A little short of time today, so just a few quick points about the first three stages:
-this is already a tremendous Tour for Julian Dean, even though he lies in 186th place out of 198 riders. The prime reason for his ranking is that he sacrficed himself massively for his team over the first half of the Team Time Trial (T.T.T.), before falling back as part of his squad's strategy. And what a phenomenal strategy it was, as Garmin took out first place for their first major success at Le Tour. Then last night in the final metres of the sprint for the finish, he did a masterful job of leading out teammates Thor Hushovd and eventual stage winner Tyler Farrar (pictured). It was an extremely poignant win for Farrar for two reasons: he is the first American to win on July Fourth, and is the best friend of Wouter Weylandt, the rider who was killed in a crash in this year's Giro d'Italia.
Two wins in a row for Garmin is more success than they could have expected from this Tour, and for them to come so early bodes very well for the team. Dean also did another great job of selfless riding in the first stage, leading out Tyler Farrar for a solid result in the intermediate sprint, and then, after a huge traffic jam caused by a massive fall in the peloton with 7kms to go, he hung back and pulled Farrar over the line, another reason why his ranking is so low. But he wont care one little microscopic jot of a spec of an iota about that: he is a team man, a domestique, and once more at Le Tour, is proving himself to be one of the best in the world at this role.
- and speaking of the crash in Stage 1, this has already put Alberto Contador and his Saxo Bank team on the back foot. He was also caught up in the bottleneck that followed, and, along with Samuel Sanchez of Euskatel, they lost over a minute to the Schleck brothers, Cadel Evans, Jurgen Van Den Broek and Bradley Wiggins. And as we predicted, the weaknesses in the Saxo Bank team meant that Contador lost still more time the following day in the T.T.T. Contador will know that he can easily recoup these losses in the mountains, but when you consider that he only beat out Andy Schleck by 39 seconds in last year's Tour, this is far from an ideal start for the defending champion.
-tonight's Stage looks very similar in it's challenges to the first Stage, and will again be won by a punchy rider, rather than an out-and-out sprinter. The finsh line is at the summit of a modest Category 3 climb, and it looks tailor-made for another win for the number one ranked cyclist in the world, the Belgian Philipe Gilbert (pictured). He has had an incredible season, winning three 'Classics' already, and won the opening Stage of this year's Tour with a strong finish up an incline. His Omega Pharma Lotto team will be doing everything they can to get him back on the podium again tonight. It should be a really fascinating 179kms, with a Category 4 climb followed closely by the Intermediate Sprint, so there should be some white knuckle descending on the cards. And then, as mentioned already, the finish itself will be a tough one. It'll be interesting to see how Saxo Bank and Euskatel position themselves in the peloton because they cannot afford to lose any more time on the leaders.
Back tomorrow. Oh, and it was nice of Lance Armstrong to post a comment on the first of our Tour previews. We were attempting to exonerate cycling as a sport rather than Armstrong as an individual, but either way it's always nice to see we're appreciated.