Zabriskie retains 5th as Kashechkin slips
People all week have been saying Christophe Moreau was the strongest rider at the Dauphiné Libéré.
Despite two stage wins and superb form in the mountains, it was Astana playing hot potato with the leader’s jersey at the eight-day Tour de France tune-up.
The Ag2r captain attacked with about 5km to go on the 12km Cat. 1 Col du Télégraphe at the end of Saturday’s seven-climb “queen stage” to erase any doubt.
Maxim Iglinskiy gave Astana its third stage win of the week after holding out as part an 11-man, all-day breakaway, but Moreau came through eighth to turn a 14-second deficit to overnight leader Andrey Kashechkin into a 14-second lead over Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) with one stage remaining.
“I knew if I had good legs today, I could do it,” said Moreau, who’s one day short of repeating his 2001 Dauphiné victory. “I’m in a great moment of form and Astana is here looking to prepare for the Tour. I gave 100 percent today. I used my experience, conserved my efforts, ate well, and relied on my teammates.”
Moreau, 36, dropped everyone out of an elite lead group of about 15 contenders except Evans and Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir). The pair rode Moreau’s vapors up the day’s final climb before a fast 5.5km descent into Valloire.
Kashechkin couldn’t follow the Frenchman, but didn’t seem too shook up about the change of fortunes. He calmly crossed the line 14th at 1:31 behind Moreau and slipped to third at 1:27 back with a shrug and a smile.
“When Moreau attacked, I just stayed at my rhythm – it’s okay,” said Kashechkin, who grabbed the leader’s jersey on Mont Ventoux on Thursday. “For me, this race is all about preparing for the Tour de France. It’s been good training.”
Moreau knew he had to attack to wrestle away the leader’s jersey, but he also had to worry about others as there were six riders packed within one minute of each other on the GC.
“It was a question of picking the right moment,” Moreau said. “It wasn’t just Kashechkin I had to worry about it. I also had to watch Evans and [Denis] Menchov as well. It was best to attack today.”
Evans was able to follow and slotted into second overall at 14 seconds back, but couldn’t do much in the face of Moreau’s superiority up the Télégraphe.
“Moreau was exceptionally strong and he’s unbeatable,” said Evans, otherwise satisfied with his first crack at the Dauphiné. “He asked me a few times to work and I took a few short pulls, but it wasn’t because I didn’t want to ride with him, it was that I couldn’t. Moreau is far and away the strongest rider in this race.”
It was a mixed day for the American contingent. George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) did not start after succumbing to the same stomach bug that KO’d Bobby Julich (CSC) on Friday.
Defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel), also suffering from a bad stomach, slipped from sixth to 31st at 12:46 after losing contact late in the stage.
Dave Zabriskie (CSC) hung with the leaders to stay with an elite group of about 15 coming up the Télégraphe, but couldn’t follow Moreau’s acceleration and rolled through 21st at 2:04 behind the Frenchman. The American TT champion has fifth place overall, now 2:16 back.
The 59th Dauphiné concludes Sunday with the 129km two-climb stage from Valloire to Annecy. The route hits the Cat. 2 Col de Tamié and the Cat. 1 Col de la Forclaz at 110km before the run into Annecy.
The effects of a long, hard and hot day took its toll as two dramas unfolded on the Cat. 1 Col du Télégraphe, the last of seven rated climbs in the epic climbing stage across the heart of the French Alps.
In the battle for the leader’s jersey, Astana had blown up the peloton on the harrowing descent off the Col du Mollard and the group split into two groups. Saunier Duval helped chase hard on the flats to the base of the Télégraphe to bring the two groups together. Missing was Leipheimer.
“It seemed like the group split at about the 13th rider,” Evans recounted. “Astana was really going hard. At the Tour, I would have been a little more nervous about it, but here I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.”
The peloton was like a slinky, squeezing together at the base of the Télégraphe, but stretching back apart on the lower switchbacks of the climb.
Just less than halfway up the Télégraphe, still standing against the Astana onslaught were Alberto Contador (Discovery), Menchov (Rabobank), Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Manuel Beltran (Liquigas), Piepoli (Saunier Duval), Zabriskie and Volodmyr Gustov (CSC), Igor Anton (Euskaltel), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) and Tadej Valdevic (Lampre). Vinokourov did his work early and poured a water bottle on his face to run up the white flag.
A day after attacking into Dignes-les-Bains and allowing teammate Toni Colom to take the win, Vinokourov dipped from seventh overall to 24th at 10:24 back.
Leading the way for Astana was Redondo with Kashechkin not looking at his best. Pinned on his wheel was Moreau, ready to pounce.
Moreau attacked about 3km from the summit and quickly shed everyone except Evans and Piepoli. Zabriskie, Gustov and Anton quickly blew, leaving Kashechkin without Redondo and no one else seemingly willing to help him chase down the attacking trio.
Contador bolted out of the Kashechkin group to chase the Moreau threesome and bounced into eighth for his efforts. Kashechkin could do nothing but watch the leader’s jersey disappear up the winding switchbacks of the Télégraphe.
In the battle for the stage victory, Iglinskly attacked the leading group of four riders, which also included Alexandre Botcharov (Crédit Agricole), Rémy Di Gregorio (Française des Jeux) and Pierrick Fredrigo (Bouygues Telecom). He held a 25-second gap and then soloed in for an emotional victory.
The ‘new Virenque’ takes flight
Warm weather welcomed the peloton ahead of the seven-climb “queen stage” across the heart of the French Alps. While there was a threat of afternoon showers, it was a brilliant summer morning in Gap as riders seemed relax ahead of the sign-in podium.
With the high peaks still choked in snow and the valleys lush with the green of summer, the route was an epic in the making.
It didn’t take long for the hostilities to begin as attacks began on the day’s first climb at the Cat. 2 Col Bayard in the opening 6.5km. Some 11 riders emerged to peel off the front. Among them were: Gregorio, Egoi Martínez (Discovery Channel), Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r), Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), Xabier Zandio (Caisse d’Epargne), Botcharov, Maxim Iglinsky (Astana), Aleksandre Kuschynski (Liquigas), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) – the best placed at 4:22 — Morris Possoni (Lampre) and Fédrigo.
Active in the breakaway was Di Gregorio, a strapping young Frenchman who many are calling France’s “new Virenque.” Like Virenque, he hails from Marseille and he can climb. At just 21, he’s generating heat among French media because he’s talented, savvy and ambitious.
A winner of a stage in last year’s Tour de l’Avenir, Di Gregorio lived up to the hype by peeling away to take points over four of the major climbs to take control of the best climber’s jersey.
“I attacked early in the stage to try to capture the climber’s jersey. Later, I had designs on the stage victory, but the Astana rider (Iglinskiy) didn’t work all day,” he said. “Overall, I am very satisfied with this Dauphiné. The Tour? Right now I prefer to appreciate this moment.”
Martinez attacked on the treacherous Mollard descent to separate the leaders. Pulling clear were Martinez, Kohl, Botcharov, Iglinskiy, Di Gregorio, Fédrigo and Zandio to hold a 6:20 gap with 22km to go.Iglinskiy was able to latch back on and unleashed an early attack on the Télégraphe to solo in for the win 51 seconds ahead of Botcharov.“My director told me to attack if I felt good,” said Iglinskiy, another one of the young Kazakh riders who are part of Vino’s growing army. “I am still young and I need to become stronger. Working for Vinokourov and Kashechkin on this team will help me.”
Astana also attacked on the snaking downhill to forge some important splits in the race leader’s group. Three riders from Ag2r, including Moreau, four from Astana, with Vinokourov and Kashechkin and two from FDJeux made the cut. Chasing frantically about 25 seconds back were Evans, Leipheimer, Menchov and Zabriskie as part of a group of 40 or so chasers.
The Télégraphe – 12km at an average grade of 7 percent – would decide everything.
Dauphiné Libéré, Stage 6
1. Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz), Astana, 198km in 5:51:32 (33.795 km/h)
2. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), Crédit Agricole, at 0:51
3. Pierrick Fédrigo (F), Bouygues Telecom, same time
4. Rémy Di Gregorio (F), Française des Jeux, s.t.
5. Egoi Martinez (Sp), Discovery Channel, at 2:16
6. Mikel Astarloza (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
7. Aleksandr Kuchynski (Blr), Liquigas, s.t.
8. Christophe Moreau (F), Ag2r, at 2:23
9. Cadel Evans (Aus), Predictor-Lotto, at 2:25
10. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval-Prodir, s.t.
1. Christophe Moreau (F), Ag2r, 26:54:25
2. Cadel Evans (Aus), Predictor-Lotto, at 0:14
3. Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz), Astana, at 1:27
4. Denis Menchov (Rus), Rabobank, at 1:52
5. David Zabriskie (USA), Team CSC, at 2:16
6. Sylvain Chavanel (F), Cofidis, at 3:17
7. Mikel Astarloza (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:58
8. Alberto Contador (Sp), Discovery Channel, at 4:24
9. Manuel Beltran (Sp), Liquigas, at 5:01
10. Tadej Valjavec (Slo), Lampre-Fondital, at 5:17
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