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Will Levi stress cost Lance the Tour?

Two days, two very different breakaway wins.

Yesterday’s mountainous stage in miserably wet conditions was decided when Heinrich Haussler’s strong climbing and audacious descending produced a fine solo victory, reaching the finish in Colmar over four minutes ahead of his nearest rival.

Thursday’s potential bunch sprint never materialised, as Mark Cavendish‘s Columbia HTC team chose to save energy to negotiate the mountains, allowing a breakaway of seven to slip away. Saxo Bank‘s Nicki Sorensen launched two well-timed attacks in the closing kilometres, first to reduce the group from seven to just himself and Sylvain Calzati, and then soloing away to easily win his maiden Tour stage.

Neither breakaway had a direct impact at the top of the general classification, but a small crash involving Levi Leipheimer close to Thursday’s finish in Vittel could have a significant bearing on the final result of the Tour. Leipheimer sustained a broken wrist which ended his participation in the race and required surgery yesterday. (Levi even included photo updates from the operating room via his Twitter feed.)

It was a real shame for Leipheimer, who had been fourth overall after a strong first half of the race and stood a real chance of at least a podium finish. But his friend, fellow American and Astana teammate Lance Armstrong will also be cursing his ill fortune, for Levi would have been Lance’s strongest ally in supporting his plan to surpass Alberto Contador on the decisive climbs in the Alps next week. The one-two combination of using Leipheimer to attack first, and then Armstrong to kick hard once Contador had been softened up a bit would have been the most obvious – and probably best – opportunity for Lance to win his eighth Tour. Now he will probably have to do it alone, or at best rely on less capable – and potentially less loyal/motivated – teammates.

That’s not to say that Armstrong would have beaten Contador if Leipheimer hadn’t crashed; few observers would dispute the Spaniard’s position as race favourite. Equally, Armstrong may still prevail flying solo, particularly given his long-standing relationship and friendship with Astana directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel. But there can be no doubt that Leipheimer’s early exit has damaged the Armstrong dreadnought. Whether that hit has been sustained above or below the waterline will likely provide the key narrative to the closing stages of one of the most intriguing Tours in recent memory.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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