The list of contenders for the 2010 Tour de France overall win got whittled down just a bit on Sunday, as Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck won the year’s first mountaintop finish. Schleck popped out of an elite group that was missing just one pre-race favorite — Lance Armstrong. Neither Cadel Evans nor Alberto Contador could match Schleck’s finish attack, but Evans, who started the day 30 seconds ahead of Schleck, took over the yellow jersey from overnight leader Sylvain Chavanel.
While Armstrong fell out of the GC picture, his teammate Levi Leipheimer was never in trouble, finishing in the lead group and likely taking over RadioShack’s overall ambitions for this Tour.
Armstrong was involved in three crashes on the day, though none appeared to seriously injure him. He came unglued from the leaders on the penultimate climb and then appeared to cede the day and his hopes for a top GC finish, ultimately losing almost 12 minutes.
Start with a crash
The 189-kilometer race from Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz started with a crash in the first kilometers that took down Evans, Armstrong, KOM leader Jerome Pineau, Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ) and Andre Grivko (Astana). Evans came away with a bruise on his hip and arm, but Pineau was delayed and it took the Quick Step rider several kilometers to chase back on. Armstrong rode into the grass to avoid the pile-up.
The peloton remained intact up the opening climb of the Côte de la Petite Joux, where Cofidis’ Rein Taaramae sprang off to grab the KOM points on offer there.
Between the Petite Joux and the next categorized climb a group of seven pulled away, and race leader Chavanel’s team allowed them some space. Pineau caught back on before the Côte de Grésin.
Scare for Armstrong
Armstrong clipped a pedal and crashed as the peloton sped through a roundabout approaching the base of the Col de la Ramaz, the day’s toughest climb. The RadioShack rider didn’t appear seriously hurt, but his saddle was torn off, the back of his jersey was ripped and he was bleeding from his left arm. He took a new bike and three of his teammates quickly paced him back into the fold. He arrived back at the front of the main pack just as it hit the start of the climb.
Col de la Ramaz
Team Sky drove the pace on the early slopes of la Ramaz. The team’s Juan Antonio Flecha burned himself off first, taking a monster pull and then dropping out of the lead group. Under the Sky pressure, Pineau also popped off, as did yellow jersey Chavanel. Pineau would eventually finish about 20 minutes back and Chavanel finished near Armstrong.
Up front, the break had hit the base of la Ramaz with a four-minute gap. Moerenhout split off the front, then was joined by Moinard and Aerts. The other break members dropped off and were soon absorbed by the pack.
The day’s climbs
- Côte de la Petite Joux, – Cat. 4
- Côte de Grésin, Cat. 4
- Col de la Ramaz, Cat 1
- Les Gets, Cat 3
- Morzine-Avoriaz, Cat 1
Armstrong was the first GC contender to fall off the front group, drifting back about 45 seconds, accompanied by teammates Chris Horner and Jani Brajkovic.
He was not the only top rider to be popped, however. Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov and RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden came unglued for a bit, but each fought his way back to the lead group. Perhaps hearing that Armstrong was in trouble, Astana took over the pace making from Sky on the second half of la Ramaz, and the Contador group summited a minute ahead of the Armstrong group. Contador still had four teammates with him.
The early break
- Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), 45th at 08:05
- Amaël Moinard, (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne), 64th at 16:26
- Sébastien Minard, (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne), 67th at 16:44
- Mario Aerts (Omega Pharma-Lotto), 77th at 20:56
- Imanol Erviti (Caisse d’Epargne), 96th at 23:06
- Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank), 139th at 33:01
- Benoît Vaugrenard (Fdj), 151st at 36:44
Armstrong closed some time on the descent, while in the Contador group Vinokourov used his descending skills to open up a gap, but came back as the road leveled and then headed up again on the intermediate Cat. 3 climb to Les Gets. Toward Les Gets. the three breakaway riders had two minutes on the Contador group, while the Armstrong group was another minute back.
Armstrong seemed stunned when he was delayed by another small crash at the summit of the Les Gets climb, caused when a Euskaltel rider got a feed bag tangled in his front wheel. Armstrong did not hit the ground this time, but had to clip out to untangle his bike from the pile. He stood for a moment looking at his bike with his hands on his hips, then picked it up and got rolling again, though not with much urgency.
Astana burns matches on final climb
While Armstrong settled into a steady pace with Brajkovic, Astana powered the front of the field into the final climb. Armstrong was more than five minutes back at the base of the Morzine-Avoriaz, the climb to the finish. The Contador group sucked up the remnants of the break halfway up the climb.
Astana burned its matches, dropping Hesjedal, Klöden and LL Sanchez. Evans, Schleck and Leipheimer looked comfortable. Navarro was Contador’s last remaining teammate in the front group, and he kept the power on for about four kilometers, with the defending Tour champion on his wheel, in and out of the saddle.
Wiggins fell off the pace with 4km to go as Navarro poured it on.
Kreuziger (Liquigas) attacked with 2km to go, quickly marked by Contador. Rabobank’s Robert Gesink was next, and although Geskink was marked, his acceleration shed HTC-Columbia’s Michael Rogers.
Schleck was next to go, launching just past the one kilometer kite. Samuel Sanchez chased him down but Contador did not immediately respond. Evans drifting to the back of the group as Contador led the chase.
Sanchez jumped around Schleck for the line, but went perhaps a hair too early for his tired legs, and sat up as a joyous Schleck came around in the final ten meters. Gesink led the chase in ten seconds later.
After Monday’s first rest day of the 2010 Tour, the race gets deep into the Alps on Tuesday. Covering 204.5km, with two Cat. 1 climbs and one hors catégorie, it would seem that stage 9 should be the marquee stage of the Alps this year. However, the Cat. 1 Col de la Columbiere and Col des Saises are too far from the finish to be decisive. And the final climb of the day, the Col de la Madeleine (25.5km at 6.2 percent), tops out with more than 30km to go and does not suit the explosive climbing styles of Contador or the Schlecks.
A similar stage in 2005 — over the Madeleine and Galibier climbs before finishing in the valley at Briançon — was won by Vinokourov out of a long breakaway with Santiago Botero. More on stage 9.
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Best Young Rider (GC)
Team GC leader