Garmin-Cervelo’s world champion Thor Hushovd on Tuesday won his second individual stage of the 2011 Tour de France, a cold, rainy, 162.5km race from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Gap.
The day’s big winner, however, was Cadel Evans (BMC), who broke away from the yellow jersey group on the final climb with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) and Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and finished ahead of the two Spaniards after attacking on the wet descent to Gap. Evans moved into second on the GC and increased his gap ahead of Andy and Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) as the race heads into the Alps Wednesday.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) finished less than a half minute behind Evans and Contador to retain his leader’s jersey, while Andy Schleck and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) lost more than a minute to their top GC rivals. Frank Schleck finished at the same time as Voeckler.
The stage win battle
Hesjedal, Hushovd and Boasson Hagen emerged out of a 10-man breakaway that had built up an early six-minute lead before exploding on the Col de Manse, a cat. 2 ascent that topped out just 11 twisty, wet kilometers from the finish. Hesjedal led over the summit, with teammate Hushovd marking Boasson Hagen. The three hit the dry roads of the flats together, and in the final 2km the two teammates were able to sandwich the Sky rider, with Hushovd in third. The big Norwegian jumped with 300 meters to go and outlasted Boasson Hagen as Hesjedal celebrated his team’s fourth stage win.
Yellow jersey war
The fight for yellow got serious on the Col de Manse.
Evans’ BMC squad took control of the front of the peloton on the first kilometers of the big climb, but Contador surprised the GC favorites with a sharp attack where the slope steepened on a left-hand turn. He was quickly marked by Evans, the Schlecks, Voeckler and Sammy Sanchez. The six were soon joined by another 15 riders and Contador’s teammates Daniel Navarro and Jesus Hernandez took over the pace setting, while Garmin’s Tom Danielson took a brief foray off the front.
With barely more than a kilometer from the top, Contador attacked again. This time Voeckler and the Schlecks were unable to follow, but Sanchez and Evans were all over him. Evans, looking fresh and focused, took the front as the three opened the gap ahead of the Voeckler/Schleck group. Contador, as well, continued to push the pace with some accelerations, but was unable to drop the other two.
The threesome came over the top about 37 seconds ahead of the Schleck/Voeckler group and Evans attacked the descent, hitting the flats with ten seconds on the two Spaniards and powering to a three-second gap ahead of Contador and Sanchez.
Voeckler later said everyone was surprised by Contador’s attack on what was billed as a transition stage between the Pyrenees and the Alps.
“It really surprised me he (Contador) attacked like that,” said the Frenchman. “Everyone was expecting him to wait for the big mountain passes in the Alps but he went for it on the Col de Manse.
“I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t follow, the other guys behind me were all grimacing too. The problem is, when Contador attacks it is usually pretty effective.”
Frank Schleck credited Contador’s team director. Bjarnne Riis, for taking advantage of the Schlecks’ dislike of wet weather and tricky descents.
“We didn’t expect him (Contador) or any of the other big favorites to do that. Bjarne knows we don’t like bad weather and that the descent would be quite tricky for us,” said Frank.
“Hats off to them. But it’s not a tragedy. We will stay focused on what we have to do and we’re looking forward to three days in the mountains.”
Riis said Contador had to attack to close his gap to the Schlecks and Evans.
“Alberto said he felt good and when he has good legs he has to try to close the gap,” said the Dane.
“We said this morning we have to attack if possible.”
Stage 17 is first of three stages in the Alps. The route heads into Italy via the Cat. 1 climb to Sestriere, but the real action won’t take place until the brutal Cat. 2 Colle Pra Martino. On a narrow, very twisting back road, this 6.7km climb averages 6.2 percent, but it has a 12-percent section just before a summit that’s only 7km from the line in Pinerolo. The 3km-long, switchback descent averages a vertiginous 15 percent and that’s where the stage can be won and lost.
- It took nearly 50km for the break to form. Garmin team director Jonathan Vaughters said it took determination — and patience — to get two team riders into the group.”I kept saying to the guys, ‘Keep trying, keep trying!’ They were frustrated. They said, ‘F-ck man, we’ve been trying to get in the breakaway for 50 or 60km,’ and I said, ‘No, just keep trying, keep trying. It’s going to work, it’s going to work,’ and then boom.”
- 1. Thor Hushovd, Team Garmin – Cervelo, in 3h 31′ 38″
- 2. Boasson Hagen Edvald, Sky Procycling, at s.t.
- 3. Ryder Hesjedal, Team Garmin – Cervelo, at 00:02
- 4. Tony Martin, HTC – Highroad, at 00:38
- 5. Mikhail Ignatyev, Katusha Team, at 00:52
- 1. Thomas Voeckler, Team Europcar, in 69h 00′ 56″
- 2. Cadel Evans, BMC Racing Team, at 01:45
- 3. Frank Schleck, Team Leopard-Trek, at 01:49
- 4. Andy Schleck, Team Leopard-Trek, at 03:03
- 5. Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel – Euskadi, at 03:26