Sunday, 24 July 2011

The agony and the ecstasy: 3 weeks of triumph over adversity

198 riders set out 3 weeks ago to tackle all that France (an a touch of Italy) could possibly throw at them as they headed the long way to Paris via the Pyrenees and the Alps. Few could have predicted then who would emerge from that colourful sea of Lycra to be remembered as a hero of the 2011 Tour de France.

Starting in the Vendee, the battle commenced with new rules for the King of the Mountains and the Points competitions. The first week being one for the sprinters, the first of the Tour heroes to emerge was Belgian rider, Phillippe Gilbert, who reigned supreme in all the competitions at the end of the first stage.

His reign in the Golden Fleece lasted just one day as the next hero, Thor Hushovd stepped out of the sprinters territory and into the veritable arena of the strong men. Taking the Maillot Jaune, he was the first of two riders to hold on to it longer than anyone could predict.

Fellow Norwegian, Evald Boasson Hagen showed the peloton that Hushovd wasnt the only Viking to watch out for as he took the first of two wins in the Pyrenees. Their triumphs were to become poignant over the course of the Tour as tragedy struck in their homeland in a way that touched the hearts of many across the world.

As Mark Cavendish returned to the town where he took his first victory, he celebrated the first of five wins for his fourth Tour that would culminate in winning the Maillot Vert; a competition for which the rules were changed as the organisers could not understand how a talented sprinter like the Manx Missile had not won it so far.

On cloud nine at the finish, Cavendish came crashing down at the news that friend, compatriot and former track mate Bradley Wiggins had suffered a crash that had resulted in a fractured clavicle and a premature exit via ambulance. The British GC hopeful had been in tears, unable to stand, never mind get back on his bike, the knowledge that his GC dream was over undoubtedly just as painful as his injury.

Having held the Best Young Riders Maillot Blanc since the start in Vendee, Geraint Thomas was forced to concede his jersey having waited to pace the unfortunate Wiggins back to the main field. The only consolation for Team Sky was to secure it for the team with Uran holding it briefly in the final week.

Hoogerland became a household name with a t-shirt courtesy of following an accident on stage 9 that saw Hoogerland and Flecha struck by a French TV2 car and resulted in a short trip to hospital for Hoogerland who received 33 stitches after landing in a barbed wire fence. His courage and graciousness would become defining points for the Tour and won him a whole stack of fans overnight. Completing the Tour simply because of his fans in spite of the pain personifies what the Tour is about. Triumph over adversity, man over mountain, whatever that mountain may be. Of all the riders, the bloodied pair of Hoogerland and Flecha couldn't have been more relieved that the next day was a repos. The perilous Pyrenees saw several riders suffer over the course of their journey that day. The worst to fair was perhaps Alexander Vinocurov who crashed landing in trees below the road, fracturing his leg and pelvis and forcing him to accept now was the time to retire.

With Voeckler taking the Maillot Jaune from Thor Hushovd, the newly crowned God of Mountains having defended it through the Pyrenees, the French found themselves a new national hero. Battling through the Alps to defend the most coveted Jersey in cycling, exhausting himself past the point where any sane person surely would have given up, he did his duty, sacrificing all he had in order to keep it for as long as possible. Holding the Golden Fleece for 9 days, 1 short of the 10 days he held it for in 2004, he conceded it to Andy Schleck gratefully and perhaps a little willingly in the end, on the Alpe d'Huez where pre-Tour favourite Contador was forced to accept this would not be his year.

Having battled long and hard to take his 3rd Tour victory, the Spaniard suffered set back after set back, never giving up, always giving everything he could. Conceding that Evans and the Brothers Schleck simply had the better legs this year, he may have felt a little of the pressure ease as his rivals showed their strength in the mountains.

As the race headed into the final days, another Frenchman came into the spotlight. Rolland, compatriot and team mate of former Maillot Jaune wearer Voecker, took the Golden Fleece for just 24 hours until Andy Schleck was ready to claim it on stage 19.

By the end of the Alpine stages and with just a Time Trial before the final run into Paris, there were just 57 seconds between Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans. Reminiscent of the famous Le Mond-Fignon head-to-head in 1989, it was to be an epic show down to end an epic Tour.

Finally it came to the rider who had craved it since he had switched from Mountain Biking to Road Racing. Aged 34 the Australian Cadel Evans became the oldest post-war winner of the Tour on an emotional day that saw many entries into the history books. With both Andy and Frank Schleck on the podium, and British sprinter Mark Cavendish taking the Maillot Vert, it was a day of firsts. Ever an emotional finale, there were hugs all round on both the HTC-Highroad and BMC teams.

Ever the ultimate test of will, strength, determination, passion, instinct and survival, the Tour saw 167 riders arrive in Paris on the final day. Fabio Sabatini was this years Latern Rouge, finishing the epic journey from the Vendee to Paris in 90 hours 10 minutes and 5 seconds. From Evans to Sabatini, they are 167 men who gave everything they had, everything they could. Blood, sweat and tears, every last breath, every waking thought. They all had good days, and they all had their bad. Suffering and triumphing, through the agony and the ecstasy they made this Tour what it was. Epic.

Cavendish makes it a hat-trick on the Champs-Élysées

HTC-Highroad sprinting legend Mark Cavendish made it another one for the history books today as he took his third Champs-Élysées stage win; his 20th Tour stage victory in his fourth Tour de France. In what has become a formality for the 26 year old Manxman, he took the victory despite a minor mechanical problem with a little over 30km left to ride. For the third time in as many years he sprinted home ahead of his rivals, the only difference being the jersey on his back.

Despite a tough journey through the Alps in the final week that saw him deducted points twice for coming home outside the time limit, only avoiding elimination by being in a group too large to eliminate, he was able to maintain the Maillot Vert and become the first British rider to win it at the end of the Tour.

As ever, the young man credited his team for ensuring he made it, thanking them each for their hard work, and paying tribute to their efforts time and time again. Hugs all round, they weren't the only emotional team, as BMC riders hugged Tour winner Cadel Evans who became the first Australian to win the Tour de France. At 34 he has also become the oldest post-war winner in Tour history. Next to him on the podium stood the Brothers Schleck who became the first brothers to stand side by side on the Tour podium.

With today's stage being nothing short of a procession for the Golden Fleece, it was an anxiety free stage for the riders who had endured so much in the agony and ecstasy that made this years Tour what it was. With no real breakaway until the action came into Paris for the famous 10 laps, the only action came in the form of a fellow British rider hoping to burst Cav's proverbial bubble. Kicking off the front, he was soon joined by the winner of the most combative rider award, Jeremy Roy, and four other riders. But it proved a fruitless effort in the end as the peloton brought them back to ensure the bunch sprint took hold.

Having been paced back by room-mate, Super Domestique Bernie Eisel following the mechanical issue that saw him grab a new bike off the team car, the Manx Missile was guided with precision by his radar man, Mark Renshaw to take the win he had so wanted for so long.

An emotional end to an emotional Tour the organisers certainly got what they had wanted: Cavendish finally in Green and no clear winner until the very end of the Time Trial in Grenoble.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Martin storms the course to take the win as Evans wins the Tour

Early rain left damp roads on the streets of Grenoble this morning. While the first riders set out to ride the best they could, the later riders struggled to get off the Alpe d'Huez on roads that were far from clear. Cancellara, known for his Time Trial abilities set the initial best time, taking the course ahead of the team car in which his team mates, the Brothers Schleck were sat, taking in the route and making their plans for their own tests of solo speed.

Many had predicted a win from Cancellara, the rider affectionately termed Spartacus, however with a rolling route with two small climbs it didn't seem a route that would suit him as well as last years Bordeaux Time Trial.

Having had a low key Tour, it seemed likely that the man who would shine here would be Critérium du Dauphiné stage 3 Time Trial winner Tony Martin of HTC-Columbia. Indeed he gave a blistering performance, ripping up the course in 55:33; just 5 seconds down on his winning time back in June.

Back luck continued to plague Philippe Gilbert who suffered mechanical problems with his chain causing him to slip off the saddle and land on the handlebars. The Omega Pharma Lotto rider's only hope now of snatching the Maillot Vert from Manxman Cavendish is to out-wit and out-sprint him in both the intermediate sprint and on the finish in Paris tomorrow; a feat that seems unlikely despite the Belgian riders desire to do so.

National hero of France, Thomas Voeckler received a strong ovation from the crowds as Evans waited in the wings to take center stage knowing he would have to give the performance of his life if he wanted to take 58 seconds from Andy Schleck and with it the Maillot Jaune in the best head-to-head showdown since LeMond-Fignon back in 1989.

Blasting down the course at lightening speed, former Mountain Bike World Cup winner Evans gave the Time Trial of his life to finish in second place behind Tony Martin with the Brothers Schleck still on the course behind him. Finishing in 58 minutes and 11 seconds Andy conceded 2:31 to Evans in the overall standings. Evans becomes the first Australian to win the Tour.

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

Stage 20 Preview

When the organisers planned the 2011 Tour, they had in mind that the Maillot Jaune would have already been decided. But who could have predicted the turn of events that unfolded to test almost every rider of the peloton in one way or another through the course of the 3 weeks of racing. From mechanicals to crashes, car accidents to unexpected attacks, this Tour has seen it all and on the penultimate stage there is no clear podium line-up for Sunday's finish in Paris.

It seems almost a fitting tribute to the town that gave birth to the Maillot Jaune ceremony in 1919, when Eugène Christophe was presented the first Golden Fleece of the race leader, that no clear winner has emerged leaving Grenoble ready to crown the winner with the most coveted jersey in the whole of cycling.

The "mountain" time trial is almost misleading in its very name. Despite its alpine setting, there are no actual climbs to test the riders, the 42km route rolling in a way that would suit a strong man like Thor Hushovd. While specialists are normally favourites for a Time Trial, it seems unlikely that a specialist will triumph here with the best time. The riders who have saved their strength through the alpine stages are the riders who will fair best in this test tomorrow, while those who have given there all through the climatic stages in the hope of gaining enough time to be cushioned through the Time Trial may well find they have nothing left to give.

Ultimately it will be a case of sheer determination as the two battles unfold in this complex drama that has become the 2011 Tour de France. While the riders who are looking to take the best time and with it the accolade of winning the penultimate stage go all out for personal glory, there will be an even greater test that will overshadow the stage winners success as Evans and Andy Schleck give everything they can give, every ounce of strength, determination, courage and grit to come away as victor in the greatest show on Earth. Despite predictions, training, form and statistics, it really will come down to who wants it the most.

Sanchez takes Maillot a Pois as first of the Tours jerseys are decided

Following the epic battle on the Alpe d'Huez that had been anticipated since the grand unveiling of the 2011 Tour route last October, Samuel Sanchez was the first to secure a victory in the Tour jerseys to clock up enough points to take the King of the Mountains Jersey.

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.

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.

Stage 19 Preview

At 109 km, today's stage is compact but tough. There are just 30km of climbs but these include two of the biggest climbs in the Tour. First ascending the Col du Telegraph, the peloton will head to the much harder northern route across the Col du Galibier before a long descent to the sprint as they approach the Alpe-D'Huez.

After yesterdays mass gruppeto found themselves just outside the cut off time, they will want to ensure they dont risk the same happening today. With deductions of points in the sprinters Green Jersey competition, the lead of Mark Cavendish is now within reach once more for Rojas and Gilbert. With Gilbert being known for his courage, Cavendish will have to watch his back today to ensure he can rebuff any arrows that may come sailing from the Belgian rider towards his Maillot Vert lead.

Following the fireworks lit on the Col d'Izoard we can be sure that Evans and Contador will be on the look out to utilise any opportunity they can to take back time lost yesterday but with just 15 seconds now between A.Schleck and Maillot Jaune leader Thomas Voeckler, we can be sure that Andy will be ready to counter attack any move they make. Tonight the Maillot Jaune will be on new shoulders as Voeckler, exhausted from yesterdays brave defence, will relinquish the jersey, willingly, gladly, knowing he did his duty and defended it right to the end.

If all goes to the plan of Leopard Trek, Andy will wear the most hallowed of the Tour Jerseys tonight and will win the Tour on the slopes of the climbers mecca: Alpe D'Huez.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Andy Schleck reigns supreme with stage 18 win

Following a fantastic solo ride on a day of edge-of-seat-watching cycling, Andy Schleck made his stamp on the Tour with a stage win in Galibier. After nearly 3 weeks of pyschological games, phoney wars and ill-advised comments to the press regarding his downhill abilities and rider safety, the young Luxembourg rider and GC contender mounted an attack that brother and team mate Frank admited was planned.

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

Stage 18 Preview

Tomorrow comes the Queen stage; the beginning of a two-part climax that will see determination and passion pushed to their limits as the GC rivals face off for an epic show down on the slopes of the Galibier. As the gruppetto struggle to simply survive, the battles will be fought and won over the next two days. Spirits and egos will be broken as much as bodies as the men are separated from the boys.

Starting in the Italian début town of Pinerolo, the peloton will travel 200.5km as they make their way over the Col Agnel and the Col d'Izoard before ascending the Galibier for the summit finish at the Hautes-Alpes resort of Serre-Chevalier.

With Alberto Contador appearing to have the psychological upper hand, all eyes will be on Andy Schleck to make the next move in their GC game of chess. But with Evans and Basso in the wings, there may be more to this battle than meets the eye. Fireworks are sure to come on the Galibier but if the fuse isn't lit at the right time, Voeckler may just steal the show all together.

Norwegian alpine triumph continues as Boasson Hagen takes second stage

After the premature exits of Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky faced an uncertain Tour. Boasson Hagen however laid that ghost firmly to rest today with a second stage win proving why this Tour will be remembered for Norwegian alpine triumphs. Following yesterdays second place finish behind fellow compatriot Thor Hushovd who took the stage glory in Gap, Boasson Hagen celebrated his own perfectly timed attack with a stage win in Pinerolo.

Navigating the tricky descent with ease, the Sky sprinter faired better than current GC leader Voeckler who overshot a bend to find himself on the driveway of a private residence. The faux par saw him finish 4 minutes 53 seconds behind Boasson Hagen.

After a bizarre stage on Tuesday that saw the Schlecks vocalising disappointment at the tactics of Contador that lead to much consternation amongst fans, the peloton faced a big challenge in stage 17. With five climbs spread either side of a sprint, the main concern for Cavendish as leader of the points competition was the prospect of elimination. However there was also the prospect of Belgian rider Gilbert using this stage as an opportunity to take points at the intermediate sprint. A thorn in the Manxman's side, the Omega Pharma Lotto rider made a fatal error on stage 15 that saw him lose out on points. However Cavendish had no need to fret as a big breakaway group went out early ensuring points earned did not threaten his jersey.
Yesterday's stage winner, Thor Hushovd, tried in vain to bridge the gap, but the peloton soon shut him down, clearly waking up to the new found power this big Norwegian now wields.

Spanish riders, reigning Tour champion Alberto Contador and descent specialist Samuel Sanchez, paired up on the descent of the days final climb, the Cote de Pra Martino, in a bid to put distance and most importantly time between themselves, Cadel Evans and the Brothers Schleck. There bid ultimately failed as the GC trio caught them on the line.

Tomorrow the Tour climax begins with the first of two epic stages that will see the peloton travel to where heaven and earth meet: the Col du Galibier.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Stage 17 Preview

Tomorrow the race will enjoy a brief sojourn in Italy as the peloton travels 179km from Gap to Pinerolo. Despite being a debut Tour stage, this picturesque town in the province of Turin is no stranger to cycling having hosted an historic stage of the Giro d’Italia from Cueno to Pinerolo, in 1949. “The Maddalena Pass would already have been enough to exhaust a bull. But it was just the beginning," wrote Dino Buzatti, the special correspondent of the Corriere della Sera describing the dual between Coppi and Bartali. On that day, Coppi, the younger of the two, gave the deathblow to the elder rider: "Today Bartali understood that he had reached decline. And for the first time he smiled.”

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.

Thunder God proves why he is also the God of the Mountains with stage win in Gap

In the freezing rain, the peloton started out from St Paul Trois Châteaux headed for Gap. As they rolled along the road, thunder rolled in the skies above. It could have been a sign. Many tried to make a breakaway, but failed. Finally a breakaway emerged. Within it, Thor Hushovd. Looking strong as they accumulated a significant time gap, speculation began over the likelihood of success for the big Norwegian.

Speculation turned into certainty as the Garmin-Cervelo rider launched his final sprint off the back wheel of his team mate Ryder Hesjedal to take the line, making it a Norwegian 1-2 as Sky rider Boassan Hagen sailed to the line behind him.

Meanwhile back in the peloton Evans and Contador took a huge chunk out of Voecker's GC lead at the expense of the Brothers Schleck as the infamous 39 second gap came back to haunt Andy in an eerie sense of deja vu. Finishing the stage over a minute down on Evans and Contador, the Spaniard now lies just 39 seconds down from Andy in the GC.

With the toughest of the alpine climbs yet to come, Contador has dealt a massive psychological blow to the Luxembourg pair who until now were supremely confident in their approach. Voeckler however maintains his days in yellow are numbered, despite Lance Armstrong commenting at the weekend that he may take it all the way to Paris.

Elsewhere Cavendish and Rojas appeared to call a truce today in the Green Jersey competition with no one contesting the intermediate sprint. Riding into Gap alone, Cavendish arrived just a minute down on Andy Schleck showing his improvement as a climber.

Tomorrow the race enjoys a brief sojourn into Italy as the peloton travels 179km from Gap to Pinerolo for stage 17. Having got a taste for alpine success with his ride today, Evans will be on the lookout to make his position stronger. With just four intense days to go, the fireworks will be laid tomorrow ready to be ignited on the Galibier on stage 18.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Stage 16 Review

Tomorrow Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux will great the Tour for the first time as it hosts the start of the first stage of the final week. Despite it being a debut stage of the Tour, this charming village in the Drôme Provençale, nestling among vineyards, truffle oaks and purple seas of lavender, has on occasion hosted Paris-Nice, being one of the race’s highlights in 2009.

Departing here and heading for the Montagne de Lure for the main stage of the Race to the Sun, Alberto Contador was majestic in the final ascent. Winning the stage, he moved up in the general classification to take the number one spot, with a comfortable lead over Luis Leon Sanchez. However he lost the race the next day in the stage in Fayence because he was ravenous and had no reserves. This led to the start of the endless discussion about the vulnerability of “El Pistolero".

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.

Repos Report: Celebrating 100 years of the Col du Galibier

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.

The first rider to reach the summit of the highest mountain in each year's tour receives The "Souvenir Henri Desgrange”. In 2006, the prize of 5000 Euros was claimed on the Col du Galibier by Michael Rasmussen.

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

Cavendish maintains Maillot Vert into the Alps with impressive 19th win of his career

HTC-Columbia once again proved there is nothing any other team can do to derail their train once its left the 1km station on the run into the finish. Despite a last minute effort to disrupt the set up, Belgium rival for Green Jersey points Gilbert was unable to outmatch the Manx Missile. Even the attempts of Garmin - Cervelo to box the HTC-Columbia pairing of Messrs Renshaw and Cavendish in to give Dean and Farrar an advantage proved to be in vain as Renshaw found his gap and let Cavendish go with 300m to the sprint.

With winds threatening to splinter the peloton and making hard work for the bunch as it worked to keep the breakaway riders on their leash, HTC-Columbia were forced to do the majority of the donkey-work. Hoping to wear out the fastest sprint team in the world, the other teams forced HTC-Columbia to work alone at the front for the majority of the 192.5 coastal run in from Limoux to Montpellier; the only sprint stage between the Pyrenees and the Alps.

As the peloton came into the final 3km Gilbert kicked off the front in a bit to solo his way to the finish and upstage Cavendish who had earlier come under fire from rival in the Green Jersey competition, Rojas, who accused him of being towed by team cars during yesterdays mountain stage. The move proved disastrous for the Belgian rider who was unable to maintain the power needed to beat the HTC-Columbia Express as it rolled into town; finishing 28th he failed to take any points on the stage and now lies 71 points behind Cavendish in the competition. His only hope for points now lie in the mountains and on the run into Paris where the race finishes a week today.

Tomorrow is the rest day. With the Alps and the Individual Time Trial looming, all French hopes are now on Voeckler who has continually surprised with his ability to maintain his overall lead. However the Europ Car rider is quick to dismiss suggestions that he may go onto win the Tour as "unlikely".

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Stage 15 Preview

Tomorrow there is respite from monsterous mountains as the race bridges the gap between the Pyrenees and the Alps with a sprint favouring stage from Limoux to Montpellier. The last real opportunity for the sprinters to contend for the Green Jersey before Paris, HTC-Columbia will be looking to drive the peloton hard and take advantage of any opportunity they can get as they strengthen Cavendish's position in the competition with a stage win; the final before Paris a week later.

The largely coastal route could allow crosswinds to sweep up and if HTC-Columbia can play their cards right like they did in 2009 there may well be an opportunity to fracture the peloton as they drive hard towards the finish. If this happens the GC favourites will want to be on the right side of the split, unlike in 2009 when Contador was caught out by the move and remained in the 2nd half of the peloton.

But with this being the last opportunity for the sprinters to shine in their arena before Paris, the other teams are going to be on the look out to derail the HTC-Columbia Express as it heads into Montpellier with Cavendish on board ready to depart with his leadout man, Mark Renshaw.

Vanendert and Voeckler put in rides of their lives to triumph on final day in the Pyrenees

On a day when many thought Frank Schleck or Cadel Evans would inherit the Maillot Jaune, Thomas Voeckler put in the ride of his life to climb with the best of them to maintain his run in the yellow jersey and take it into the Alps on his shoulders. Meanwhile Belgium's Jelle Vanendert was storming to the ride of his career finishing the stage in 5:13:25 to take his first ever Tour victory.

Newly crowned King of the Mountains, the Beligan rider vanquished his rivals after remaining the only rider from the biggest escaping group of this years Tour to stay one step ahead of the chasing pack.

With Leopard-Trek demanding a torturous pace as they headed into the final climb, the Plateau de Beille, lead by Jens Voight who had earlier suffered two crashes on the short but tough stage, the peloton was fractured to separate the men from the boys. Voeckler showed what he was made of to stick with the contenders for overall success in the GC to show he is no longer the "young pretender" and now a possible contender himself.

Andy Schleck lead three attacks to test the resolve and strength of Contador but the young Spaniard matched him blow for blow as they sparred. Unable to shake off Evans or Basso, the Schleck brothers were unable to deal a fatal blow to their main rivals. With Voeckler in the mix too all eyes will be on him from Monday as the race heads into the Alps from which only one man can emerge victorious.

Tomorrow however there is respite from monsterous mountains as the race bridges the gap between the Pyrenees and the Alps with a sprint favouring stage from Limoux to Montpellier. The last real opportunity for the sprinters to contend for the Green Jersey HTC-Columbia will be looking to drive the peloton hard and take advantage of any opportunity they can get as they strengthen Cavendish's position in the competition with a stage win; the final before Paris a week later.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Stage 14 Preview

Tomorrow's stage from Saint-Gaudens to the summit of the Plateau de Beille, 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 finally the finish itself 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.

With every winner here going on to win the Tour the echos will ring in the ears of the men hoping to wear the Maillot Jaune in Paris a week later. Contador will be looking to rid himself of the Schlecks who have been waging a tough psychological battle with him knowing his ego is bruised as much as his knee from his tricky start to the Tour. With Evans and Basso sizing each other up, their tense rivalry almost palatable, they too will look to make a strong effort here.

But the dark horse of this years Tour it seems has been the aptly named Thor. Shrugging off the shackles of sprinting that would in the past have seen him struggle in the back of the peloton on the high mountain stages, his transformation into all rounder has seen him sour up to summits with a lightning speed to match his namesake. If he can stay in touch with the wheels of this foursome and their faithful entourage he could well continue this stunning display of what a strong-willed man can achieve.

The mighty Thunder God roars with surprised delight as he proves why he is World Champion

In a stunning display of what is needed to move from the ranks of sprinting speedsters to the strongmen of the GC contenders, Thor Hushovd showed the cycling world why he is World Champion taking the win after a spectacular game of cat and mouse with French rider Jeremy Roy.

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 Preview

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.

Samuel Sanchez scores stage victory at Luz-Ardiden

As the crowds congregated on the colossal climbs of the Pyrenees the peloton carved its way from Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden where Euskaltel-Euskadi rider Samuel Sanchez scored the victory ahead of Tour debutant Belgian Jelle Vanendert.

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

Stage 12 preview

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

HTC-Highroad sprinting star Mark Cavendish took his 18th Tour victory on stage 11 after a textbook lead out from Mark Renshaw on the run into Lavaur. With Boom making a brave effort to stay one step ahead of the peloton as it swallowed up the breakaway with less than 4km left to go, he effectively tried to Time Trial his way to the finish. But the relentless effort of HTC-Highroad, Sky and Moviestar saw to it that he was brought back into the fold leaving 2km for HTC-Highroad to set the pieces on the chessboard like Grand Masters of the Sprint.

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.

Stage 10 Review

Courtesy of


There has long been a war of words between André Greipel and Mark Cavendish but it was one largely perpetuated by the media. The ‘Supermanx’ repeatedly says that he doesn’t care about who his rivals are, he just wants to win sprints... but in Carmaux the German giant from Omega Pharma-Lotto not only pushed Cavendish all the way to the line, he beat him. A few days shy of his 29th birthday, Greipel has claimed his maiden victory at the Tour and he did so in a sprint that didn’t include all the specialists in this discipline. Guys like Tyler Farrar, Denis Galimzyanov and Matt Goss lost contact with the first peloton in the closing kilometers that were animated by the leader of the points classification Philippe Gilbert.
There were other escapees in the final kilometers and it was sprint after a battle of attrition... and in the end it was the debutant who opened his account in the race by just half a wheel. In this round at least ‘The Giant’ beat ‘Supermanx’...

The Progress Report
The start of the 158km 10th stage of the 2011 Tour de France – from Aurillac to Carmaux – was at 1.38pm. There were 178 riders at the start with the non-starters Kolobnev (KAT) and Popovych (RSH). There was a hail storm an hour before the start but the storm passed before the race began on dry roads with temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius. The stage featured four climbs: the cat-3 cote de Figeac (62.5km), cat-4 cote de Loupiac (70.5km), cat-3 cote de Villefranche-de-Rouergue (99.5km), and cote de Mirandol-Bourgnounac (143km). the intermediate sprint was in Maurs at the 37.5km mark.

Attack And Crash...
At 10.5km, five riders were able to gain a slight advantage over the peloton; at 11km there was a crash that caught up Flecha, Cancellara, Leukamans, Leipheimer, Gesink... but they rejoined the bunch by 15km. By then, six men were in the lead – they were: Di Gregorio (AST), Minard (ALM), Vichot (FDJ), El Fares (COF), Marcato (VCD) and Delaplace (SAU). At 26km they led by 40” and, 5km from the sprint, they were 2’40” ahead... that’s when Movistar and Omega Pharma came past the Europcar team to start a lead-out to the intermediate sprint. Vichot grabbed 20 points by leading the escape over the line in Maurs and Cavendish took seventh place at the front of the peloton 2’15” behind the escapees. The maximum gain of the escape was 4’00” at 49.5km. It was the fastest start to a stage in 2011, with the average speed for the opening hour an impressive 51.6km/h. The peloton was led by Europcar from 20km to 35km (when the sprint squads took command of the bunch) and then from 45km to 50km when HTC put Bak and Pate at the front to share the chasing duties with Voeckler’s team.
Marcato led the escape over the first two climbs and the peloton hovered about 3’30” behind. HTC, Katusha and Lampre all had riders at the front of the bunch, shadowed closely by the Europcar team of overall leader Voeckler. The average speed for the second hour was 40.2km/h.

HTC Keeps Escapees Honest...
The HTC team put Bak and Pate on the front early and they stayed there through to the final hour. Ignatiev (KAT), Knees (SKY) and some Lampre riders also did some turns for the pursuit but it was Cav’s team that steadily reeled in the escape: 2’00” at with 54km to go, 1’20” with 40km to go, 50” with 25km to go. On a descent 21km from the finish Marcato increated the tempo up front and Minard followed. Vichot chased this pair down and at 18km to go. The other three were caught 17km from the finish. And eventually the speed of an Omega Pharma-Lotto surge that eliminated Petacchi, Farrar, Galimzyanov and bunch of others from the main caught all escapees before the top of the final climb. Marcato was the last to be caught (at 16km to go).

Gilbert Sets Up The Sprint For Greipel
Gallopin (COF) put in a strong turn in the final kilometer of the last climb and drew four others clear of the peloton with him: Gilbert (OLO), Devenyns (QST), Martin (THR) and Voeckler (EUC). The yellow jersey claimed first place at the top of the final climb and, with 11km to go, the leading quintet was 15” ahead of the peloton that was led by Leopard-Trek. With 7km to go, Gilbert was alone in the lead of the stage and it appeared as though he was going to try and hold off the bunch all the way to the finish. But he was caught 5km from the line. Kadri (ALM) and Ruijgh (VCD) and Izagirre (EUS) all chanced their luck and tested their legs in the finale but all were caught less than 4km from the line. Milar (GRM) was the last to try and foil the sprinters but he too was caught before the descent leading to the line. Going under the ‘Flamme Rouge’ there were two HTC riders at the front but Oss (LIQ) led Cavendish around the final turn. With no one in front of him, Cavendish was forced into a long sprint roughly 400 meters from the line and although he opened up a solid advantage over the rest of the bunch, his former team-mate André Greipel never conceded. The German overtook the winner of 17 stages in the final 50 meters and claimed his first Tour de France stage win by about a wheel.
It is Omega Pharma-Lotto’s second stage win in the 2011 Tour. Greipel’s team-mate Gilbert continues to lead the points classification (finishing 14th in the stage); Hoogerland keeps his polka-dot jersey and Voeckler finished 36th with the same time as the winner. The Frenchman will wear the yellow jersey in stage 12.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Repos Review

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

Truce costs Thor his jersey on a day beset by carnage

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.