Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Repos Review: From Cracking climbs to broken dreams the race goes into its final days

From a rest day in Morzine-Avoriaz, the peloton emerged dazed and delirious as they headed into the second week of the race. Under the pressure of the Maillot Jaune, Evans cracked on the Col de la Madeleine, losing his jersey to the young Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck. A crack in his elbow translated into a crack in his form and the Aussie broke down in the post-stage media melee.

Bastille Day saw a National Holiday for the French, but the peloton it seemed were taking the day off too. Taking a somewhat leisurely pace they cruised through the day in a relaxed manner allowing a Portuguese rider to take a stage for the first time in 21 years. Paulino took the stage ahead of Kiryienka the last man to survive a breakaway that had been allowed to roll on ahead for much of the day.

Out of the mountains of the Alps, the sprinters returned to dominate the racing and once more HTC-Columbia made headlines. This time however it wasnt Cavendish himself, but his lead-out man and roommate, Mark Renshaw who had caused uproar. Likened to a gladiator in an arena he was lamblasted for head-butting Garmin -Transitions counterpart Julian Dean and later blocking sprinter Tyler Farrar. His actions saw him thrown off the Tour with no right to appeal. The news clearly upsetting Cavendish, he vowed to carry on and the torment and implications that he would be impacted by the loss of the abdicating Aussie were sure to make him all the more hungry for victory.

Stage 12 went to Spainish rider Rodriguez as he tried to put time into the top of the GC as Schleck and Contador played a clever game of poker. Tyler Farrar called it quits during the stage having ridden since stage 2 with a fractured wrist. A wry twist in the new Columbia-Garmin war, Cavendish was lessened one rival as he clawed his way back into contention for the Green Jersey.

Stage 13 saw Cavendish prove those who had written him off wrong as he took a 14th Tour victory ahead of his closest rivals. A last chance saloon before the Pyrenees, Bernie Eissel blasted the Manxman to the line in a sweet victory that saw him move to within grabbing distance of the Maillot Vert.

The peloton headed into the Pyrenees for the final mountain stages that would celebrate 100 years of Tour visits to the region. As Schleck and Contador played a chess match worthy of Grand Masters, Menchov and Sanchez slipped under the radar. Reaching a stalemate, Frenchman Riblon took the first of three French victories in the mountains of the Pyrenees.

Disaster struck the race leader, Schleck, on stage 15 as a mechanical caused a delay that saw him lose his Golden Fleece by a mere 8 seconds. In a controversial move that has since been labelled "Chaingate", his Spanish rival, Contador attacked ripping the jersey from his back. Opinion was divided in the cycling world, but the fans made their position clear on the matter, booing Contador as he stood on the podium.

Stage 16 saw Schleck refuse to take up his position at the front of the pack with the other jersey wearers, now back in the Maillot Blanc, but by the end of the stage he had repaired his relationship with his rival and asked fans not to continue booing. Brother Frank commented how Andy would now be more dangerous as they went into the second and final repos before a second ascent of the Tourmalet that will end in a summit finish on stage 17.

Stage 16 also saw Armstrong attack in a bid for one last horrah before the Tour Elder retires for a second and final time on Sunday. His attack came to nought however, as he lost out to Fedrigo in what was in the end a sprint finish.

With a summit finish on the Col du Tourmalet and Schleck wounded by his rival, stage 17 is sure to be phenomenal as the blue touch paper is lit once and for all with the Time Trial on Saturday sure to simply secure the jersey as a formality. Bar major accident or fiasco, the race is now surely only down to two men.

Meanwhile the Maillot Vert is far from certain with Cavendish breathing heavily down the necks of Petacchi and Hushovd who have ping ponged the jersey for much of the Tour. With two final sprint opportunities available and each rider as hungry as the other for the Jersey, it is sure to be battled out to the final bloody end.

Stage 17 sees the riders climb a final 198km in an action packed stage that will see all the GC names have their dig as the ultimate battle commences.

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