The Tour de France saw two more teams, CSC and Caisse d’Épargne-Illes Balers join Discovery Channel in turning around their problem-stricken 2006 campaigns into face-saving celebrations on Saturday’s stage 13.
The 230km stage from Béziers to Montélimar, the longest of the race, was won in a two-up sprint by evergreen German Jens Voigt (CSC) while breakaway companion Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Épargne) profited from their half-hour winning margin to take the yellow jersey from American Floyd Landis (Phonak).
The outcome, was an incredibly fitting one, coming as it did 24 hours after the Discovery Channel team was able to silence the demons of its Tour de Misère when Yaroslav Popovych’s won stage 12 into Carcassonne.
Discovery Channel was distraught by its failure in the Pyrénées — especially the poor ride by the 2005 Tour’s best young rider, Popovych. But the U.S. team was not alone in its struggle to salvage some good from a terrible start to the Tour.
At one time, the woes experienced at CSC seemed endless. The Danish squad began with the pre-race withdrawal of Tour favorite Ivan Basso due to the Spanish drugs investigation, continued with the broken vertebra that Stuart O’Grady is still racing with, and included the exits of Bobby Julich (broken scaphoid) and Giovanni Lombardy (diarrhea).
As for Caisse d’Épargne, the Spanish team had lost two riders before today. The first was their Tour-winning hope Alejandro Valverde, who crashed out in the first week and broke his collarbone. Then on stage 12, Isaac Galvez abandoned soon after the stage began.
Long day under the sun
Pereiro and Voigt were as appreciative as any opportunist could be after stage 13 saw them spend 209km on the attack, raced in hot and humid conditions, with temperatures passing 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
“This morning I couldn’t imagine that I would take the yellow jersey,” said Pereiro, who began the day placed in 47th overall, 28:31 down on Landis. “It’s surely the best thing that can happen to a rider at the Tour de France, so this was an exceptional day.
“Even during the stage, even in the final kilometers, I wasn’t thinking about [the yellow jersey] because the gap was only 28 minutes. I’m really happy because we had a difficult beginning to the Tour because of the crash of Alejandro [Valverde]. I dedicate this jersey to him.”
For Voigt, his win was his second in a Tour stage after his 2001 win at Sarran in the Massif Central, where he rode his breakaway companion, Australian Brad McGee, into an exhausted heap and needed oxygen to revive him. That, too, was a 230km stage in heat-wave weather.
But this latest victory was clearly not just for him, but also for his CSC teammates. “We were desperate for a win, desperate for a real result, something to cheer us up after all the crashes we’ve had,” said Voigt.
“At the moment only two riders in CSC have not crashed yet, and so after all that bad luck we needed to force some luck back to our side.”
Without taking anything from the effort and feat of Pereiro and Voigt to ride all day out front, it was an outcome that relied on the willingness of the peloton to let them go.
So far back was the peloton that the 29:57 margin put 152 riders outside the stage’s time limit, which in theory put them all out of the Tour. That would have left the Tour with just five riders going into tomorrow’s stage 14 had the dust not been brushed off article 22 of the Union Cycliste International’s rule book, This allowed the race jury to increase the cut-off from 9 to 10 percent because more than 20 percent of the day’s starters faced the axe.
With Voigt and Pereiro in the five-strong breakaway that formed just after the 20km mark were Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), Italian Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) and Ukrainian Andriy Grivko (Milram) — who finished in that order after being dropped by the Voigt-Pereiro tandem in separate surges withy 25km and 5km to go.
The lead pair finished 29:57 ahead of the peloton led in by sixth-placed Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) — who easily out-sprinted Bernhard Eisel (Française des Jeux) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic) to extend his lead in the green-jersey competition.
From Phonak to Caisse d’Épargne
The exchange of the yellow jersey from American Floyd Landis (Phonak) was clearly a “gift” – but don’t tell Lance Armstrong. When Landis took the maillot jaune in the Pyrénées on Thursday, he openly said that he would consider allowing someone else to take the jersey from him should the circumstances be suitable.
“To me it was better to save the team, because we still have nine days to go,” said Landis in Montélimar Saturday evening. “If I have [the yellow jersey] in Paris and I don’t win any stages that will be fine.”
Landis’s team manager John Lelangue agreed, saying, “The yellow jersey only means something in Paris on the final stage. That has always been our objective. For this reason we prefer to let it go now, and have a good strategy in the next mountain stage.”
In Pereiro though, Landis had the perfect circumstances he was looking for to surrender the overall lead. The 28-year-old Spaniard is a friend of Landis, having ridden with him at Phonak before switching to Caisse d’Épargne this year. And by Pereiro assuming the responsibilities that come with wearing the jersey, the pressure should come off Landis and his teammates heading into the Alps.
Pereiro made no secret of his desire to defend the yellow jersey. He has the credentials for his ambition. He placed 10th in the 2005 and 2004 Tours, last year winning the stage to Pau and finishing second to George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) at Pla d’Adet. He also was third in the 2003 Tour of Switzerland and 11th at the 2002 Giro d’Italia.
Pereiro, who recognizes he had a poor showing in the Pyrénées, but expects the Alps will be more suited to his ability, now leads the Tour by 1:29 over Landis. Frenchman Cyril Dessel (Ag2r) is now third at 1:37, Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank) fourth at 2:30, Australia’s Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto) fifth at 2:46, German Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile) sixth at 3:58 and Australian Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) seventh at 4:51.
Pereiro said, “I think now that the Tour is much better for my team. From now on, I’ll try and retain the overall lead at least for tomorrow [stage 14], and we’ll see what happens in the Alps.
“I have won a stage already in last year’s Tour so today’s big coup was to claim the overall lead and wear the yellow jersey. This will totally change things … and I will fight all I can to keep the jersey.”
Voigt and Pereiro made their decisive break with 5km to go to drop breakaway companions Chavanel and Quinziato, while Grivko was dropped on the fourth of five Cat. 4 climbs right after he made a brazen, but failed attack on the hill at St. Maurice d’Ibie.
Pereiro was the catalyst to the winning move though, and when Voigt jumped onto his wheel it was not long before they had accrued the margin they needed to stay away.
The Spaniard denied a deal had been done to allow Voigt to win. “No, there had been an agreement — 30 minutes’ lead, 5km from the finish — that I wouldn’t contest the sprint. But with 5km to go with the gap at 27:35 I had to fight for the stage. Nothing was clear about,” he said.
“With 4km left I didn’t want to lose it when I saw the occasion. Jens is the most stubborn of all. He would work all the way to the finish he assured me … but I didn’t leave nothing [in my legs] to win.”
True to his word Voigt, 32, attacked with 2km to go. But his dig failed to discard Pereiro who forced the German to take the front position going into the final kilometer. Incredibly, Voigt still had the power to launch the sprint – and, even better, take it by several bike lengths.
“I was quite sure I could beat Pereiro in the sprint because he showed some signs of weakness or fatigue before,” said Voigt.
“I thought I would beat him in the sprint because it seemed as though he was just happy to be on my wheel and gain as much time as possible for the yellow jersey.
“You cannot believe how great I feel. I’m actually not tired at all. I’m so happy that I could get back on my bike now and ride the stage backwards!”
Only someone as resilient as Jens Voigt would even think of saying such a thing on a stage as hot and long as Saturday’s.
1. Jens Voigt (G), CSC
2. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-I.B., same time
3. Sylvain Chavanel (F), Cofidis, at 0:40
4. Manuel Quinziato (I), Liquigas-Bianchi, s.t.
5. Andriy Grivko (Ukr), Milram, at 6:24
6. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, at 29:57
7. Bernhard Eisel (A), Française des Jeux, s.t.
8. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step-Innergetic, s.t.
9. Carlos Da Cruz (F), Française des Jeux, s.t.
10. Arnaud Coyot (F), Cofidis, 29:57
1. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-I.B.
2. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak, at 1:29
3. Cyril Dessel (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, at 1:37
4. Denis Menchov (Rus), Rabobank, at 2:30
5. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, at 2:46
6. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, at 3:21
7. Andréas Klöden (G), T-Mobile, at 3:58
8. Michael Rogers (Aus), T-Mobile, at 4:51
9. Miguel Juan Miguel (Sp), Agritubel, at 5:02
10. Christophe Moreau (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, at 5:13
To see how today’s stage unfolded, simply CLICKHERE to bring up our Live Update Window. Then check back for stats, video, news stories and more from the VeloNews crew in France.