called domestiques who help the rider on their team who has the strongest chance of winning the entire Tour. This rider must have all around abilities to be able to ride competitively in the flat stages as well as the mountains, day in day out, for the entirety of the three week tour.
The big drama for Team Astana, for which Armstrong rides, has been whether or not he would be in the role of domestique for Alberto Contador, an excellent bike racer in his own rite and easily more race-fit, considering that Armstrong is only months out of retirement. However, anything can happen in three weeks, but who would have guessed that today’s transitional stage 3 from Marseilles to La Grande Motte could make a big difference in Team Astana’s race strategy?
Contador missed a large break of the main field (called the peloton), while Armstrong stuck with the break to gain almost 40 seconds on his total time. This puts him in a position to collect the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) for the overall race leader in as soon as one day, with tomorrow’s team time trial, which Astana could well win.
What does this mean for Team Astana? Will Contador be satisfied in a new role as a domestique for Armstrong? Will there be an internal competition for the leader position, and what will this ultimately mean for the team? And finally, does Armstrong have what it takes to go on for an 8th TdF victory? While these questions are certainly not new and the subject of mass speculation in the weeks leading up to the Tour, only now do those discussions really have any legitimate meaning. It will be very interesting to see how everything unfolds over the next 2.5 weeks.