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Contador Is Number One Astana Rider

Stage One: Monaco
Winner: Fabian Cancellara
Maillot Journe: Fabian Cancellara

Fabian Cancellara won the time-trial prologue of the 2009 Tour de France.

At the beginning of the day it was all Lance Armstrong. Stories, rumors and innuendo circulated about who is the number one rider on the Astana team. And though Astana includes three riders who have wound up on the podium in the years since Armstrong retired the first time – Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden – the only question on commentators’ minds at the beginning of Day One seemed to be whether Armstrong will win this race.

Versus’ color guy, Bob Roll, absolutely believes it. So, apparently, does longtime announcer Phil Liggett. Of the Versus staff, only Paul Sherwen questions that wisdom, believing that Alberto Contador, eleven years younger than Armstrong, will be the winner. Bob Roll rolled his eyes at that one, suggesting that Armstrong will psyche his way to victory.

Perhaps. But today, those twelve years that separate Contador and Armstrong were readily apparent. Armstrong ran early – very early – in the prologue individual time trial. His time along the 15.5 kilometer course was better than any predecessor, but his time was quickly eclipsed by Tony Martin and then teammate Levi Leipheimer, whose 20:02 beat Martin by three minutes and remained as the time to beat until the big boys got on the course.

Versus showed Armstrong’s entire 21-minute traverse – the only time it did that — and commentators Liggett and Sherwen were pointing out his good form and pulling for Armstrong to do well.

Armstrong came in tenth, but more importantly, he came in fourth on his team, which clearly leaves Contador, who looked the way Armstrong used to. Contador came in only 18 seconds back of Fabian Cancellara, who, as expected, came down the second half of the course like a luge.

Teammate Andreas Kloden was only four seconds behind Contador and just a second ahead of Cadell Evans, also a challenger for the maillot journe. After one day, Armstrong is already behind by 40 seconds, 22 seconds behind Contador.

This day certainly doesn’t disqualify Armstrong from winning this year’s tour, or being the guy to beat by the time they get to the Alps in week three. But it does show that Armstrong, at least at this juncture, is going to have to dig deeper than he ever has to win the race, or even challenge his own teammates. It seems much more likely that he will be helping Contador or Kloden ascend the Alps and the podium.

July 4, 2009   No Comments