Rest Day Number One on Le Tour de France 2011! The day everyone is hanging out for on the whole race: riders just want a day off the mental and physical stress; staff want a moment to take a deep breath; France TV want a chance to ask their driver what exactly was he thinking turning into the break group; viewers on the other side of the world want a chance to go to bed early without worrying that they’re missing something major… It’s a well timed, well earned break for everyone!

Le Tour de France 2011
Resting the crap out of it.

Before the race started there was widespread agreement that there were two tiers of favourite for theoverall race: the Alberto/Andy tier vying for the top step of the podium, and then the best of the rest battling it out for the third step. Key players in the “best of the rest” tier were Frank Schleck, Cadel, Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, Andreas Kloden, Brad Wiggins, Robert Gesink, Sammy Sanchez, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Ivan Basso, Ryder Hesjedal & Christian Vandevelde. Other potential challengers (although admittedly rank outsiders) were Janez Brajkovic, Alexandre Vinokourov & maybe Tommy Danielson if you were being especially generous.

As we leave rest day one, here is how things stand;

Alberto — has had a crash-a-thon, and has lost 1’30″³ to Andy. He wouldn’t be happy with how things are at the moment, but equally it is far from panic stations for the Saxomobank crew. He hasn’t looked blindingly dominant on the steep kicks that have been in the race thus far, but these types of hills are not where Contador comes into his own. We shall get a better idea of his form on Stage 12.

The interesting thing is that with this many crashes he will have put his body under a lot of stress: the adrenaline of the fall, the panic of needing to catch up and the physical damage done will all have him reaching deeper into his reserves than he normally would. Cadel just ran out of legs in 2008 after a fallon or just before the Super-Besse stage in the first week caught up with him.

Andy — hasn’t put a foot wrong really, sitting well in front of Alberto, and only 11″³ down on Cadel. Showed his hand on Super-Besse where he was diligent in marking Contador as closely as possible, but treated Cadel’s attack with ignore. Similar to Alberto, he hasn’t looked supreme on the uphills, but with the same caveat in that the short climbs thus far aren’t his bread and butter.

In the “best of the rest” group, there has been a lot of damage.

These are the blokes who all needed everything to go exactly right for them to challenge Contador & Andy, and needed to limit damage to their fellow “2nd favourites” to get themselves onto the podium.

The race has seen the departure of Horner, Wiggo, Van Den Broeck (VDB) and Brajkovic; as well as big losses in time to Ryder (-7’07″³ on Cadel); Levi (-4’50″³ on Cadel); Sammy Sanchez (-2’35″³); and VDV (-2’27″³). Gesink (-1’35″³) and Basso (-1’10″³) have limited their damages somewhat.

However, considering Gesink’s abysmal time trial last year, he is not looking good to catch Cadel even discounting how badly he’s been going since his crash a couple of days ago.

Basso is another story, and has shown on really hard stages in the Giro that he can just keep on trucking and pull away from Cadel, so he is certainly still in with a shot to take time from Cadel, although his TT will likely let him down as well.

Three Big Swingers.

That leaves Kloden and Frank (the two blokes with umlauts in their names — talk about a hassle!) Frank is still being cagey as to who will be supporting whom in Leopard Trek, but going on past form, Andy will be the main man.

The Schlecks can certainly do damage to anyone but Contador on the forthcoming stages, so we shall have to see how much time he can take out of Cadel when it gets really tough.

Klodi is one of the great lieutenants of the last 15yrs of bike racing, being the support act for various big-hitters, but never really the number one rider. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes — past results suggest top 5 at best.

And then there’s Cadel. He is racing brilliantly, interviewing like English is his second or third language, and has thus far not put a foot wrong. I’m: pretty sure he has crossed the line in front of Contador and the Schlecks on every single stage to date, which means nothing in the big picture, but does mentally put him up.

Stage 12 will be the first test, where likely Contador will try and rip some time out of him, and the Schlecks will try and cover Contador. I’m not sure that they’re looking to Cadel yet, so may not throw everything at him until the Alps in the final week.

So right now we’re looking at Cadel sitting in the box seat, with the Schlecks poised and looking threatening. Contador will need to light things up somewhere along the way to bring things back onto his terms, and otherwise Kloden & Basso are still in the hunt for a podium finish if something goes wrong with the big four.