The usual suspects for top honours are likely to be cautious when the Tour de France enters the Alps on Sunday but the mind games have already started in the peloton.
Sunday’s eighth stage, with a mountain-top finish at Morzine-Avoriaz and a category-one, 13,6km climb at an average gradient of 6,1%, could be the perfect opportunity for the top contenders to make their move.
They may, however, keep their hands on the brakes as a punishing third week, with four tough stages in the Pyrenees and a 52km time trial, is not far away.
“Nothing much will happen in the Alps, the Tour is now all down to the Pyrenees,” Briton Bradley Wiggins told Reuters.
Lance Armstrong, gunning for an unprecedented eighth title, has time to make up after suffering in Tuesday’s stage on the cobbles, yet the American is unlikely to attack.
“This race is so weighted towards the last week that my impression and my feeling would be to wait,” the 38-year-old Texan told reporters.
Defending champion and overwhelming favourite Alberto Contador is expecting to play a waiting game for the same reasons, according to his Astana team manager, Yvon Sanquer.
“Even if we are behind Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans, the gaps are not big so we are in a good position,” Sanquer told Reuters.
“We will see who is strong and who is not. We will see how they [Schleck, Evans] deal with the situation,” Sanquer added.
“But we need to keep in mind that the third week will be extremely hard, with very hard [mountain] stages and a time trial.”
The waiting game could benefit a few riders hoping to snatch the yellow jersey but who cannot reasonably hope to win the Tour. Armstrong and Evans are among them, according to HTC-Columbia team manager Bob Stapleton.
“I think it’s a fair statement to say that some teams have an interest to take the yellow jersey in the Alps and to defend it as long as they can because they won’t keep it in the Pyrenees,” he told Reuters.
“I think RadioShack have a chance to win the Tour if they keep the race open to [Andreas] Kloden, [Levi] Leipheimer, Lance and even [Janez] Brajkovic. If they put all their resources on helping Lance, they will possibly get a podium, not more.”
Evans, second overall, leads fourth-placed Schleck by 30 seconds, sixth-placed Contador by 1:01, with Armstrong 50 seconds further back in 14th place. – Reuters