Thursday, 22 July 2010

Schleck vows to continue fighting for the Maillot Jaune as he tastes stage glory once more on the Tourmalet

Andy Schleck beat rival Alberto Contador to a stage victory on the Col du Tourmalet on stage 17 of the 2010 edition of the Tour de France. With just 8 seconds separating the two rivals in the race for the Maillot Jaune, Schleck had previously stated that the Tour victor would be decided on the summit of the Tourmalet. Tasting the success of a stage win as he crossed the line ahead of the current yellow jersey and former two time winner of the Tour de France, Schleck reassessed his previous assertion, stating that now he would continue to hunt for the Golden Fleece into Paris where the three week long race ends on Sunday.

Climbing the mist-covered mountain, a backdrop well known to the mythological setting, the riders worked hard to overcome personal struggles in the damp conditions. Earlier in the day, Samuel Sanchez (EUS) fell hard appearing to lose conciousness for a minute and for a moment appearing to be out of the Tour, but it wasnt long before he was back on his bike being paced back into the race by his team mates. the Up ahead, not wanting to suffer any further controversy, Contador held back his group from chasing down a 7 man breakaway. Carlos Sastre, a former Tour winner in the absence of Contador's team in 2008, refused to wait however, making a courageous yet controversial bid to chase down the leading group alone. Asked about the move after the stage, Sastre hit out at a Tour that has been turning cycling into a sport for spoilt brats. Angered that no one wanted to wait for him either in the Giro or here on the Tour, he made it clear that people were welcome to their opinions but that he had learnt things about himself by doing so and that was good enough for him.

Up ahead on the Tourmalet overnight rain had given way to a mystical backdrop of mist that covered the mountain summit like the wild mists of an English moore. Like a scene from Bronte's Wuthering Heights, the mists engulfed the riders as visibility was reduced to a few meters. Meanwhile down on the Col de Solour the scenes were rather more reminiscent of a chapter from James Herriot's "It shouldn't happen to a vet". Sheep had wandered onto the road causing riders to dodge them as they made their way up and over the final cat 1 ascent before they headed up to the summit finish on the Tourmalet.

As the race headed into the final climb of the hors categorie the attacks from Schleck and Contador came thick and fast. Clawing their way up the illustrious mountain each responding to the others taunting attacks, each rider was unable to unhinge the other in a battle to beat the other to the line. Schleck hungry for the 8 seconds he had to make up to regain the leaders jersey and Contador thirsting for a third Tour win, the riders knew that this was it; the Tour would be won here. The Luxembourg rider looked into the eyes of Contador in a haunting challenge much like Armstrong's "look" and it was clear that Schleck would match each attack the Spaniard launched never letting his wheel go long enough for Contador to lose him.

The summit finish in sight as they rounded the corner, their final truce was called and Schleck took the stage win inches ahead of his rival. Shortly behind them Rodriguez and Hesjedal came out of the clouds to take 3rd and 4th place ahead of GC rivals Menchov and Sanchez who were further back on the spectacular slope. The sprinters having survived the climb in their grupetto finished together within the time limit, Robbie McEwan finishing with his traditional final climb wheelie. The only rider to withdraw from the stage was Lampre's Simon Spilak.

Tomorrow the race heads into Bourdeaux for the first time since 2003. Having hosted the Tour 79 times, it is the Tours most visited town after Paris. The sprinters will be looking to dominate the finish as the race for the Maillot Vert hots up once more. With the only other sprint coming when the race finishes in Paris on Sunday, the sprint specialist teams will be looking to secure the jersey once and for all. With the time trial on Saturday the GC contenders will be looking to stay out of trouble as the likes of Hushovd and Cavendish fight their way to the line.

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