Sunday, 24 July 2011
Saturday, 23 July 2011
Tomorrow the peloton heads for Paris and the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées where Mark Cavendish will be looking to take the stage win ahead of his rivals and with it become the first British cyclist to take home the Maillot Vert.
Friday, 22 July 2011
With the Time Trial of Grenoble still to come the battle for the Maillot Jaune will literally come right down to the line tomorrow. With everything still to play for it will be up to Andy to keep it and Evans to take it as they race against the clock around the mountain route that circumnavigates Grenoble. Ultimately it will be a case not of who can Time Trial the best but who wants the jersey the most.
But with the stage winner on the podium and Gilbert the only sprinter in sight, everyone waited with baited breath to see when Cavendish would come over the line. The official cut off being calculated to 25 minutes and 9 seconds after Rolland crossed the line, Cavendish had to wait for the decision of race commissionaires having crossed the line with the gruppetto around 20 seconds outside of the cut.
Finally stepping out onto the podium to receive the Maillot Vert Cav fans worldwide breathed a sigh of relief that he hadn't been eliminated from the Tour for coming in outside the cut. Being docked points for the late arrival once again, he is now on 280 points. Rojas, finishing within the same group lies 15 points behind on 265 points. If lady luck continues to be on his side he will secure the Jersey with a stage win in Paris on Sunday; his third in a row.
Meanwhile the Young Riders Jersey went to stage winner Rolland who finished 1 minute 33 seconds ahead of Taaramae who took it yesterday from Uran of Team Sky.
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.
Thursday, 21 July 2011
The brilliantly timed and inspired artestry of his attack shocked many who had all but written off his podium dreams. As the GC group headed into the ascent of the Col d'Izoard Andy kicked away with a 40 second lead. Leaving Frank to shut down any attempts to counter attack his move from his main rivals, he linked up with team mate Maxime Monfort on the descent before overtaking Iglinskiy who had lead the stage for much of the day.
As Andy crossed the line with the stage win in the bag, the clock started on the yellow jersey. All to aware that his days in the jersey were numbered, Thomas Voeckler fought bravely on to ensure that he at least wore it in the final part of these climatic stages, as he finished with a 15 second margin in the GC standings. Visibly exhausted, he literally gave it all he had knowing tomorrow would likely be the end of his Golden Fleece reign.
Cracking in the final chase-down, Contador finished 16th on the stage in a stark contrast to the performace given by Voeckler. Trailing 4:44, the reigining Tour de France champion may have lost out on defending his title.
Schlecks performance sees him now 4 points away from the King of the Mountains jersey currently worn by Jelle Vanendert. Meanwhile Uran of Team Sky lost his Maillot Blanc to Taaramae after a spell of bad luck saw him hit the deck and have problems with his breaks. In the Maillot Vert competition, the large gruppetto saved Cavendish from elimination, however he was deducted 20 points for finishing marginally outside the cut off time. Now closer to Rojas this guarantees he will have to fight harder between now and the end of Sunday.
Tomorrow the race heads from Modane to Alpe D'Huez, ascending the Galibier from the North via the Col de Telegraph before heading to Alpe D'Huez for the final showdown. After todays impressive riding, Andy Schleck will want to rip the Yellow Jersey from the shoulders of Voeckler with a final kick to take him to the top of the leaderboard ahead of Saturday's Individual Time Trial.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
The Grand Boucle (Big Loop) has visited Gap 20 times in Tour history and has witnessed the victories of the leading cyclists Raphaël Géminiani, Gastone Nencini, Jean-François Bernard, Erik Zabel, Alexandre Vinokourov and Pierrick Fédrigo. But the prefecture town of Hautes-Alpes was also the start for legendary stages to Briançon, which were successively won by Louison Bobet, Fausto Coppi and Federico Bahamontes. Since then, the stage leaving from Gap generally finished in L’Alpe du Huez, which was the case in 1991, (with the victory of Gianni Bugno) and in 2006 (Fränk Schleck).
However L'Alpe du Huez has been scheduled for the climax that will be stage 19 when the riders will ascend it having graced the slopes of the Galibier for the second time in this Tour. The gladiators will prepare for the epic showdown that is sure to come on the climatic stage as they trace their way from Gap to Pinerolo for this the 17th stage. One such gladiator is Cadel Evans. Buoyed by his success today he will be looking to wield his axe on tomorrows stage. However with Ivan Basso surely channelling Ivan the Terrible and Thor Hushovd his Norse-God namesake Evans may find the battle coming earlier than he expected.
Monday, 18 July 2011
As the race heads into Gap, it crosses the Col de Manse, then drops down again into the finish after completing a small circuit. Steadily rising, the stage will suit the likes of Flecha. But with riders feeling refreshed after today's repos, there could well be some small attacks before the fireworks that are sure to be ignited on the Galibier later in the week.
In 1911 Henri Desgrange and Alphonse Steinès decided to add an even higher, harder and colder challenge for the Tour de France peloton: The Col Du Galibier. At an elevation of 2645 meters above sea level, this mountain pass in the southern region of the French Dauphiné Alps near Grenoble has since featured in 31 separate editions of the Tour and is often the highest altitude the peloton reach in their pursuit for glory.
Lingering between heaven and earth, this colossal Col has instilled a sense of awe and fascination for every rider who has graced her slopes. Those who were told they would endure that inaugural climb on 10th July 1911 expressed anger and hostility at its inclusion. Yet ascend it they did.
“It knocks you for six” the pioneer of pioneers, Émile Georget, uttered to the waiting spectators as he crossed the summit; he hadn’t got off his bike once in the entire 34 km ascent from Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, via the Col du Télégraphe to the peak of the Galibier. The only other riders who completed the climb solely on their bikes were Paul Duboc and Gustave Garrigou were the only riders not to walk.
Struck by the awesome courage and bravery he witnessed that day, Henri Desgrange penned a hymn in L’Auto in their honour:
“Haven’t they got wings, our men who have been able to climb up to heights where even eagles don’t fly? … Oh Sappey, Oh Laffrey, Oh Col Bayard, Oh Tourmalet! I shall not fail in my duty to proclaim to the world that you are like an insignificant and common beer compared to the Galibier: all one can do before this giant is doff one’s hat and bow.”
The original summit was at 2556 m.; while the tunnel was closed from 1976 until 2002, the tour route went only over the pass closer to the mountain peak at 2645 m. In 2011, the Tour de France will for the first time since then go through the tunnel during the 19th stage from Modane Valfréjus to L'Alpe d'Huez. This will be the second time the riders ascend this epic Col having climbed to its summit the day before for stage 18.
At the southern opening of the tunnel, on the edge of the road, there is a monument to Henri Desgrange, instigator and first director of the Tour. The memorial was inaugurated when the
tour passed on 19 July 1949; since then the tour crosses the Col du Galibier, as it will do twice this year, a wreath is laid on the memorial.
In 1996 the Galibier was scheduled to be included in the Tour, however race organisers were forced to leave it out at the last minute due to bad weather. As a result of snow on both the Col de l'Iseran and the Col du Galibier, the scheduled 190km stage from Val-d'Isère to Sestriere in Italy was reduced to a 46km sprint from Le-Monetier-les-Bains which was won by Bjarne Riis, and saw him take the yellow jersey which he retained to the finish in Paris.
Sunday, 17 July 2011
Saturday, 16 July 2011
Friday, 15 July 2011
Leaving Roy behind as he kicked in the final 2km of the stage from Pau to Lourdes, Hushovd turned around and shook his head in disbelief several times before zipping up his jersey to cross the line triumphant after a long day in the saddle as part of a 10 man breakaway.
28-year-old Francaise des Jeux rider Roy dominated much of the stage leading the breakaway from 50km into the stage. Maintaining his lead over the Aubisque, Hushovd and Montcoutie charged down the descent after him. Appearing almost broken as he crossed the line in 3rd place, Roy, who has cycled more kilometres as an escapee than any other rider, seemed to apologise to the French crowds in Catholicism's most visited site of pilgrimage for not taking the stage win.
The only consolation for Roy was taking the King of the Mountains jersey with his impressive solo climb 1,649m to the summit of the Pyrenean peak of Col d'Aubisque for 20 points, overtaking previous incumbent Samuel Sanchez by five.
Tomorrow the last of the Pyrenean stages sees six tough tests: the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, the Col de la Core, the Col de Latrape, the Col d’Agnes, the Port de Lers and the finish at the Plateau de Beille. The 168km stage is short, the climbs culmative. Attacks will come thick, fast and right from the start as the GC start to unleash their power.
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Stage 13 from Pau to Lourdes is a stage that will especially suit the baroudeurs; the breakaway specialists. With the Aubisque featuring about half way through these men will take the mighty mountain pass in their stride. Approaching from the west, the climb to the Aubisque starts in Laruns. From there, the Aubisque is 16.6 km and rises 1,190m, an average of 7.2%. The first kilometres, to the spa resort of Eaux-Bonnes, are fairly easy. After the Cascade de Valentin comes a section at 13 per cent. From there to the top, the climb is 8 km at eight per cent average, passing the ski resort of Gourette at 1,400m.
There will be attacks tomorrow however with the next days stage being jam packed with climbs the attacks on the Aubisque may be more psychological that determined efforts to shake up the GC. That being said the psychological warfare raging from the Schlecks and directed at Contador and Evans and Basso sizing each other up on Stage 12 we could very well see someone crack under the pressure and go all out on the Aubisque before descending into Lourdes hoping to leave their rivals in the dust of their wheels.
The hero of the hour however was Britain's Geraint Thomas who worked hard in the inital six man breakway, overcoming rear break problems that saw him skid onto the verge twice to regain his position; his high points of the day being his virtual yellow as the break notched up 7 minutes over the main bunch, and jumping off the front, following a brief regroup with the bunch, alongside Jeremy Roy holding out until 7km from the finish.
Despite riding face first into a parked peugeot on the same corner that Thomas experienced sticky breaks, Voeckler fought hard to maintain his overall lead. Three other riders were also caught up in the foray including Andreas Kloden.
With the Schleck brothers dictating the torturous fast pace of the last 17km climb of the Col du Tormalet,polkadotted Hoogerland and white-jersey wearer Robert Gesink were among many to be forced to sit up and drop back into the sprinters huddle known as the grupetto. Bidding their time, the Luxembourg pair waited until the ascent to the finish at Luz-Ardiden to make their attacks. With Evans matching their every move, the Schlecks aimed their damaging blows at Contador. With Frank almost catching the leaders to finish 3rd on stage 12, the Spanish two-times Tour winner Contador slipped back losing the wheels of Basso and Evans to finish 7th.
Tomorrow the peloton will make their way from Pau to Lourdes via the Aubisque. One for the breakaway specialists with no summit finish, the attacks will be limited as the climbers try to psychologically get an edge over their rivals without expending energy.
Wednesday, 13 July 2011
An off-shoot of the Aspin, the race’s first major climb, the Hourquette d’Ancizan, makes its first appearance on the Tour. The riders then head onto the Tourmalet before finishing with the climb to Luz-Ardiden; a stage town not featured in the race since 2003. That year, Armstrong crashed after colliding with a spectator, bringing Mayo down with him. Riders waited for him, then his foot slipped out of his pedal. The American amazingly dropped all of his rivals and went on to win the stage and give himself a bit of breathing space in the yellow jersey.
With the GC contenders sizing each other up there will be plenty of attacks on the ascents as the tension start to mount up. With the Schlecks vocalising their strength and support Contador may well go on the defensive as he looks to his own team for support.
Cavendish sprints to 18th Tour victory ahead of rival Greipel to take the stage win and the Maillot Vert
For much of the day Goss and Bak had done the majority of the donkey work; the peloton knew Cavendish was hungry after being left outgunned by former team mate and rival Greipel on stage 10 and they were going to make his team work for it. With BMC coming to the fore to lighten their burden they ensured Evans maintained his time gap as the race heads into the Pyrenees for stage 12.
Millar (GRM) led with 1km to go and Dean and Hushovd were up front ready to deliver their man Farrar. But the familiar sight of the HTC-Express pulled in, destination: the finish line. Unstoppable as ever, Renshaw carved his way through the melee to deliver Cavendish to his sprint. The line in sight, the Manxman kicked to take the stage a bike length ahead of yesterday's victor Greipel.
Securing the stage win gave Cavendish the maximum sprint points and saw him top of the leaderboard in the points competition and for the first time in this years Tour pull on the Maillot Vert.
Tomorrow the "real" Tour gets underway as the sprinters settle into the background and the GC contenders start to shine through as the race heads into the Pyrenees and to the Holy Grail of the Tour: The Tourmalet.
Monday, 11 July 2011
The 98th edition of the Tour de France was designed to shake up traditional thinking and force the teams to think laterally. With a break from the traditional prologue, 10 flat stages, six high mountain stages, 4 summit finishes, 3 medium mountain stages a Team Time Trial in the first week and an Individual Time Trial in the final week, the Tour, on paper at least, was certain to provide some interesting cycling.
Little did anyone know that “interesting cycling” would involve the carnage that the first week of the Tour has seen. With riders slipping on wet tarmac, crashing into ditches and breaking collar bones, you could be forgiven for thinking this is just par for the course on the TdF. However no one ever envisioned the catastrophic turn of events that have befallen the main GC contenders and the biggest names in current cycling.
The first to suffer was Alberto Contador. A minor crash on stage one after a slight touch of wheels saw the pre-Tour favourite lose a significant amount of time. Crashing again on stage 5, the pressure seemed to be taking its toll on the Spanish rider. However the crashes would soon get worse. Later on the stage RadioShack rider Brajkovic was forced to make a swift exit via ambulance. Sustaining a fractured collarbone and concussion as the result of a crash, he would prove to be the first of many to depart in such a manner.
With Team Sky riding high on cloud nine after a win on stage 6, they came crashing down to earth as Wiggins became the first of the true GC hopefuls to join the casualty list. Hitting the deck as the road almost imperceptibly narrowed at around 50kmp it was apparent almost immediately how severe his injuries were. Unable to stand, let alone get back on his bike, he too excited to the nearest hospital for xrays that would confirm he also had a fractured collar bone. Quick Step rider Boonen was also forced to depart on stage 7 having crashed two days before and suffering from concussion found he was unable to physically continue.
Agony following ecstasy was to become a repeating pattern. With Vinokurov making an impressive mark on stage 8 with a strong ride to bridge the gap between the peloton and the breakaway, he missed out on a long hoped for stage victory in what was set to be his last Tour. No doubt sure that this is the Tour and there would be another day, he too had little idea of what fate had in store for him on stage 9.
The eve of the rest day, stage 9 would prove to be the worst of the first week of the Tour. It what Garmin –Cervelo rider Millar called the worst crash he had ever witnessed, Vinokurov, Zabriske and van de Broek were involved in a crash that saw the Kazakhstan rider crash into some trees forcing his exit to hospital for surgery on a complex femur fracture and left Dutch rider van de Broek in intensive care. The peloton called a temporary truce to allow riders to come back into the fold; a move that would cost Thor Hushovd the yellow jersey he had worn since Team Time Trial of Stage 2.
Giving the breakaway a lead of 7 minutes over the main bunch a victory was sure to come from within this group. Fate however also had a hand ready to deal this select bunch in the form of a French tv car which was to clip Juan Antonio Flecha and send Dutch rider Hoogerland flying into a barbed wire fence. The remains of the breakaway sped on with Sanchez taking the stage and Voeckler the yellow jersey, Hoogerland himself fought bravely on to finish the stage, gratefully and tearfully accepting the King of the Mountains Jersey and being given along with Flecha the IG Markets Rider of the Day accolade for their strong come back.
Never before have the words “rest day” seemed so sweet to the riders. With 2 flat stages to ease them back into the action before the Pyrenees, where the race will begin in earnest, the riders have some time to recover and lick their wounds. Once they head into the high mountains the peloton will fracture as the grimpeurs set about testing each other while the sprinters form their grupetto their aim simple: survival.
Sunday, 10 July 2011
When the peloton rolled out from Issoire this morning they knew they would be have to be on their guard from surprise attacks. Little did they know they would have to be on their guard from the errant driving of French TV journalists. Swerving to avoid a tree, the driver clipped Juan Antonio Flecha who then collided with Hoogerland to send him hurtling at speed towards a barbed wire fence. The two had been part of a successful breakaway for much of the day; Hoogerland having accumulated points that would see him tearfully take the King of the Mountains jersey having painfully eased his bloodied battleworn body onto the podium at the end of the stage.
Earlier in the day as the peloton descended the category-two Puy Mary climb, a nasty pile-up involving Vinokurov, Millar, Zabriske and Van de Broeck, Vinokurov flying off the road and into trees below fracturing his femur and van den Broeke hitting the deck hard and said to have broken his shoulder blade, saw only Millar return to the race.
Following the incident the peloton called a temporary truce to establish the extent of injuries and to allow returning riders to regain lost ground allowing the breakaway to gain around 7 minutes. This move proved disastrous for Garmin, who were unable despite huge efforts, to drive the peloton forward fast enough to regain this precious time, ultimately costing Thor Hushovd the Maillot Jaune he had hoped to take into the rest day and onto stage 10 on Tuesday.
With the breakaway riders affording no such luxury to the bloodied pair of Flecha and Hoogerland following their unceremonious dismounts courtesy of the French journalist, Voeckler took charge hoping to take the stage and snatch the Maillot Jaune in a coup de grace for the French rider. Ultimately he was out-smarted and out-gunned by Spanish rival Luis Leon Sanchez who piped him to the post for the stage victory, leaving the Frenchman to contend himself with the race lead.
Tomorrow the riders will no doubt enjoy a much needed rest day, many receiving more medical care than they perhaps had envisioned before the start of the Tour which has had more than its fair share of crashes and seen several GC contenders depart sooner than they had hoped. On Tuesday the race returns briefly to sprinter territory before heading into the Pyrenees where the Tour will begin in earnest.