Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Evans cracks under the pressure of the Yellow Jersey as Schleck attacks on the slopes of the Col de la Madeline

In a wake up call from their rest day, Schleck exchanged his Maillot Blanc for the race leader's Yellow Jersey, as Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) took the stage win in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne; one of just for survivors from an 12-man breakaway. Holding off rivals Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne), the rider took his 9th Tour victory, as Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Contodor (Astana) worked hard to chase them down in the final kilometer.

On the day of the repos, while soigners went about their tasks and riders rested, the Directeur Sportifs planned their strategies with all the surgical precision of a field marshal planning the deployment of troops in a battle. Meanwhile, the tifosi made their long pilgrimage to the Mecca that is the Madeleine. Overnight, with tins of whitewash at the ready, they installed their camp to lie in wait for a glimpse of their heros. Those who didn't climb the colossal giant, lined the course and ascended the Col de la Columbiere, the other much loved mountain that formed part of the alpine route the peloton would follow as they journied the 204.5 km from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.

Felline, Kluge, Karpets, Gerrans were not amongst the riders who made their way to the start line having been forced to retire from the race; bloodless victims of the relentless challenge that the first week had been for the peloton. With temperatures up to the 30s, it was sure to be a day of simmering combative skirmishes, tempered by cool headed strategic planning.

Early in the day, a breakaway that included the Maillot Vert, Hushovd (Cervelo), made their escape from the peloton. The strategy for the big Norweigan sprinter was simple: collect the intermediate sprint points, and take the jersey further out of Cavendish's reach. A clever stragtegy given that after a lighter day of climbing tomorrow, the sprinters will go on the offensive once more before they plough into the Pyraneese where the race for the Maillot Jaune will hot up on the slopes of the famous Tourmalet.

While Radio Shack and BMC worked hard at the front of the peloton, a striking red haze like a bloodied arrowhead, Evans began to suffer in his attempts to defend the Golden Fleece on his back. Astana team leader Contodor by contrast looked relaxed as Saxo Bank rider, and leader of the Young Riders Competition, Andy Schleck went on the offensive in a marked attack on the young Spaniard. Their hard work almost reeled in the last of the survivors of the earlier breakaway, but it was Cesar who took the stage in an exciting finish.

Meanwhile Evans (BMC) the overnight Yellow Jersey, almost came to a standstill on the Col de la Madeleine,; despite his valiant effort to defend the jersey he had been beaten by his rival, Schleck. In the King of the Mountains competition, Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) took the jersey from Pineau (Quickstep) who despite grabbing more points today, had succumbed to the struggles of two days of awesome climbing; a rest day in between did little it seems, to ensure he was able to defend the Maillot a pois.

Tomorrow the peloton will enjoy a far less gruelling stage, as they leave the Alps, tackling the far less arduous climbs as they make their way along the 179km route from Chambéry to Gap, as the race celebrates the 150th anniversary of the annexing of Savoy. The Côte de Laffrey climb, on leaving Vizille, will be very difficult; the Col du Noyer pass very technical. The descent is very winding; it was here that Joseba Beloki fell in 2003, when he wanted to avoid Vinokourov gaining too much time on him. On that occassion, Lance Armstrong was obliged to take a short-cut through a field to avoid being caught up in the aftermath. With 2 crashes and a hold up on the run into Morizine-Avoriaz, Armstrong will be hoping that history will not repeat itself.

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