Friday, July 22, 2011

The Race of Truth - Tour de France Stage 20 Preview

Photo: Graham Watson |
Stage 19 Recap
The drama and racing that took place within today's Stage 19 is one of the reasons I watch the Tour. I'll admit that I can't make a personal ranking of this year's Tour in the 25 or so I've followed, until the 'recency' effect has waned and Sunday brings an end and the resulting withdrawals, but man it has been something everyday. Everyday. The emotional reaction at today's finish surprised me and capped a day of goosebumps and exclamations.

Pierre Rolland was pretty happy too. Rolland's storming and persistent ride up the legendary L'Alpe d'Huez was the first French win of this Tour and he the first Frenchman to win on the L'Alpe since the 'The Badger", Bernard Hinault won it in 1986. Rolland outsmarted two Spanish champions, Contador & Sanchez, revealing later "I didn't want to be second."He's not second in the White Jersey competition for the Tour's best placed young rider either, with today's ride earning him the prize heading into the final two days of the race.

Alberto Contador set out to match Andy Schleck's bold move yesterday with his own attack 93km out with teammate Navarro and clearly part of a plan to make the day hard before the brutal half-hour climb of the L'Alpe. The Schleck brothers hitched right on and the Yellow jersey of Thomas Voeckler took off in chase about a kilometer later. The stage included climbs up the Col du Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier for a total of 30 km of straight up climbing, even before the 21 switchbacks of the 13km climb up to the town of L'Alpe d'Huez, It was going to be a long hard day.

With about 87km to go Cadel Evans had to stop to address a mechanical issue with his bike. Then again, stopped. Then again, with the team car swapping out the bike with one that would finally work and finish the stage with the Aussie. He lost about 63 seconds with his private little nightmare and spent a lot of energy getting back into the fight.

Voeckler, while never giving up the fight, as evidenced by when he goes all gangly when he is at his limit, lost his beloved jersey with the pace on the Telegraphe and could never regain his time losses. KOM jersey holder Vanendert was also a victim of the pace and lost his jersey to eventual second place Samuel Sanchez on the climb as well.  The Schlecks were 34 seconds behind Contador at the top of the day's second climb, Col du Galibier, to no long term effect as the harrowing descent brought everyone (the leaders and the nine chasers including Hesjedal, Danielson, Evans) together with 25km to go.

After being given the green light to ride for himself on the Galibier by his Team captain, Voeckler, Rolland Ryder Hesjedal Rolland took off at the base of the L'Alpe climb in an effort to force the pace and maybe try and catch the big boys by surprise and possibly let them go. However, this the L'Alpe d'Huez and nobody gives this stage away or lets it slip away from them.
photo AFP
Contador attacked with about 12km to go, catching the pair ahead. He attacked again, shortly after sizing them up and realizing that they couldn't collectively help him. It looked for a while liked it was the winning move. Contador was clearly bothered by the raucous crowd, at one point punching an obnoxious fan in the face.  The motorcycled gendarmes got better control of the situation, with even Race Director Prudomme scolding the fans from his red car.The crazies might have been trying to tell him was that Sanchez and Rolland were coming, and he had better get on his giddy-up. Unlike in his three Tour wins and six consecutive Grand Tour wins though, 'Bert looked mortal. Not unlike Indurain in his last Tour, the Spainards face revealed that he was giving it all he could. A brief moment of hesitation and corollary perfect timing by Rolland, prevented Sanchez and Contador from immortality. A new moniker will be forever attached to the young French hopeful's name, Winner of L'Alpe d'Huez. Chapeau.

Stage 20 Grenoble Time Trial 42.5km
The exact course used in this year's Dauphine race in June should provide enough real estate to allow Cadel Evans to overtake the :57 second advantage that Andy Schleck has going into the stage to win his first Tour de France. However, they don't call this the 'race of truth" for nothing. If nerves get the best of Cadel, who has revealed that his strategy is "to ride fast" or if Andy rides with the uncommon strength that the yellow jersey can provide, we might have a totally unexpected outcome. It's going to be close. A result totally expected in this years totally unexpected Tour. Adieu.
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 82:48:43
2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:00:53
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:57
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:02:10
5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:03:31
6 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:55
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:04:22
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:04:40
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:07:11
10 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:08:57

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