Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TDF Stage 9: Wildcard Win as GC Contention Heat up: Cadel's Cracked Elbow

Pics, ASO (c) 
July 13, 2010
With Aussie Cadel Evans riding in the Yellow Jersey at the start of this stage, and Andy Schleck only 20 seconds behind him, the question was, would Schleck try to yank that jersey from him today? Yes he would, and yes he did.

Andy Schleck tests Contador on the Col de la Madeleine.

It is the first time that the young rider from Luxembourg won the Yellow Jersey, and his efforts were Herculean, as he powered his way up, and then down the mountain to catch a breakaway in front. In a spirited run from the top of the mountain, Schleck followed by Alberto Contador and Christophe Moreau rejoined a four-man escape group for a dramatic sprint to the finish in Saint Jeanne de Maurianne.

“I saw the yellow jersey the other day and I thought, ‘I want that!’ Right now I have it and I know it’s not going to be a piece of cake to hold onto it," said Schleck after the race.

With 40 seconds ahead of Alberto Contador, Schleck will be battling it out with the Spaniard: "Now I’ve only got one guy to watch,” he noted.

Cadel Evans came off the back on the Col de la Madeleine, and lost 8 minutes to the new leader. 

Contador, the only other rider able to be able to stand up to Schleck, stayed with him the whole way and is now in second position overall.

Though Schleck and Contador had caught the break before the finish, Frenchman Sandy Casar of Francaise les Jeux, won the stage in a final sprint among seven riders.

It was a sad day for Cadel Evans whose Yellow Jersey win yesterday was wiped away on the foot of the Col de la Madeleine. "I had a really bad crash in stage eight and that cost me a lot of energy. Maybe, in my situation, getting into yellow also showed my vulnerability. I was vulnerable on the climb and that’s not my normal level," he said. Later the medical officer of the BMC team revealed that Evans was diagnosed with a cracked bone in his elbow from his accident in the 8th stage.

Sandy Casar's last stage win of the Tour was in 2007.  Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel who rode an aggressive stage, nevertheless found himself alone and exhausted in the last 20 km which turned into a flat chase. But he is now in third place overall. It's anyone's guess if both Schleck and Sanchez can work tomorrow like they did today, leaving the shark Contador with an opening to put a dent in the Luxembourger's time.

Behind them Levi Leipheimer clung to a second chase group, maneuvering himself into 6th position overall. Armstrong showed his true colors, and staying with a third chase group and making up significant time after his loss in stage 8 two days ago, and coming in 18th. He has now moved up from 61st position overall to 31st.  We can expect more of the same over the next few days and in the Pyrenees from this man who rarely gives up.

Samuel Sanchez comes in after lead group and takes 3rd place overall

A nine-man break established soon after the stage 9 start from Morzine Avoriaz to Saint Jeanne de Maurienne, a race of 204.5 km which included 4 big climbs, the last of which would be the most punishing, the hors categorie Col de la Madeleine.

The early break was joined by three riders and was made up Jens Voigt (SAX), Sandy Casar (FDJ), Rinaldo Nocentini (ALM), Jerome Pineau (QST), Johannes Frohlinger (MRM), Cyril Gautier and Anthony Charteau (BTL), Christophe Moreau, Jose Ivan Gutierrez and Luis Sanchez (GCE), Rein Taaramae (COF), and Damiano Cunego (LAM).

At 32 miles / 55 km to the finish and before the main ascent of the Col del la Madeleine, the lead group dropped Jerome Pineau, the Red Polka Dot jersey holder.

Fabian Cancellara who was the Yellow Jersey holder in the Prologue and several other stages, dropped back in the second peloton group, while up in the front George Hincapie and Tony Martins were early victims of the fast pace in the gruppo of general classification leaders which included Contador, Schleck, Leipheimer, and Armstrong.

Despite my predictions that he wouldn't be a winner today, Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana did attack at about 21 km to the climb. With a 3-minute deficit from leader Evans, no one in the Yellow Jersey group attempted to match him. Perhaps it was an attempt to gain time in the GC, or he was looking for a strategic placement if his teammate Contador made a move later on.

The break coming up the Col de la Madeleine

At the front leading the charge of the contender group was BMC's Santambrogio.  He was marked by Aussie Matt Lloyd and Jurgen Van den Broeck both of Omega Pharma Lotto.

Ahead the break had winnowed to 8 riders, with the latest defect Nocentini (ALM). Still ahead were Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Christophe Moreau and Luis Leon Sanchez (GCE), Damiano Cunego (LAM),  Sandy Casar (FDJ), Jens Voigt (SAX), Charteau and Gautier (BTL).

The peloton before the cols... and the splinters 

Luis Leon Sanchez held the promise of the biggest threat, with a strong downhill capability. But that advantage would soon dissipate as Sanchez burned energy leading the climb up the Col de la Madeleine.

Jose Ivan Gutierrez set a fast pace off the front of the break to bring his teammate Luis Leon Sanchez up the mountain, then trailed off the back at about 43 km to the finish, after his work was done.

Vinokorouv was then 4 minutes behind the leaders, while the GC gruppo was 4 minutes and 40 seconds behind. The climb was forcing groups to splinter as they paced their way up to catch the leaders.

At 42.5 km to the finish, Saxo Bank was putting pressure at the front of the GC group with Danes Nicki Sorenson and Jakob Fuglsang. The effort dropped Evan's support group of BMC riders, and Tony Martins of HTC Columbia fell off the back as well.

Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong continued to hold on to the first chase group of GC contenders. Jens Voight was dropped from the break group at about 42 km to the finish: The break had been winnowed to five riders: Matt Lloyd, Luis Leon Sanchez, Damiano Cunego, Sandy Casar, and Gautier.

At 40 km from the finish, the Maillot Jaune, Cadel Evans, lost contact with the leader chase group. Then the contender chase group winnowed to three riders: Contador, Schleck and another Astana rider. Schleck attacked and Contador followed, passing Sanchez, but soon tired and the threesome rode together at 39.1 km to the finish.

Armstrong, Basso and Leipheimer were in a second contender chase group.

Schleck attached again, and Contador followed: Sammy Sanchez was dropped.

With the steepest part of the climb coming at 4 km to the top, you might think the lead group would have tired out, but they hadn't. Behind them with 7 km to the top, Schleck continued to attack, with Contador looking comfortable but no doubt being tired out by the Luxembourger.

Incidentally it might not seem so, but Schleck looks like the skinniest guy in the entire peloton at 186cm (or 6 feet 1 inch) tall and 67kg (about 147.4 lbs) or 2.01 pounds per inch : Frank his brother might be second (if he wasn't out of the race now with a broken collarbone), while Contador is looks third slimmest at 177cm (or 5 feet 9.6 inches) tall. But because he weighs 62 kg (about 136.4 lbs) his weight comes out to 1.96 pounds per inch. That should tell you something about how climbers should be built in order to compete. I can tell you this: they are both very, very thin in person.

At 37 km to the finish, Schleck and Contador started working together to start reeling in the leaders up front.  They passed Ivan Gutierrez who had been dropped by the leaders: he jumped onto the back of the two, but couldn't stay with them, as they pushed to the top of the Col de la Madeleine.

Meanwhile, Yellow Jersey holder Cadel Evans was now about 4 minutes behind the break.

Ahead, the lead had four riders, Luis Leon Sanchez (GCE), Damiano Cunego (LAM), Anthony Charteau (BTL) and Sandy Casar (FDJ). Those four would stay together to the end.

At 22 miles Jens Voight who had been dropped from the break, took up the lead in front of Schleck and Contador as they chased the break, whose time gap was only 3 minutes now.

Levi Leipheimer of RadioShack was in a third group riding up the mountain behind the first chase together with Denis Menchov and Robert Gesink. Behind them in the fourth group was Armstrong among others including Jurgen van den Broeck.

Crowds cheered as the lead group came to the 32 km mark at the top of the Col de la Madeleine, and the start of a long and dangerous descent, where they would likely have an advantage in a group of four over their pursuers.

Contador picked up the pace near the top, and dropped Jens Voight, likely in anticipation of the descent, where Contador had an advantage over Schleck.  The Yellow Jersey holder, Cadel Evans had conceded about 9 minutes and 20 seconds to the stage leaders when he crested the Madeleine.

Van den Broeck punctured at about 13 miles or 21 km to the finish, and changed his bike, but was detached from his group.

Sandy Casar took over the lead on the descent, but with points taken over the col, the red polka dot jersey was passing over from Jerome Pineau to Anthony Charteau of BBox.

In the descent the chase groups had splintered to Christophe Moreau (1) Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador (2), Sammy Sanchez (3), Levi Leipheimer et al, (4), Armstrong et al (5) and Evans et al (6), as well as other splinters.

Moreau combined with Schleck and Contador at 10 miles to the finish, but did not work with them because his teammate Luis Leon Sanchez up ahead in the break.

Contador, Schleck and Moreau powering down the straights to join the lead group.

At abut 9 km to go, the break was still together and were more than 1minute and 45 seconds ahead of Contador,  Schleck and Moreau.  Sammy Sanchez was two minutes behind the leaders. It looked finally that their break could succeed and take the stage favoring the racing style of Damian Cunego. But it was not to be.

At 4 km to go, the leaders were ahead of Schleck, Contador, and Moreau by 50 seconds, but with Schleck powering ahead at the front, the gap narrowed quickly. 

And sure enough in the final 250 meters,  Schleck pedaled up to the break. The riders knew they had been caught but it would be a sprint to the finish. With crowds pounding wildly at the boards, Sandy Casar pulled out ahead of Luis Leon Sanchez at the turn: he must have known that the line was right around the corner, and he took the stage by a couple of bike lengths.

Pic: Saint Jeanne de Maurienne 

Sammy Sanchez came in alone, securing his third position in the overeall GC, folowed by the group that included Levi Leipheimer, then followed by a third group containing Lance Armstrong.

Behind them was a group with Roman Kreuziger and Andreas Kloden. Cadel Evans came in 8 minutes behind the leaders: crestfallen, he was comforted by a teammate.

"The Tour de France is a cruel, cruel event," commented Phil Liggett on Versus.

General Classification Standings at the End of Stage  9

1. SCHLECK Andy 11 TEAM SAXO BANK 43h 35' 41"
2. CONTADOR Alberto 1 ASTANA 43h 36' 22" + 00' 41"
3. SANCHEZ Samuel 181 EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI 43h 38' 26" + 02' 45"
4. MENCHOV Denis 191 RABOBANK 43h 38' 39" + 02' 58"
5. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen 101 OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO 43h 39' 12" + 03' 31"
6. LEIPHEIMER Levi 25 TEAM RADIOSHACK 43h 39' 40" + 03' 59"
7. GESINK Robert 195 RABOBANK 43h 40' 03" + 04' 22"
8. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon 161 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 43h 40' 22" + 04' 41"
9. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin 77 KATUSHA TEAM 43h 40' 49" + 05' 08"
10. BASSO Ivan 41 LIQUIGAS-DOIMO 43h 40' 50" + 05' 09"

Stage Standings at the end of Stage 9:

1. CASAR Sandy 62 FDJ 5h 38' 10"
2. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon 161 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 5h 38' 10" + 00' 00"
3. CUNEGO Damiano 201 LAMPRE - FARNESE 5h 38' 10" + 00' 00"
4. MOREAU Christophe 166 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 5h 38' 12" + 00' 02"
5. CHARTEAU Anthony 153 BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM 5h 38' 12" + 00' 02"
6. CONTADOR Alberto 1 ASTANA 5h 38' 12" + 00' 02"
7. SCHLECK Andy 11 TEAM SAXO BANK 5h 38' 12" + 00' 02"
8. SANCHEZ Samuel 181 EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI 5h 39' 02" + 00' 52"
9. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin 77 KATUSHA TEAM 5h 40' 17" + 02' 07"
10. LEIPHEIMER Levi 25 TEAM RADIOSHACK 5h 40' 17" + 02' 07"
11. GESINK Robert 195 RABOBANK 5h 40' 17" + 02' 07"
12. VOIGT Jens 19 TEAM SAXO BANK 5h 40' 17" + 02' 07"
13. MENCHOV Denis 191 RABOBANK 5h 40' 20" + 02' 10"
14. DE WEERT Kevin 133 QUICK STEP 5h 41' 00" + 02' 50"
15. BASSO Ivan 41 LIQUIGAS-DOIMO 5h 41' 00" + 02' 50"
16. PLAZA MOLINA Ruben 168 CAISSE D’EPARGNE 5h 41' 00" + 02' 50"
17. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen 101 OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO 5h 41' 00" + 02' 50"
18. ARMSTRONG Lance 21 TEAM RADIOSHACK 5h 41' 00" + 02' 50"

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