Lessons learned after Stage 1 in Monaco

Much wisdom has been gained after 15 short kilometres

Procycling Magazine's features editor Daniel Friebe is covering the 2009 Tour de France. Now that the race has begun, the Londoner has gleaned many facts to provide this keen insider's blog.

What we learned from the first stage of the 2009 Tour de France…

1. That the pundits were right about Alberto Contador being stronger than Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong said yesterday that, on a similar course in 2005, he’d have destroyed the opposition. Today his tenth place prolonged a sequence of mediocre time trial results since his comeback at the start of the year. Those who argue that prologues or slightly longer opening-day time trials can’t be trusted as a gauge of form are kidding themselves.

Armstrong’s form will have to improve significantly if he’s to outclimb Andreas Klöden and Levi Leipheimer when we reach the Alps and Pyrenees, let alone Contador.

Rabobank's Oscar Freire (L), Robert Gesink and Denis Menchov

2. That all the talk of Denis Menchov entering a new dimension after his Giro win may have been premature. 

His stage win in the Cinque Terre in Italy excepted, the Russian has never been a top-quality rouleur but he still should have fared a lot better than 53rd on a course which essentially consisted of a climb and a descent.

“It was certainly a big disappointment, and I have no explanation for it,” the Rabobank leader said of his one-and-a-half-minute deficit at the finish-line.

Must do better, Den.

Columbia's Kim Kirchen preparing in Monaco

3. That yours truly knows sod all about 15-kilometre time trials. 

Either that or I took leave of my senses when, about ten days ago, I logged on to my online betting account, saw Kim Kirchen quoted at 50-1 for today’s stage and could be heard emitting large gurgling noises.

In my defence, in theory, Grim Kim should have done okay. In practice, he had a shocker. Two minutes is a dirty great chunk of time to lose for a bloke with general classification ambitions.

Team Sky's Dave Brailsford and his best poker face

4. That very few individuals really know who will be riding for Team Sky next year. 

The big kahuna, Dave Brailsford was giving nothing away in Monaco today, and conversations with other “informed” parties keep yielding the same names but very few certainties. Juan Antonio Flecha? Thomas Løvkvist? Edvald Boasson Hagen? Vincenzo Nibali? All or none of the above could be on board with Brailsford from next January.

Marc Madiot, not a card-carrying member of the Paris-based Sir Lancelot Fan Club

5. That La Française des Jeux boss Marc Madiot still isn’t a fan of Lance Armstrong. 

Madiot on Big Tex’s comeback in Libération: “It’s enough to make you support Contador!” Which, roughly translated, means poor old Marc finds himself between a rock and a hard place.

Astana's Benjamin Noval during the team's Santa Rosa, California training camp in February

6. That those who poured scorn on Alexandre Vinokourov and his press conference in Monaco on Thursday didn’t realize that they may have been witnessing one of the key moments of the 2009 Tour. 

Vinokourov’s unilateral declaration that he’d soon be back at Astana issued the first blow to Johan Bruyneel authority.

Yesterday, Tour reject Benjamin Noval not only weighed in with one of his own but also offered the most tantalizing snapshot yet of what’s really going on at Astana.

"This year, the atmosphere in the team is really bad,” Noval told a Spanish radio station on Friday. “It’s bad because of Johan Bruyneel, because he hasn’t known how to manage the team. He’s lost control of the relationship between Alberto and Lance and with the rest of the riders… If there are clans in the team it’s his fault. He knows that, as well, because I’ve said it to his face.”

Touché, Johan.

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