The Tour de France heads into the Alps on Wednesday for three days of steep climbing as the yellow jersey contenders look to outwit each other.
Tuesday’s stage 16 saw an early start to the attacks that were expected to start in the Alps, with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) and Cadel Evans (BMC) pedaling their way ahead of the other contenders to gain valuable time in the general classification.
Contador showed his ability when climbing to pull away from all but Evans on the Category 2 Col du Manse. With some far more daunting climbs to come over the next three days, Contador’s strength will see him rise up the classification towards the maillot jaune.
Evans also saw his stock rise even further as the Australian not only matched Contador, but also launched an attack of his own on the descent and finished four seconds ahead of defending champion Contador.
The pair will now head into the first proper Alpine stage with a psychological advantage.
With some big descents looming after the climbs, Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) will be the most worried, as he saw a nervous descent cost him over a minute in lost time. The former Luxembourg National Champion and Italian Ivan Basso (Liquigas) appeared the weakest of the lead bunch in this stage.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and the whole of France will be happy to see the yellow jersey stay on his back once again. But even the will of the public looks like it will not be enough, as Voeckler looked like he will be unable to keep pace with Contador and Evans through the mountains before Saturday’s time trial.
The apparent demise of Schleck as a contender may just give Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) the boost he needs to make a push for the jersey himself. Evans especially will have to look out for the elder of the Schleck brothers if he decides to leave brother Andy and go for the win himself.
Schleck will need to build a lead in the mountains ahead of the time trial, in which Contador and Evans will take an advantage.
Evans is in the best position as it stands, with Contador and Frank Schleck needing to attack. All Evans needs to do is keep pace with the pair. That should be enough to see Voeckler and probably Andy Schleck completely dropped in the coming three days.
And if Evans does manage to reach Alpe D’Huez with a similar lead over Contador, the yellow jersey will almost certainly be his on Sunday.