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By Andrew Hood
Sylvester Szmyd is one of those riders who do all the dirty work yet rarely get the praise.
The 31-year-old Polish rider toiled for years in the shadow of Damiano Cunego at Lampre before switching over to super-domestique duty at Liquigas, where he rode superbly at this year’s Giro d’Italia to help Franco Pellizotti secure his first career podium with third overall.
Szmyd earned a well-deserved victory Thursday up the windy slopes of cycling’s most famous mountain on Mont Ventoux, fending off defending Dauphiné Libéré champion Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) as the pair rode away from some elite company.
Valverde took a nice consolation prize despite losing the stage after he bounced into the overall lead, taking 2:10 out of overnight leader Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) on the fabled 21km climb to carve out a slender, 16-second lead to Evans.
“Today I felt so good I decided to attack. Szmyd was a big help on the climb and without him I wouldn’t have been able to make up so much time, but I didn’t give him the win. I had the legs to win and to win on a mountain as important as Ventoux,” Valverde said. “Today was important in the overall fight for the final victory. I thought it would take more time to widen a gap to Evans. Now I can defend.”
Strong winds rattled the upper reaches of Ventoux’s moon-like summit and proved to be a decisive factor in the stage.
Valverde and Szmyd stepped boldly center-stage in what many expected would be a showdown between Evans and 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (Astana).
But Contador hinted before the stage that he wasn’t overly worried about the GC during the eight-day Dauphiné and preferred to race the grueling mountain stages with one eye on the Tour de France, still nearly a month away.
“Valverde was super-strong today,” Contador said. “At the base of the climb, he told me he wanted to attack and asked me what I was going to do. I said I was going to stay with Evans and that’s when he decided to attack.”
Contador didn’t lift his head when the pair bolted clear, leaving it up to Evans to chase.
Strong winds on the upper part of the climb complicated efforts organize an effective chase as riders tried in vain to counter-attack behind the leading pair.
A frustrated Evans, who regained the race leader’s jersey in Wednesday’s 42km individual time trial, came across the line sixth at 2:10 and slipped to second overall, behind a very fit Valverde with three stages to go.
“It was a bizarre race. It seemed not many riders want to win the Dauphine,” said Evans, who’s been Dauphiné runner-up two years in a row. “It’s hard to have the responsibility of wearing the yellow jersey as well as coping with the wind on the final stretch, that’s tough on the Ventoux. I was expecting Contador to do more.”
Contador rode conservatively and crossed the line eighth at 2:13 back to slot into third at 1:04 back.
“From the start I raced with the idea of saving. I am thinking about the Tour and I don’t want to punish myself,” Contador said. “Ventoux was like it always is, a climb marked with wind in the final kilometers. The wind had a big influence and allowed a group at the front to reform, because those that were trying to attack were paying for it. Those leading at the front were suffering as well, but because they were going at a constant rhythm, they could achieve it.”
Others rode well up the legendary mountain that will be playing a key role in next month’s Tour.
Robert Gesink – second to Evans in a stage to the Mont Serein ski area on the north face of Mont Ventoux in last year’s Paris-Nice – was fourth at 1:50 back. David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) climbed well to finish 11th at 2:28 back and slot into fourth at 1:43 back.
Others left the battle to another day, with promising French climber Rémy Di Grégorio (FDJeux) in 30th at 6:11 off the pace and Ivan Basso (Liquigas) in 35th at 8:14.
The 61st Dauphiné Libéré continues Friday with a short, but potentially explosive 106km sixth stage from Gap to Briancon. The course tackles the Col d’Izoard before a steep descent toward a short but steep 2km climb into Briancon, in a finish that favors Valverde’s explosive racing style versus Evans’ diesel.
Stage results | Click for GC standings
- 1. Sylvester Szmyd in 4:05:04. (POL/LIQ)
- 2. Alejandro Valverde in 0:00. (ESP/GCE)
- 3. Haimar Zubeldia in 1:14. (ESP/AST)
- 4. Robert Gesink in 1:50. (NED/RAB)
- 5. Jakob Fuglsang in 1:59. (DEN/SAX)
- 6. Cadel Evans in 2:10. (AUS/SIL)
- 7. David Moncouti? in 2:13. (FRA/COF)
- 8. Alberto Contador in 2:13. (ESP/AST)
- 9. Vincenzo Nibali in 2:16. (ITA/LIQ)
- 10. Vladimir Efimkin in 2:20. (RUS/ALM)
- 11. David Millar in 2:28. (GBR/GRM)
- 12. Igor Anton in 2:31. (ESP/EUS)
- 13. Rigoberto Uran in 2:31. (COL/GCE)
- 14. Mikel Astarloza in 2:31. (ESP/EUS)
- 15. Jose-Luis Arrieta in 2:43. (ESP/ALM)
- 16. Jesus Hernandez in 3:29. (ESP/AST)
- 17. Christophe Lemevel in 3:35. (FRA/FDJ)
- 18. Christophe Kern in 3:50. (FRA/COF)
- 19. Pierre Rolland in 3:54. (FRA/BBO)
- 20. Marco Marzano in 4:08. (ITA/LAM)
GC standings | Click for Stage results
- 1. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/GCE) in 15:23:17
- 2. Cadel Evans at 0:16. (AUS/SIL)
- 3. Alberto Contador at 1:04. (ESP/AST)
- 4. David Millar at 1:43. (GBR/GRM)
- 5. Haimar Zubeldia at 2:21. (ESP/AST)
- 6. Robert Gesink at 2:34. (NED/RAB)
- 7. Vincenzo Nibali at 2:34. (ITA/LIQ)
- 8. Mikel Astarloza at 2:44. (ESP/EUS)
- 9. Sylwester Szmyd at 3:05. (POL/LIQ)
- 10. Jakob Fuglsang at 3:35. (DEN/SAX)
- 11. Stef Clement at 3:53. (NED/RAB)
- 12. Jose-Luis Arrieta at 5:07. (ESP/ALM)
- 13. Igor Anton at 5:18. (ESP/EUS)
- 14. Christophe Kern at 5:26. (FRA/COF)
- 15. Christophe Lemevel at 5:39. (FRA/FDJ)
- 16. Vladimir Efimkin at 5:50. (RUS/ALM)
- 17. Pierre Rolland at 6:29. (FRA/BBO)
- 18. Christian Knees at 6:41. (GER/MRM)
- 19. Marco Marzano at 7:18. (ITA/LAM)
- 20. Thomas Frei at 7:36. (SUI/BMC)