Looking at Saturday's weather forecast, Astana might have made a wise decision yesterday when deciding on its riders' starting order for the opening stage of this year's Tour de France. Looking at the time schedule for the 15.5km time trial, and knowing the capabilities of the outfit's star riders against the clock, you'd expect to see the names of Lance Armstrong or Levi Leipheimer towards the end of the stage. But the squad have chosen to make them roll down the start ramp early, in 18th (4.17pm) and 38th position (4.37pm) respectively. Andreas Klöden and Alberto Contador, on the other hand, will race later, as the 138th (6.17pm) and 178th riders (7.05pm) to start.
As it is the teams' own choice to establish a starting order, Cyclingnews asked Astana spokesman Philippe Maertens why they took this decision. "Armstrong and Leipheimer actually preferred to start early, even though it does mean that they will not have any good intermediate times for reference," he said on Saturday morning. "Also, as we have four riders that are really good time triallists, it seemed a good option to mitigate the risks of deteriorating weather conditions. It's true that if it rains,
at least this way we might have a chance to save some of our riders from racing on wet roads. Of course we don't know if it's going to rain at all, or if that will be at four or seven o'clock."
During the last few days, weather in Monaco was hot and humid, with clouds always rising up during the afternoon. There was never any rain, but the weather forecast for Saturday did evoke a risk of thunderstorm for the later afternoon, just in time for the Tour's Grand Départ. On this particular course, wet tarmac could be a major factor as the second half of the circuit around the city of Monte Carlo is all downhill, on twisty and small roads. If a thunderstorm does break lose towards the end of the afternoon, this could set back many of the overall favourites, including Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans and Carlos Sastre.
The speculation on team leadership within Astana thus could be settled by raindrops rather than performance, and a decision that may have seemed awkward at first but could still make perfect sense in the end.