I believe that Tuesday's stage up the famed L'Alpe d'Huez gave everyone a great example of why cycling is a team sport. I also believe we saw this year's Tour winner emerge in Floyd Landis.
There were so many examples of teammates helping each other out during Tuesday's climbs, most notably, Team CSC's Jens Voigt and David Zabriskie helping pace Frank Schleck to a stage win; Eddy Mazzoleni helping T-Mobile mate Andreas Kloeden and Axel Merckx pacing Phonak leader Landis after a breakaway.
Those pairings show how cycling works, show the sacrifices teammates make for their team leaders, show the difficult and sudden decisions that are made on the course. Once Merckx, who was in a lead group for a major portion of the stage, knew he had no more left to stay in the lead pack, he rode easy and waited for Landis. Then, Landis received help (and even a water bottle!) from his teammate and gained confidence from the assist.
Kloeden got a minor boost from Mazzoleni down the stretch, but Kloeden paced the whole climb for Landis on Tuesday. Landis responded by riding the perfect race. I think that's why you didn't see Landis put the hammer down and put in an attack that puts his challengers into the "red zone." And trust me, he could have. Any time he flexed his legs, he showed a lot of power. Instead, especially with Kloeden doing all the work, the American kept up with the leaders and never had to put his nose to the wind to conserve energy for the next two stages in the Alps.
I've said from the beginning that keeping the overall lead through all of the Alps stages is very difficult. So now the question is whether Landis has the team to back him for the rest of the Tour. I think Phonak showed Tuesday that they do have some muscle, but I believe Landis will be pretty isolated through the tough parts of upcoming stages. Having said that, if the team can use the same strategy as Tuesday -- sending a teammate that is a strong climber into the breakaway group and later pulling Landis in -- it will only help Landis in the end.
But this is the optimum position for Floyd to be in. Seeing how Landis was turning his legs Tuesday and knowing how he is mentally, any rider that believes he is going to simply crack is very mistaken. I believe Landis will ride into Paris wearing yellow, while Positions 2-7 in the overall classification will be up for grabs. With those positions being so open, you might see some riders giving Landis and Phonak some help along the climbs, something that would be quite the turnaround from the team's bad P.R. move Saturday, when they gave away almost a 30-minute lead to Oscar Pereiro.
Landis will need his energy, especially on Wednesday. While L'Alpe d'Huez is the most famous and mythical climb in the Tour de France, it's not the most difficult. Stage 16 to La Toussuire, a stage we rode during training, features the highest climb of the Tour (8,681 feet above sea level) and very tricky and dangerous turns. The last 79 kilometers feature 47 kilometers of climbing.
The trickiest area is the transition from Col de la Croix de Fer to the 6-kilometer climb to Col du Mollard. There is a very fast, technical decent and then you're going uphill again very quickly. I also hope the road conditions have improved -- when we rode the stage in training, there was a lot of gravel and dirt and many of us slipped out a bit.
It's going to be interesting to see the riders react Wednesday. While many were riding the adrenalin of L'Alpe d'Huez, reality sets in at La Toussuire.
Bobby Julich, a member of Team CSC, is providing an exclusive diary for ESPN.com throughout the Tour de France. The American has been a professional cyclist since 1992. He finished third overall in the 1998 Tour de France and won last year's Paris-Nice race. For more information on Bobby, check out http://www.bobbyjulich.com.