In 1985, while on a break with Stephen Roche of Ireland, Greg LeMond was ordered by his directeur sportif to wait for his ailing team captain, Bernard Hinault. LeMond had become the yellow jersey on the road, but the internal politics of a french team with a great french champion trying to win his record tying 5th Tour de France proved too much of an impediment to LeMond taking what looked like his first Tour victory. At the end of that stage, a completely wasted Hinault appeared gracious for LeMond's sacrifice and vowed to aid LeMond in his bid for the Tour the next year.
In 1986, Hinault clashed with LeMond early in the Tour. An epic duel between two teammates was put forth upon the roads of France, and there have been few Tours de France as gripping and exciting. The two riders split their team with French riders siding with Hinault and LeMond having the lithe neo-pro Andy Hampsten and the Canadian workhorse, Steve Bauer, solidly in his camp. LeMond and Hinault ripped the Tour apart and remade it as a personal race. LeMond contended that Hinault was going back on his pledge to help him win his first Tour. Hinault countered that he was helping, but that he never pledged to just give the race to Lemond, either. Ultimately, LeMond prevailed, but the biggest winners were all of us who got to witness that epic race. I will never forget those two men, resplendent in their Mondrian-inspired La Vie Claire team kits, hurtling down the Alps helmetless on fragile looking steel framed bicycles, alone except for each other.
Yesterday's stage may be a peek at a potentially brewing epic battle such as that witnessed in 1986. Questions still linger, though. There are several scenarios that could play out and various reasons that they are not what is truly going on, but I will give it my best to try and lay them out.
1. There is no rivalry
Could it be that all of this Armstrong-Contador infighting is just a big made up issue put forth by Bruyneel, et al in order to distract the competition and keep them slightly off balance? This could be another mind game like the ailing Armstrong that was played up to the cameras as a successful bid to get Jan Ullrich to whip his Telekom team to overextend itself prior to the attack that has forever been dubbed, "The look".
I don't put a lot of faith in this scenario simply because it is too convoluted and the results would be minimal if even apparent.
2. Armstrong is trying to win the Tour
Yesterday's move was pretty heads up racing on the part of Armstrong. More suspicious is the question of radio communication: did Bruyneel communicate the wind situation to both Contador and Armstrong or did he just communicate with Armstrong? Since Astana has made it clear that they want to build a team around Contador (and Vinokourov) with or without Bruyneel and Armstrong, could these two be throwing a big monkey wrench into the works by concocting a huge win for Armstrong?
I'm a little more curious about this scenario, but an unproven Armstrong will have to fight for every scrap for the next three weeks to pull this off and that may prove to be to tall of a task for him to pull off.
3. Armstrong is helping Leipheimer win
I suspected this up until yesterday. It makes since that if Armstrong wants to work against Contador, his best bet is to assist Leipheimer. Levi isn't all that far off the mark when it comes to Contador and could legitimately compete against the guy.
This scenario lost some plausibility due to the absence of Leipheimer in yesterday's break, but then again it could still be in the running...
4. Armstrong is helping Contador like Hinault helped LeMond
"I said I would help, but I didn't say I'd give it to him." Maybe this is what's going on, but at this point I have no clue.
5. Team Telekom redux
Maybe there are too many big guns on this team just as there were on Team Telekom. Ullrich, Vinokourov and Kloden were all super strong, but they seemed to fight more with each other than against the common enemy of Armstrong. I would think Bruyneel too smart to let this happen, but maybe the lions are out of the cage and there's no getting them back in... What would be curious in this scenario is how Kloden will react since he has been there/done that with this situtation.
Fantasy Tour Standings
1. Team Heal with Steel (P. Purcell) - 2148 pts.
2. Team Inizio (S. Norris) - 1856 pts.
3 Team Buuuuuuuurn! (C. Hicks) - 1845 pts.
lanterne rouge Team Player (P. Barrett) - 1355 pts.