The road into the Pyrenees have begun….. Let the battle begin! 😉
The sixteenth day of racing in the Tour de France (Sunday July 18, 2010). Stage 14 – Revel Ax 3 Domaines. This stage was 184.5 km. The first stage in the Pyrenees had two intermediate sprints – in Mirepoix (at 51.5km) and Campagne-sur-Aude (102km) but the real features of the stage were the two climbs in the final 50km. The first is rated ‘Hors Category’ Port de Pailheres’ – a 1.5km long ascent with the top a the 155.5km mark, and the second the final climb to Ax-3 Domaines (category-one, 1.5km from the finish). There was an attack in the opening kilometer by 12 riders. At the base of the first climb, the pelaton was behind 9 of the escapees. Riblon, Van de Walle and Moinard were leading the stage. Then with 2km to climb, Riblon was on his own at the front of the stage. At the top Riblon led Moinard by 37”; Van de Walle by 1’30”. On the descent of the Pailheres a group of five formed in pursuit of Riblon. Riblon attacked the final climb and had the benefit of the rivalry between Schleck and Contador who marked each other so much that they allowed rivals like S. Sanchez, Menchov, Gesink and Rodriguez to race ahead of them. Five kilometers from the finish, Contador was the only Astana rider left and he would attack twice before the finish – both times Schleck and Menchov were able to respond… and, seeing that he couldn’t gain time on the yellow jersey he allowed others to race ahead but both Contador and Schleck paced themselves into a group with GC rivals before the finish. By then, however, Riblon was over the top and raced onward to his first victory in the Tour de France. He had only seven pro victories before this day, including a stage of the Rud du Sud in Luchon (site of tomorrow’s stage finish) but now he’s a stage winner of the Tour de France. Andy Schleck maintained his lead over Contador and will wear the yellow jersey in stage 15.
The seventeenth day of racing in the Tour de France (Monday July 19, 2010). Stage 15 – Pamiers Bagnères-de-Luchon. This stage was 187.5 km. The course from Pamiers to Bagneres-de-Luchon featured two intermediate sprints – in Clermont (55km) and Fronsac (136km) – and four categorized climbs: the Carla-Bayle (cat-4 at 30km), col de Portet d’Aspet (cat-2 at 105km), the col des Ares (cat-2 at 126.5km) and the ‘Hors Category’ Port de Bales (166km). There were attacks from kilometer zero to 35km but none were able to gain any advantage on the peloton. No escape was allowed any leeway until the 93km mark when seven were involved in the initial move, but three others came across at 95km. Three were dropped from the lead group thus prompting Voeckler to attack 8km from the top of the Port de Bales. It would prove to be the winning move, and the first time that a French champion has won a stage of the Tour since Jacky Durand in Cahors in 1994.
With about 3km to climb, Schleck launched an attack from the elite GC group that included Contador, Van den Broeck, Menchov and S. Sanchez. He quickly opened up a solid lead and appeared destined to increase his advantage on the rider in second place. After about 20 pedal strokes, however, his chain fell from the front derailleur and got stuck near the bottom bracket of his yellow bike. Vinokourov took up chase first, then shortly behind was Contador, both of whom were in full counter attack mode (before his chain had even been knocked off), and ultimately passed Shleck. Later the debate was to become whether Andy Schleck in his rough attack caused the mechanical mishap as a result or if it was just bad luck. Schleck eventually remedied the situation with the help of the neutral mechanci, but he had already lost valuable seconds. Contador was also quickly followed by Menchov and Sanchez. At the top, this trio was 13 seconds ahead of Schleck – who was chasing furiously for the final moments of the climb, passing the likes of Armstrong and Kloden like they were standing still. Although he got to within 22” of Contador on the descent, Schleck lost 39” to the Spaniard at the finish. Contador will wear the yellow jersey in stage 16.
The most unfortunate thing occurred during the presentation of the yellow jersey to Contador when there were some loud ‘boos’ heard from some people in the audience because he didn’t wait for Shleck to get his bike fixed. Don’t these spectators realize that this a bike race?! Of course he doesn’t wait. Sheesh! Besides, its not like Andy Shleck waited for Lance Armstrong on the cobblestones when he had a mechanical incident. Nope, he took off with an attack.
The eighteenth day of racing in the Tour de France (Tuesday July 20, 2010). Stage 16 – Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau. This stage was 199.5 km. The stage had two intermediate sprints – in Bielle (164.5km) and Gan (185.5km) – and the big features were four huge passes: the cat-1 col de Peyresourde (11km), the cat-1 col d’Apsin (42.5km), the ‘Hors Category’ col du Tourmalet (72km), followed by another ‘HC’ climb, the col d’Aubisque (138km). Right from the start, the attacks began and by 5km, 18 established an escape including Lance Armstrong. The lead group was reduced to 11 on the second climb. Casar attacked the descent of Col d’Aspinand arrived at the base of the Tourmalet with a lead of 20seconds. Armstrong caught Casar at 51km. Armstrong was caught by Cunego and Fedrigo at 62km. With 9km to climb theCol du Tourmalet, Casar, Moreau and Van de Walle joined the lead group, then came Horner, Plaza and Barredo caught the lead group at 65km. The peloton arrived at the base of the col d’Aubisque 6 mins 25 seconds behind the 10 escapees. They worked up a lead of 7 minutes 30 seconds. With 13km to climb, Armstrong attacked and only Barredo, Cunego, Fedrigo and Plaza could follow. Armstrong attacked the lead group but four others were able to match his accelerations. Barredo was aggressive on the final climb but he couldn’t shake his rivals and the eight arrived at the top of the Aubisque together. Contador’s group reached the top 9 minutes 50seconds behind. Casar caught the eight leaders with 47km to go. With 45km to go, Barredo attacked the escapees and no one responded, 5km later he had a lead of 40”. He would hover about 25 seconds ahead of the lead/chase group and only get caught with 1,100m to go. Then the race for stage honors began. The Caisse d’Epargne pair in the escape led the eight riders to the line and all of them were in the hunt for the win – although Armstrong appeared happy to start the sprint from second-last place… once Fedrigo hit the turbo button, it was clear everyone else was racing for second. He took the win a bike length ahead of Casar. It’s his third victory in the Tour de France. Hushovd led the peloton home, 6 minutes 45 seconds behind Fedrigo, taking six points and regaining the lead in the points classification for the green jersey. Contador still in yellow.
The nineteenth day of racing in the Tour de France (Wednesday July 21, 2010) is actually the second REST DAY.