Friday, 22 July 2011

Rolland victorious as team mate and compatriot Voeckler loses Maillot Jaune to Andy Schleck

For 9 days he held on, wearing the most coveted of all the jerseys, the Maillot Jaune. Defending it when all by his most die hard supporters said he would lose it, in spite of the odds stacked against him, giving his all day after day after day until he was exhausted, helped of his bike by his soigneur after the hardest days in the saddle. He came into the Tour a rider, he will go out on Sunday a national hero even though today he lost the jersey. The leader of team Europcar, a wild card team in this years Tour, Thomas Voeckler, can hold his head high, knowing he defended it to the end, did his duty both as a Tour de France rider and as a Frenchman.

Cracking under the relentless pressure that Alberto Contador put on everyone as he started his attacks far earlier than everyone predicted, Voeckler, who worked hard to regroup on the descent of the Galibier, was forced to concede defeat on the climb of the Alpe d'Huez.

Few could have predicted the level of payback Contador would unleash on rival Andy Schleck for yesterdays stage. Attacking on the first climb of the day, Contador found the Luxembourg rider on his wheel at every turn. Misfortune however struck Evans as he faced a mechanical on the slopes of the Col du Telegraph. Struggling to regroup, he worked hard until he had shredded the main chasing group down using all his team mates in the process.

Finding the group lead by Contador on the descent of the Galiber, helped by Samuel Sanchez and Frank Schleck, he lead the attacks as they chased down Contador who broke free on the ascent of the final climb of the day: The Alpe d'Huez. Navigating the 21 switchbacks with skill, the Spaniard expected to take the stage with a solo ride. However in the last 3km of the climb he was joined by Olympic champion and compatriot, Samuel Sanchez and Europcar rider Rolland. But as the trio headed into the final kilometer Rolland shook off the spanish duo, sprinting to take the win ahead of Sanchez who was trailed by Contador who finished 3rd.

Meanwhile Evans found himself in a Schleck sandwich knowing it was now or never if he wanted the Tour win. Attacking as they headed into the final 5km, Evans dropped Frank by could not dislodge his brother Andy from his wheel. Evans' bid for Tour victory was short lived however as he soon found himself in the company of the riders he had attempted to shake off as they headed into the final 3km. By the time they reached the line it was going to come down to a sprint as Velits broke away to take 4th place ahead of the Australian Evans. With Schleck maintaining contact in this group he was satisfied in the knowledge they would receive the same time and the Maillot Jaune was now his and a little pleased his biggest rival was found wanting both in terms of the stage win and the Tour overall.

With just 57 seconds separating Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans it will all come down to tomorrows Individual Time Trial. The Maillot Jaune may be on the shoulders of Andy Schleck now but the Tour is still up for grabs. It may be Evans to win but it is also Andy's to lose.

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