The Tour's first big day of showdown has come, and looking at the general classification after stage six to Barcelona, it seems like team Astana has the sole monopoly over the top of the overall ranking. With only 'Spartacus' Fabian Cancellara separating Lance Armstrong from the yellow jersey, and his teammates Alberto Contador, Andreas Klöden and Levi Leipheimer waiting in line on the next places, Astana looks to be in perfect position to take the lead in the ski station of Arcalis tomorrow.
But Armstrong, a perfect diplomat, didn't answer the question of whether or not we would see him or one of his teammates wearing the maillot jaune in the Principality of Andorra on Friday evening. "If I had to try and guess, I think the others will attack before we do," said Armstrong in Barcelona. "I expect Carlos [Sastre] to make some accelerations. I think we're in a position where we can wait and watch the others: Carlos, Evans, the Schleck brothers..."
Still, with Astana's many aces, it's difficult to imagine a different scenario than one of them taking the overall lead tomorrow. Coming back on the well-publicised match between him and Alberto Contador, the American hinted that he might not be able to follow the young Spaniard if the latter decided to get out of the saddle permanently.
"I know Alberto wants to assert himself in the race, and I don't need a team meeting to know that he's ready to go. If he goes, and nobody can hang onto him, then I'll just stay with the other leaders. That's the way to be. But I'll still do my best and get to the top as quick as I can, so we'll see..." Armstrong said, always preserving an element of doubt.
Contador himself did not comment on his personal plans, merely saying that the first summit finish of this year's Tour was going to be "interesting. There are many riders that need to try something from afar, because they already lost a fair amount of time.
"Everybody asks me if I'm going to attack, but those who really need to attack are the other riders. We'll see how the stage will unfold."
Still, the Spaniard did not feel that Astana dominated the race. "Even though we are well-placed on the overall, after the mountains we might see that others may be stronger than some of our team. The stages on the weekend might be less dangerous than the one in Andorra, but all will be important."
Contador may have one advantage over Armstrong: he is on home turf, and has reconnoitred the upcoming stages in depth. "I didn't see the Pyrennees this year," said the American. "I have more recent knowledge of the Alps than of the Pyrennees, so I'm a little uneducated about them this year."