As Don Cheadle chimed in the old Superbowl commercial, "how much is 4 seconds? 4 seconds is 4 seconds."
I think it was actually 5 seconds in the commercial, but 4 seconds was more relevant given the results of Stage 19 into Aubenas yesterday.
Sometimes everyone gets it wrong, including the peloton, and yesterday was one of those days. A huge breakaway of 19 riders was away early, with 14 of the 20 teams represented. A few teams had no interest in the break, but there were 1 or 2 that for whatever reason did not make the break. One of those was the team from the Netherlands - Rabobank. Their GC hope, Denise Menchov, won this year's Giro but is finding out how hard it is to double. Their sprinter, 3-time World Champion Oscar Freire, has not had the legs to make anything stick. They weren't very noticeable in breaks, or in the mountains, or in any points competitions. So when they missed the break, their team director must have been screaming at them to chase it down.
Normally a break of 19 riders will stay away until the end, as long as nobody poses any threat to GC. You could see a wicked pace was being forced by the orange and blue Rabobank squad, and they quickly neutralized the breakaway and brought the race back together. Probably too quickly, because there was still a lot of riding to go and the speeds they were traveling at were insane. They essentially set up the win later for the fastest sprinter in the race, Mark Cavendish, but not before Laurent Lefevre took a flyer. Current World Champ, Alessandro Ballan, bridged across and the two had a decent go at it, summiting the top of the Cat 2 climb and then descending into the finishing town of Aubenas, getting caught within the last 2km.
Here's where it became interesting. Half the peloton was way off the back. It seemed like the group was together at 25km to go, but one large group lost 18 minutes in those 12 miles. Then there was another group that finished at 2:00 back. Further up the road, there were 12 people that crossed the line in the "bunch sprint" that was awarded the same time. One of those was the unmistakable black and yellow helmet of Lance Armstrong. It was fun seeing him have a little dig at the sprint - not that he was ever in contention, but he was definitely sprinting to stay up there. And good for him, because there was a noticeable split between groups and if there's a gap, the race officials are required to give split times. So all the other big names - Schleck, Contador, Kloden and Wiggins - were all in this next pack and lost a silly 4 seconds to Lance.
It will likely not make a difference to Contador, who is still up 5:21 on Lance and for him to lose that time today is next to impossible. But for Andy Schleck, that makes it 1:10 back to Lance now, and for Wiggins, Kloden and Frank Schleck, it extends Lance's lead by a few more ticks of the clock. It's another example of Lance Armstrong riding heads up, being alert and paying attention. It's this attention that won him 7 Tours.
It will be interesting to see what happens on Team Radio Shack next year, with Lance coming back to race and more than likely will have Levi Leipheimer riding with him. Contador, eh, I'm going to guess not. On a side note, Alex: "Radio Shack? Do they even exist still?"
Stage 20, Montelimar to Mont Ventoux
I woke up early today to watch the live coverage at 7am. Either the race didn't start yet or they don't care to show us the footage yet because it's been a lot of commercials and too much Craig Hummer and Bob Roll. They're setting up the commercials in advance of the hour-long, commercial free coverage as they climb Ventoux.
Conditions appear to be pretty nasty on the top of the mammoth climb, with whipping winds. I'm not sure how this will affect the ride today, or whom it will affect most. I can tell you from experience that when you're tired, and if you're not on good form or feel like you don't have the legs, the last thing you want to deal with is wind. I think it could finally be a day for Wiggins to crack. I don't think the Schlecks will be greatly affected, nor will Contador.
What I'd like to see happen is Lance ride everyone off his wheel, maybe with Contador and/or Kloden helping set a sick tempo or help with attacking/covering attacks, to set Lance up for his first win atop Ventoux, and get him up to 2nd. Andy Schleck can't worry about Frank trying to get 3rd now because more at stake is the 2nd place position. It's going to be interesting, I think there's going to be a lot of defensive riding, a lot of strategery...
Whatever happens, we'll see it in about 4 hours from now!