Two breakaway riders took the ninth stage of the Tour today, with Pierrick Fedrigo a Frenchman from the team of B-Box Bouygues, winning in the final sprint, and Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas close behind him.
Oscar Freire came in third.
The peleton came in less than 40 seconds behind them, allowing Rinaldo Nocentini to retain his Yellow Jersey, with Albertor Contador and Lance Armstrong both still in second and third place overall.
Steaming into the narrow streets of Tarbes, Pellizotti didn't want to take the lead so he could come around Fedrigo, but when he did it was too soon, and Fedrigo came around him to take the first place at the finish.
At two miles to the finish, it wasn't clear that the peleton bearing down on them only 45 seconds back might be able to catch them--but it didn't.
A magnificent finish for two riders who started an early break and managed to keep their lead through two major cols, the first a category one at Col'D'Aspin and the second an out of category climb up the famous Tourmalet.
They were the only ones to survive the mountains intact, having dropped at least two other riders, one of them Jens Voigt. They also avoided being caught by two separate chase groups with impressive riders like Egoi Martinez who managed to take the Polka Dot jersey through his sprints on the mountain passes.
At 2 miles from the finish in Tarbes, the two leaders were holding off by 40 seconds a split group from the peleton that went out to chase them down. It wasn't the first chase group going after these two from the break today, but Liquigas teammates who had their man in front, continued to spoil the mostly Caisse D'Epargne team effort by slowing the chase down.
At the Col de Tourmalet
It was a close day. Normally on a descent with so much flat mileage--about 70.5 km-- between the last climb and the finish, the peleton should have been able to catch up. But a chase group that had been gaining on the two leaders, dropped to seven riders, with Laurens Ten Dam (RAB) slipping back, crashing, then getting back up to get back in the race.
Armstrong stayed in front of the peleton on the descent from Tourmalet, but made no effort to make up time to the runaway riders.
As they started up the Col de Tourmalet, the lead riders Pellizotti of Liquigas and Fedrigo of B Box managed to drop Jens Voigt. With 5 miles to climb, the peleton was more than 4 minutes behind and two chase groups were in pursuit.
They managed to keep their lead in the descent, but by then it became clear that Astana had no wish to take the Yellow Jersey from Nocentini, nor to have to fight to keep it over the next few flat stages.
Jurgen Van Den Broek (SIL), Sergio Paulinho (AST), Juan Manuel Garate and Laurens Ten Dam (RAB), Egoi Martinez and Amets Txurruka (EUS), David Moncoutie (COF), Maxime Bouet (AGR), and Thomas Voeckler (B-BOX) who already won a stage of the tour this year were in the chase group, which included the oldest man in the tour, who is 40 years old.
One of the Astana team, Dmitriy Murayev crashed in the peloton.
Speaking of Astana, the tour drug control has been working overtime, particularly when it comes to Lance Armstrong. In the past 24 hours he was tested three times.
Maybe they should test some of the race leaders? As we mentioned in another blog early on, the race organizers will be testing a group of 50 riders on an ongoing basis. That kind of narrow minded testing is not likely to catch the cheaters, as those 50 will be clean, but the remaining 130 or so might not be even though there is a chance they would in the variable testing.
The stage standings:
1. FEDRIGO Pierrick 144 BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 4h 05' 31"
2. PELLIZOTTI Franco 91 LIQUIGAS 4h 05' 31" + 00' 00"
3. FREIRE Oscar 44 RABOBANK 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
4. IVANOV Serguei 165 TEAM KATUSHA 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
5. VELITS Peter 187 TEAM MILRAM 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
6. ROJAS Jose Joaquin 117 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
7. VAN AVERMAET Greg 16 SILENCE - LOTTO 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
8. LEQUATRE Geoffroy 178 AGRITUBEL 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
9. BALLAN Alessandro 131 LAMPRE - N.G.C 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
10. ROCHE Nicolas 89 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 4h 06' 05" + 00' 34"
The general classification results
1. NOCENTINI Rinaldo 87 AG2R-LA MONDIALE 34h 24' 21"
2. CONTADOR Alberto 21 ASTANA 34h 24' 27" + 00' 06"
3. ARMSTRONG Lance 22 ASTANA 34h 24' 29" + 00' 08"
4. LEIPHEIMER Levi 24 ASTANA 34h 25' 00" + 00' 39"
5. WIGGINS Bradley 58 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 34h 25' 07" + 00' 46"
6. KLÖDEN Andréas 23 ASTANA 34h 25' 15" + 00' 54"
7. MARTIN Tony 76 TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC 34h 25' 21" + 01' 00"
8. VANDE VELDE Christian 51 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM 34h 25' 45" + 01' 24"
9. SCHLECK Andy 31 TEAM SAXO BANK 34h 26' 10" + 01' 49"
10. NIBALI Vincenzo 95 LIQUIGAS 34h 26' 15" + 01' 54"