Today's the second and last rest day at the Tour de France, during which the racers have been doing some "easy" (for them) riding to keep the legs moving and to prepare for the two brutal days in the mountains on Tuesday and Wednesday. Pretty much everything will be at stake in those two ascent-happy days, from the best young rider prize and the green and polka-dot jerseys for points and mountain champions all the way up to the podium spots, including the yellow jersey.
The stakes are extraordinarily high now. Experts and fans expected to see some turnover at the top of the general classification during Sunday's stage 15, and, indeed, the stage put a new man in the yellow jersey. But the staggering number of attacks by GC contenders throughout the stage actually increased the number of racers within striking distance of first place. Australian Cadel Evans, who'd worn yellow before the day started, couldn't respond to a series of attacks on the stage's final, steep climb to Prato Nevoso, Italy. One after another, Evans' rivals rode away from him, with the Luxembourger Frank Schleck waiting until almost the last second before surging up the slope to take the second by which he trailed Evans in the general classification. Schleck thereby assumed a scant 8-second climb over Evans and a 7-second lead over another late attacker, the little-known Austrian climber Bernhard Kohl. Behind that trio, the Spaniard Carlos Sastre climbed back to within fifty seconds of the yellow jersey, in sixth position, just behind the Russian Denis Menchov in fourth (38s down) and American Christian Vande Velde (39s down). The Tour de France has never seen so many racers separated by so few seconds so late in the race.
My money is still on Vande Velde, who is showing good form and has just enough of a team to carry him up the big HC climbs to come. On the other hand, with Schleck in yellow and Sastre within a few seconds of the podium, the strong CSC team will have every reason to push the pace, especially on the climbs, and put time into Evans, Kohl, Menchov, and Vande Velde. Stages 16 and 17 will be hellaciously brutal racing. It'll be fantastic.