Cream starting to rise to the top
One week into this Tour the candidates for overall honours are yet to fully assert themselves. Saturday's time trial has sorted out the GC to an extent, but the Pyrenees and the Alps await. John Kenny looks at how the final GC order is slowly beginning to take shape.
The final two weeks of this Tour will have something that has been largely missing from recent editions: suspense. It was difficult enough to pick a winner before the withdrawal of the two short-odds favourites Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Ivan Basso (CSC) but it was highly likely that one of these two would win, if form and the bookies are any guide. Tour podium candidates Alexandre Vinokourov (Würth) and Francisco Mancebo (AG2R) are also gone. With Lance Armstrong now retired, that's the top five riders from last year absent, opening up the opportunity for other talented riders to showcase their wares.
New race leader Serguei Gonchar finished second in the 2004 Giro d'Italia and has to be added to the list of possibles; the yellow jersey can be a powerful motivator. He's not a great climber, but he showed that he is no slouch either when he limited his losses to Damiano Cunego on the 2004 Giro's mountainous stage 16. The mountain stages are less severe than in previous Tour editions and he may survive long enough to reassert himself in the second long time trial.
Floyd Landis, Saturday's time trial runner-up, had a mechanical problem that cost him some time but he is still well placed going into the second week. He is exactly one minute behind Gonchar's. Landis' early season overall wins at Paris Nice and the tours of Georgia and California had already marked him as a favourite. He was hard to spot in the weeks leading up to the Tour, but his preparation has evidently been sound. His form makes a compelling case for favouritism.
Gonchar's performance has highlighted the comparative depth of talent of the teams. T-Mobile still has three possible GC contenders (Michael Rogers and Andreas Klöden are the others), despite the withdrawal of Ullrich. Triple world time trial champion Rogers did not get the ideal preparation at the Giro d'Italia due to problems with his teeth. He climbed well in the 2003 Tour in defence of Richard Virenque's polka dot jersey, but his climbing form has been patchy since. Klöden can climb, however, and has finished second overall in 2004. If he can stay upright, he is surely a threat to the overall.
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