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Great Paris-Nice! Contador Bonks, Astana Whines, Luis León Sánchez Wins Amid Great Springtime Cycling Battles

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Here's my late wrap of Paris-Nice. Wow. That was the best bike racing I have ever seen in a week from so many riders.

There were great rides by Contador, the bloody Dutch on the cold windy Stage 3, Roy's great break from the three-man break, Vande Velde's sweet descent and constant cruise missle push for a win, Contador again, Contador cracks and Sánchez rules, then Contador escapes on the last day but is caught for a three-man finish with Schleck and Colom. It was a week where breakaways worked, but not exactly as you believed they might, sometimes. Truly great stuff. The French had much to celebrate, and that is good for cycling, but the Spaniards look hard to beat in the mountains.

And Sánchez rode wonderfully all week and spoke well in the end. It is after all springtime, not the height of the grand tour season:

"I'm glad this was my turn and today's my day," Sanchez told the event's Web site. "Today, I'm the Paris-Nice winner, but in July, I'll become a teammate again, trying to help Oscar (Pereiro) or Alejandro (Valverde) win the Tour."

The day after I said Contador looked invincible, he was vinced (OK, vanquished), some would say by his own team and management, which management would call the winner of the three grand tours (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta Ciclista a España)--no not Lance, but Alberto Contador--various names for rough, unpolished, unprepared, asleep, immature, unaware, &c. Do you get what is happening? [I added the bold below.]

The Spaniard, one of only five men with all three big races (Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana) to his name, is one of the world's best riders in stage races, yet he is not sure to be Astana's leader in July.
. . .

"He still makes young leaders' errors," said Gallopin....

"These are mistakes an old leader would not make. But I prefer him to make this kind of mistake on the Paris-Nice rather than during the Tour de France."

Ah, but this is why you are in the car, no? I say oui, oui. Others too.

Contador's bonk the day after such glory was stunning. He had the legs and had the legs and then he CHASED the legs he could only dream of having as he looked like he was sliding backward down a snowbank, being passed by so many pack-riders and hangers-on. The story is that he was too busy fending off breakaways all day that he (but this is more the responsibility of his team) failed to hydrate and calorate and all that sufficiently. When the day's racing comes to the end, the cars are not allowed to hand out food and drink, so you'd better get it done when you can. It was clear what an emergency this might have been considered when Contador crossed the finish line, well over two minutes behind those he normally would have stayed with or left, veered slightly to the left, held on to a rail, and downed a 12 oz. similar Coke or similar before anything else.

Great article this, Analysis: Astana snatch defeat from jaws of victory...

His friend, Luis Leon Sanchez of Caisse d'Epargne profited when Contador 'bonked' and lost almost three minutes in no time at all towards the end of Saturday's relentlessly tough stage. 

. . .

...Astana's team was weak. Even the stronger helpers, such as Benjamin Noval, Haimar Zubeldia and, to a lesser extent, Sergio Paulinho, were nowhere near good enough to help. Yaroslav Popovych had a Saturday which reminded everyone why Silence-Lotto were so dissatisfied with him during last year's Tour.


Whereas the Bruyneel plan had been executed to perfection on Friday, on Saturday it was as if the directeur sportif on the ground, Alain Gallopin, had left the manual in his hotel room. 


On Sunday, Contador was again alone, but this time on the offensive. He launched a bold attack on the Col de la Porte, and although he didn't gain the time he needed on La Turbie or the Col d'Eze, it was, without doubt, a move that had the viewer on the edge of their seats. 


But they really get it about the ever careful, planned, calculating, and disciplined winner of seven Tours de France...

The problem with all these comments [Lance's Twitters about Contador, harsh or kind] is that they are a public relations exercise, nothing more. They purport to be a person's heart-felt thoughts and reactions but really they are remarks meant for public consumption and give no great insight into Armstrong's real feelings. 

The next day he was back in great form, but not great enough to make back the time, and his friend, Luis León Sánchez, who had been riding great all week, took the overall win, with Contador fourth overall at the end of the last ride. Fränk Schleck placed second overall and the French great hope Sylvain Chavanel third (who may have been second had his chain not failed on the final descent), both having marvelous weeks of riding. I tell you it was great descending, with the motorbikes having trouble staying ahead of or even up with the cyclists at times (perhaps this saying more about the motorbike drivers than the cyclists, I admit).

But teamwork really helped Sanchez and Schleck, and Contador's team was often not to be found when usually they would be there.

The Spaniard [Contador] shook off dangerous duo Sandy Casar and David Lopez in the ascent of the Col but was hauled back in by good coordination from teams Caisse d'Epargne (Sanchez) and Saxo Bank (Schleck). 

Some say because of injuries to Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner that Astana could not field the team they wanted.

Many think the Lance factor is in the background, and that Contador has been set up to fail, and blamed for his failures (when taking fourth in Paris-Nice is failure with his talent) and the failures of his team and management. Contador won Tour de France, then when his team was banned last year for infractions before he (and most of them) arrived, he went out to win the Giro and Vuelta. How can they dare call him a diamond in the rough?

He's just a diamond, period.

Whether he's doped in the past or not, nobody has found anything that sticks, so he's just as pure as Lance or Levi on that count. In fact, as much as I like Levi, as I recall he showed up a little less powerful than Contador at the Tour de France or otherwise Levi would have been the protected one.

Some say that Bruyneel didn't show up and sent others to manage Astana's Paris-Nice effort, then provided less than awesome support and management, all in an effort to make it easier to say later on that Lance is the man they'll be protecting at the Giro, instead of last year's winner for them, Contador.

It's their team and they can decide whatever they want, but it's smells a bit funny to some, and I guess I'm one. I saw Contador chasing on his on and making breakaways without team help way more than I saw them working for him (except on the Versus repackaging where they showed the team). I think Popovitch was about the only one who could keep up for long.

I also recall on Stage 2 they stated they would not try to protect the yellow after Contador had surprised all and won the short time trial...a climber, no less, beating all, including Wiggins. They were leaving it to the sprinters' teams to do the work on Stage 2, Astana said. Stage 3 I think it was, the cold and windy rainy day that led the Dutch riders to explode everyone, Contador had to chase alone. I'm sorry, I think some of the team and the management let him down then wanted to blame him.

I like Contador as far as what he's able to do, and he seems to handle things well enough as far as I know, though maybe I favor Levi because he seems to work so hard to be great. Contador just seems made for climbing on a bicycle, but we know that all that looking so easy comes from years of hard work and joy on bikes or skates or in life.

As for Lance, well, I think if he wants us to think he can win clean, he needs to win, or people will say he didn't win because he had to be clean this time, right? Of course, the more impressive thing to me would be for him to go to the Giro and do what I saw him do for Tom Danielson at Tour de Georgia, which was not win but ride behind Levi and Floyd Landis (who were at the time on different teams from each other and from Lance) rather than help them get up to catch teammate Danielson (this was at Brasstown Bald but I think it was true when I was at Nell's Gap too, not sure). I hope Lance will go to the Giro and Vuelta and work with Levi for Contador as returning champion. As for the Tour, I would hope Contador is the team leader there as well, but of course in any of these situations, it may turn out that Contador is not the strongest.

That's OK. But what is disturbing is when it looks like Contador's team is trying to undermine rather than increase his confidence. That's what it looks like to more than one person, including some people I don't agree with on plenty of other topics. If Lance wants it to be about cancer, great! He's doing that if he makes funding cancer research the main thing. If he wants it to be about cycling clean, great, but I guess he'd need to have kept that private testing program going, and he'd need to win clean to prove anything, really, right?

Here's how another well-written article put it (with a great photo of the final sprint of the final stage of 2009 Paris-Nice):

By last autumn, he [Contador] was the undisputed leader of the team....

Suddenly, who should appear in Astana colors but Armstrong? Shortly after Contador signed a two-year contract extension, Armstrong, seven consecutive times a winner of the Tour de France, announced that he was ending his retirement and would race this season with two primary goals, the Giro and the Tour.

Say what? Wouldn't those also be Contador's two primary goals since he was defending champion in the Italian race and seemingly once and future king in the French one? Well, yes.

Honestly, I can't see Lance showing up for anything really important (to him) and not planning to be the alpha dog, and Bruyneel has been intertwined with Armstrong a lot longer than with either Levi Leipheimer or Alberto Contador.

As for Lance, he will be riding this Saturday, March 21, 2009 in the one day Milan-San Remo race. I don't believe Contador is scheduled to be there. Milan-San Remo is on at 10:00 - 12:30 EDT I believe, for those who want to trouble themselves with p2ptv (internet tv or iptv). I don't have cable tv so I don't know if it is on in the USA (though it could be on Versus but probably an instant rice cooked version). More on this perhaps as I figure it out.

Contador and Armstrong are both supposed to be with Levi Leipheimer at another vuelta (not the grand tour later in the year) the four-day Vuelta a Castilla y León in Spain, starting Monday, March 23, 2009.

I like Contador's comment in the iht.com piece:

"I never go to a race to prove anything. I give everything I have but I have nothing to prove. And in the Tour it will be the race that decides who the leader will be."

Oh that we all roll with that attitude, to give all we have, but to realize we have nothing to prove.

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