Tour Time: Predictions and Light Blogging

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It didn't hit me until the middle of this week at the Tour is starting on Saturday. After shooting Lance at the Astana Training Camp, Tour of California and the Nevada City Classic, you'd think that I'd just be counting down the days, but shooting the American Velodrome Challenge and Manhattan Beach Grand Prix in one weekend has a way of keeping you distracted.

When I first saw Lance at the Astana Training Camp I thought, "No way." He looked different on a bike, he looked... fat (for a cyclist). Then I saw him at the Tour of California on a TT bike, and that only reinforced the fact that he looked fat. Then I saw him a couple of weeks ago at the Nevada City Classic and he looked thin.

Does this mean that I think he can win? No. But whereas I thought in February he was certain to realize this and be forced to work for Contador, I now think he's strong enough to cause more than enough trouble for the Astana squad -- with Vino back in the picture, is there any team under more stress right now? Another way to think of it is: Armstrong won his final Tours largely on the strength of the team supporting him; now there's little chance that the entire team would ever support him.

That's not to say Armstrong hasn't been trying to build his own mini-squad. Armstrong has spent a good portion of this year cementing his relationship with Levi Leipheimer, burying himself to help Levi win the Tour of California and luxuriating him in the world of private-jet travel. And he did well enough by Horner than Horner was sniping at Contador for getting left off the Tour squad, not at Armstrong for giving Contador more than seven reasons to think about wanting more allies on the squad.

I still think Contador is the best overall rider of this generation and is stronger than Armstrong, but Armstrong may cause just enough discord to provide an opening. The worst thing that can happen, and could easily happen, is that Lance and Levi beat Contador on Saturday's stage. Levi we know can beat Contador in a TT and who knows what Lance will bring. Or maybe even worse is that Contador overly focuses on establishing his primacy with his team on this opening stage and leaves himself open to harm the rest of the Tour. No other team has as much riding on the very first stage.

As for other contenders, Bjarne Riis is obviously salivating at the opportunity to exploit the conflict and has enough weapons to force Astana to figure out who they're protecting. Silence-Lotto's Cadel Evans is also just boring enough to slip in during all the fireworks and run off with the prize. It's harder to drum up support for Sastre. I feel bad not rallying behind the reigning champion, but as good as Cervelo Test Team has been, can they really help him win the Tour? Not likely.

NOTE: I've decided not to do my normal Tour link roundup this year around, and my summaries may be infrequent. When I first started blogging about the Tour in 2003, there weren't that many sites out there blogging about it, there was no Twitter or Facebook, and I had not yet embarked on my cycling photography career. Perhaps I'm faking my memories, but back then I felt it was necessary to blog about the Tour because it was a beautiful event that needed many more voices in the up-and-coming blogosphere. Now there are many voices out there and the return of Lance has turned the dials back up to 11 for this event. I also find that I'd rather shoot bicycles and ride bicycles than write about bicycles, so look for me this month at events like the San Rafael Twilight Crit. Rest assured that I will still be up every morning at 5am to watch the Tour.

related articles: Tour de France Tour de France 2009
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