And then there were five…

Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Chipotle was the first to crack. The American became uncoupled from the yellow jersey train on the Bonette-Restefond and slipped to sixth. He’s now 3-15 behind overall and out of the running for the podium, but will dig deep tomorrow to protect his place well inside the top ten. In any event, it’s a Tour to be proud of for him and his team.

However, Denis Menchov won’t feel too good tonight. He conceded more than 30 seconds to Cadel Evans after losing contact on the super-fast descent of the Bonette-Restefond.

The Russian, who rides for Rabobank, may regret those few seconds on Saturday night. Remember, Menchov would have been even closer to the yellow jersey this morning had he not lost 38 seconds after being caught behind a crash which split the peloton in the closing kilometres of stage three to Nantes.

Now he is the outsider of the five who remain in the fight. His deficit to Frank Schleck is 1-13 but, more importantly he’s 1-05 behind Cadel Evans in the battle of the time trialists.

If Evans could have hoped for anyone to lose ground today it would have been Menchov. The others he can take in the time trial.

CSC may come to regret their caution today. They had strength in numbers but failed to make a move. Perhaps they are waiting for Alpe d’Huez, where Frank Schleck won in 2006. It’s the stage that suits Andy Schleck and Carlos Sastre too. Whatever their plans, they are leaving it to the last minute.

But the way they rode today makes it look like they are aiming for second and third, not first. Tomorrow, on Alpe d’Huez, they must burn their matches.

It was another unpredictable stage of a Tour de France which is in danger of earning classic status.

What’s all this with breakaways managing to stay away in the mountains?

And is that a rash of riders from French teams who are up there competing? We thought they were supposed to be lazy, sub-standard blow-hards?

So, now there are five, which one will it be?

With Menchov losing time, it has to point towards Evans. All the Australian Silence-Lotto rider needs to do is hanging on tomorrow and he’s all set for Saturday’s time trial.

Though he would not admit it, the Gerolsteiner rider Bernhard Kohl may settle for a top five place and the king of the mountains title because he’s not got enough fire power in the time trial.

CSC hold the strongest hand but seem unsure which card to play. It’s inconceivable that Frank Schleck can defend an eight-second lead against the Evans onslaught on Saturday.

He’s climbing well but is unable to move because he’s wearing the yellow jersey. He’s strong, but he’s not strong enough to put more time into Evans tomorrow.

That leaves Sastre or Menchov. If they want to win this Tour they have to attack. CSC have the complication of holding the yellow jersey but must face the reality that unless either Schleck or Sastre gets 90 seconds ahead of Evans they have no chance. Menchov needs to close the gap to Evans and hope he’s able to be the better of the two in Cerilly.

The picture is clearer. But only a little.



TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage 16: Dessel wins
Stage 15: Schleck takes lead in the Alps
Stage 14: Oscar Freire wins in Digne-les-Bains
Stage 13: Cavendish takes fourth win
Stage 12: Cavendish makes it three
Stage 11: Arvesen wins
Stage 10: Evans takes yellow jersey by one second
Stage nine: Ricco wins in the Pyrenees
Stage eight: Cavendish wins again in Toulouse
Stage seven: Sanchez takes action-packed stage
Stage six: Ricco storms to win
Stage five: Cavendish takes first Tour win
Stage four: Schumacher wins TT and takes race lead
Stage three: Dumoulin wins stage from break
Stage two: Hushovd wins chaotic sprint
Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Schleck ready to defend Tour lead [stage 15]
Rest day news round-up [July 21]
Saunier Duval riders: “We are honest”
Cavendish talks to Cycling Weekly after quitting Tour
Schleck savours first ever Tour de France jersey [stage 15]
Comment: Why Cav is right to go home today
Cavendish pulls out of the Tour
Barloworld to end cycling sponsorship
Ricco speaks on Italian television
Cavendish joins the all-time greats
Saunier Duval sack Ricco and Piepoli
Tour bosses say fight against doping continues
Ricco denies doping at the Tour
Saunier Duval pull out of Tour
Tour’s top ten changes
Ricco positive for EPO at Tour
Analysis: Tour de France rest day summary
Cavendish battles through Pyrenees
Evans suffers but takes yellow jersey [stage 10]
Analysis: Hautacam shakes up 2008 Tour
Ricco silences critics with solo attack in Pyrenees [stage nine]
Cavendish talks about his second stage win [stage eight]
Beltran heads home but doubts remain about other Tour riders
David Millar: the dope controls are working
Manuel Beltran tests positive for EPO at the Tour
Comment: How the Tour rediscovered its spirit
Doping back in Tour de France headlines
Millar: close but no cigar in Super-Besse [stage six]
Super-Besse shows form of main contenders [stage six]
Millar to go for yellow [stage six]
Team Columbia’s reaction to Cavendish’s win [stage five]
Cavendish talks about his Tour stage win
Tour comment: Why Evans should be happy [stage four]
Millar: Still aiming for Tour yellow jersey [stage 4]
Who is Romain Feillu?
Cavendish disappointed with stage two result
Millar too close to Tour yellow jersey
Stage 2 preview: A sprint finish for Cavendish?
Millar happy after gains precious seconds in Plumelec
Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win
Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage 15
Stage 14
Stage 13
Stage 12
Stage 11
Stage 11
Stage 10
Stage nine
Stage eight
Stage seven
Stage six
Stage five
Stage four
Stage three
Stage two
Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: BLOGS

Life at the Tour part five
Life at the Tour part four
Life at the Tour part three
Life at the Tour part two
Life at the Tour part one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

Tour de France 2008 homepage>>
News and features>>
All the riders (start list, list of abandons)>>
Day by day summary>>
Route & stages>>
Teams and riders>>
About the Tour>>