Sylvain Chavanel back in yellow after winning first Tour de France mountain stage
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) regained the maillot jaune on Saturday after soloing to victory in stage 7 of the Tour de France.
The Frenchman attacked on the final climb of the day and ran down his own teammate — mountains leader Jérôme Pineau, the lone survivor of a daylong break — to win his second stage of the 97th Tour and retake the overall lead, which he lost to Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara on the cobblestones of stage 3.
Rafael Valls Ferri (Footon-Servetto), riding his first Tour, made an audacious move of his own, leaping out of a chase group and almost catching Chavanel, but falling just short on the final kilometers of the Category 2 Côte de Lamoura.
An exhilarated Chavanel clenched his jaw and punched his fists in the air as he crossed the line 57 seconds ahead of Valls Ferri. Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank) took third at 1:26.
“This is the best day in my career,” said Chavanel. “The other day I won the stage and the jersey, but everyone said I wouldn’t have won. Today I wanted to prove I can win a stage in this Tour without any questions. I saw an opportunity and the legs felt great. I am very content.”
The candidates for the final yellow jersey held their fire on their first foray into the high country, content to let others battle for the day’s prizes.
“Today wasn’t a good day to attack,” said Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck, who rode himself into the white jersey of best young rider. “Fabian (Cancellara) didn’t feel good, he’s been doing a lot of work to keep the jersey, so it’s natural that he would lose it today.”
“Tomorrow will be interesting to see who attacks. I think (Alberto) Contador will go because he wants to show that he’s in good form. Tomorrow will be to see who is in good shape to win this Tour.”
Cancellara’s plummet from the pinnacle was a dramatic one — he would finish more than 14 minutes behind the new race leader, falling to 58th overall at 13:11.
“I was on the limit,” said Cancellara. “It was hot, really hot. For me, it was just too much. I just couldn’t do any more.”
Also losing ground was Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who began the day in second place overall, 20 seconds behind the big Swiss — he lost contact with the GC group on the Côte de Lamoura and slid to 31st at 4:37.
When the times were tallied, Chavanel led world champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) by 1:25 with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) third at 1:32. Schleck had moved into fourth at 1:55 with Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) fifth at 2:17.
A flat start and progressively harder climbs
Saturday’s 165.5km stage took the peloton from Tornus to a summit finish atop the Category 2 climb to the cross-country ski area at Station des Rousses.
The day began with a flat, 45km stretch and two intermediate sprints — at Cormuz (29.5km) and Saint Amour (44.5km) — before reaching the limestone ridges of Jura. That marked the start of a series of progressively harder climbs leading to the final ascent.
The day’s climbs
- The Category 3 Côte de l’Aubépin, summiting at 51.5km
- The Category 4 Côte des Granges, at 69km
- The Category 3 Côte d’Arinthod, at 84.5km
- The Category 2 Côte du barrage de Vouglans, at 104km
- The Category 2 Col de la Croix de la Serra, at 134.5km
- The Category 2 Côte de Lamoura, at 161.5km, 4km from the finish)
The bunch set off in hot and humid conditions, with a slight breeze from the south. Katusha’s Robbie McEwen was among the starters despite suffering injuries in a bizarre crash that saw him tangle with a video cameraman after sprinting to fourth place on Friday. José Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) injured in a fall during Friday’s stage, did not start stage 7.
Pineau hunting points
Quick Step’s Pineau, intent on keeping his lead in the mountains competition, went off in the first kilometer with Christian Knees (Milram), Danilo Hondo (Lampre), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) and Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
The escapees built a lead of more than eight minutes 40km into the stage, putting Knees — 44th at 3:18 — into the virtual yellow jersey. Pineau was concerned only with the polka-dot jersey, taking top points atop the first four climbs with Perez on his wheel. Hondo, meanwhile, was chasing sprint points, and getting them, too, winning all three sprints.
Bbox Bouygues Telecom, which missed the break, put its riders on the front, among them Yukiya Arashiro, the only Japanese rider in the Tour. With 80km to go, the gap was under six minutes.
“We have decided to chase because it shouldn’t just be the big teams that get a slice of the pie,” said Bbox director Didier Rous. “It wasn’t part of the original plan — that was to be in the escape — but we missed out and now we’re taking responsibility. We hope to reduce the advantage of the escapees and bring it down to around three minutes at the base of the penultimate ascent of the stage.”
The pace proved too hard for the winner of the previous two stages, HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish, who went off the back on the fourth of Saturday’s climbs. Teammate Bernhard Eisel dropped back to pace the Manxman. McEwen, too, dropped out of the bunch, clearly feeling the effects of his collision with the cameraman. The two sprinters would cross with the autobus, more than 22 minutes down.
Reeling in the break
With 60km to go the bunch had cut the break’s lead to four minutes. At the foot of the 15.7km Col de la Croix de la Serra, at 134.5km, the escapees held just three minutes’ advantage over the peloton, which was shedding riders right and left.
With 43km to go BBox’s Thomas Voeckler shot away from the bunch, trying to bridge to the leaders, who were just a minute up the road. Three men went with him — teammate Cyril Gautier, Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne) and Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
Behind, the pace had proved too much for two leaders — green jersey Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) and yellow jersey Cancellara.
The early break
- Christian Knees (MRM), 44th at 3:18
- Danilo Hondo (LAM), 75th at 3:57
- Jerome Pineau (QST),82nd at 4:47
- Ruben Perez Moreno (EUS),102nd at 8:07
- Samuel Dumoulin (COF), 178th at 30:47
Ahead, Damiano Cunego (Lampre) joined the Voeckler group along with Valls Ferri. Dumoulin, meanwhile, had dropped out of the break.
Gautier and Voeckler drove the chase along, closing to within 30 seconds of the break. The disintegrating peloton was 1:22 behind the leaders, and Cancellara had managed to rejoin. In an indication of his changing role as the race hit the high country, the maillot jaune immediately loaded himself down with bottles and distributed them to his teammates.
Knees dropped out of the break, leaving Pineau and Hondo at the head of affairs.
Attack after attack
Next to try their luck were Chavanel, Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) and Garate. The three leaped out of the peloton and set off in pursuit of the others. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Omega Pharma-Lotto) went after them.
Chavanel made it to the Voeckler group as the peloton settled down, two minutes behind Pineau and Hondo, who were 1km from the summit.
Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) each had a dig on the climb, to no particular effect.
Pineau once again took top points going over the Croix de la Serra. The Voeckler group — augmented by Spanish national champion José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne) — was less than a minute behind the two leaders.
With 25km to go the two leaders clung to a lead of 45 seconds over the Voeckler chase and nearly two and a half minutes over the peloton. Chavanel — who began the day in fifth place overall, 1:01 behind Cancellara — was the virtual race leader and hoping to become the actual maillot jaune at day’s end.
Quick Step times two — then minus one
As the two leaders started the final ascent of the day, the 15km Côte de Lamoura, which summited 4km from the finish, Pineau finally shed Hondo. Behind, Chavanel attacked the chase, going off alone in hopes of retaking the overall lead.
With 17km to race Chavanel was 38 seconds behind Pineau with the yellow-jersey group nearly three minutes in arrears. Chavanel was closing in quickly, though, and shot past his teammate 14km short of the line.
A minute behind, Cunego was chasing furiously as Astana took the front of the peloton. Voeckler was having none of that and chased him down — the two rocketed past a fading Pineau and set off in pursuit of Chavanel.
As the Voeckler chase began coming apart, Valls Ferri took the opportunity to scamper ahead of it.
Behind, Thomas finally cracked and lost contact with the GC group, which still contained Contador, Armstrong and teammate Levi Leipheimer, Evans, Schleck, Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Hesjedal and Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
With 6km to go Valls Ferri was a half-minute behind Chavanel, but he would get no closer. The Quick Step man took the final mountain points of the day and set off toward the finish, just 4km ahead, with a comfortable lead of 55 seconds over the Footon-Servetto rider.
Chavanel was clearly suffering as he crossed under the red kite making the final kilometer. But it all would be worth it in the end, as the Frenchman took his second stage win of the 97th Tour and reclaimed the maillot jaune he lost after a rough ride on the cobbles of stage 3.
Valls Ferri hung tough for a well-deserved second place on the day at 57 seconds. Garate took third at 1:26. The greatly reduced peloton containing the favorites for the final overall crossed at 1:55. Cancellara would not arrive for another dozen minutes — and when he did, he was philosophical about having finally surrendered the maillot jaune.
“I’ve had some great days in the yellow jersey,” he said. “Tomorrow I’ll be back in my normal jersey. Things will be a bit more calm, and less stressful.”
(Related: A look at Chavanel’s special yellow Eddy Merckx bike used the first time he was in yellow)
Stage 8 begins just east of Les Rousses, and is the transition into a string of stages through the Alps. The final 50km enter the high mountains, sending riders over the difficult Cat.1 Col de la Ramaz (14.3km at 6.8 percent) first, followed by a steep downhill and the Cat. 3 climb over Les Gets to Morzine. The stage finishes atop the Cat. 1 climb up to the ski station of Avoriaz (13.6km at 6.1 percent).
The last time the Tour finished at Avoriaz, in 1975, it was won in a long solo breakaway by Spaniard Vicente Lopez Carril. That same scenario is unlikely this year, as all the GC contenders will be keen to keep an eye on each other and battle it out on the final climb. More on stage 8.
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Best Young Rider (GC)
Team GC leader