Friday, July 22, 2011

Alpe D Huez

The French finally got a stage win as Pierre Rolland was a surprise winner on a truly magnificent stage of the Tour. Contador attacked constantly throughout the day but ultimately failed in his quest for victory.
After a ding-dong battle all day, it’s as-you-were with Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers in terms of time, but Andy is now in the yellow jersey.
Here’s how it happened: A 14-man breakaway formed almost immediately as the short 109.5km stage got underway. But as soon as the race hit the slopes of the first climb of the day with just 15km gone, Alberto Contador put in a devastating attack.
It was an amazing move from Contador who struggled yesterday but wasn’t going to go down without a fight today. Only Andy Schleck, Thomas Voeckler and Cadel Evans were capable of staying on his wheel as everybody else was dropped including Frank Schleck and Ivan Basso.
A few kilometres further up the climb, Contador attacked once more. This time, Schleck caught on to the Spaniard’s wheel, but Voeckler cracked and began to go backwards. Just as Contador accelerated for the second time, Evans suffered a mechanical problem. He dismounted twice before receiving a new bike and he quickly found himself back in thepelotonwith Frank Schleck and Basso.
They really were incredible scenes to see so early in the stage. Usually this sort of action is reserved for the final climb of the day but Contador completely tore up the script.
The lead of Contador and Andy Schleck over the others never exceeded two minutes. Behind, Voeckler, Basso and Frank Schleck all took turns dangling off the rear before clawing their way back.
But by the time the race reached the foot of the fabled 14km climb up Alpe d’Huez, amazingly after all that, the front of the race had all come back together as the Evans group caught Contador and Andy Schleck. And shortly afterward, Voeckler’s group also made the juncture.
But not long into the final climb, the yellow jersey of Thomas Voeckler was dropped once more. With 12km to go, Contador was on the attack again. Andy Schleck tried to follow but ultimately had to settle into his own rhythm as the triple Tour winner forged on ahead alone.
Separately, Pierre Rolland and Samuel Sanchez jumped from the main group which splintered to bits over the next 10km. The Schlecks and Evans were busy marking each other as they remained about a minute behind Contador.
Rolland and Sanchez managed to bridge to Contador and with 2km to go, Rolland attacked. The two Spaniards looked at one another, each encouraging the other to chase him down. As it turned out, neither chased and Rolland won the stage. Finally, the French have won a stage in this year’s Tour de France.
The Big Winner: Cadel Evans. Although Andy Schleck has now taken over the yellow jersey and Frank Schleck sits in second place behind him, Evans remains just 57 seconds away from winning the Tour de France.
With the time trial still to come, Evans is still the big favourite to become the first Australian to win the Tour.
The Big Losers: The Schlecks. A tad harsh on them perhaps because they didn’t lose any time on Evans, and Andy is now in the race lead. But their inferior ability in time trials means one of them really needed to attack again today to gain time over Evans.
Andy Schleck tried by following Contador early on in the stage but, unlike yesterday, it was a move that ultimately didn’t work. The younger Schleck will have to produce an unbeliveable ride in the time trial tomorrow in order to defend the yellow jersey and win the Tour.
What about the Irish? Nicolas Roche suffered today as a result of his attacking exploits on yesterday’s stage. He was dropped almost immediately on the first climb of the day and he continued to struggle at the back of the race all day.
He finished over 25 minutes behind Rolland in 99th place in a massive group containing all the sprinters in the race. He is now in 26th place overall.
So what happens tomorrow then? The only individual time trial in the race. It is a 42.5km test around the city of Grenoble. Since the test against the clock was introduced to the Tour in 1934, this year has the least amount of individual time trial kilometres ever.
Cadel Evans is superior in this discipline to both of the Schlecks. Over this distance, Evans could be expected to beat them by around two minutes. He is 57 seconds behind Andy and just four seconds behind Frank, therefore he should win the Tour.
However, the same was said in 2008 when Evans reached the final time trial with a 1’34″ deficit to make up on Carlos Sastre. Evans had a bad day only taking back 29 seconds and Sastre won the Tour.
But a little older and a little wiser, it would take a brave man to bet against Evans stealing the yellow jersey the day before we reach Paris.