Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck traded his white jersey for yellow in the 97th Tour de France on Tuesday as overnight leader Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) cracked spectacularly on the hors catégorie Col de la Madeleine.
Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) took the stage win in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and an exciting victory it was — Casar was one of four survivors of an 11-man break who saw Schleck and defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana) chase them down in the final kilometer and nearly steal the stage.
But Casar hung tough in the finale, took the right line around the final corner and held off break-mates Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) for the victory.
“The last 5km nobody was riding and it wasn’t exactly what I expecting,” said Casar. “We knew some riders were coming from behind but we didn’t know who it was. I was a little surprised there were no attacks 3-4km from the finish. When the Schleck group caught us and Andy took the lead it was a surprise for us.”
Happily, Casar had studied the road book and knew the first man around the final corner would win.
“At 200 meters I had to go for it. I knew that if I went a little to the left that no one could come by me,” he said.
Schleck now leads Contador by 41 seconds in the overall, with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) third at 2:45. Levi Leipheimer (Team RadioShack) is the best-placed American, slotting into sixth at 3:59.
Schleck said he believed that he and Contador were both riding “at about the same level.” With the Saxo Bank man holding the upper hand by 41 seconds, he added, “It’s now up to him to attack in the Pyrenees.”
As for the defending champion, Contador said, “It was a really epic stage, and the very hard climb to the Madeleine left a lot of people struggling.
“I know what my aim is now, and which wheel I have to follow — Andy Schleck’s. I think he’s the most dangerous.”
There was another change of jerseys on the stage — Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) took the lead in the King of the Mountains competition from Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step).
Not a queen stage, but surely a princess
Talk about a tough wake-up call after a rest day — stage 9 of the Tour, a 204.5km stage 9 from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, served up two Category 1 climbs and the leg-breaking Madeleine.
On any other year it might have been the marquee stage of the Alps. But the Cat. 1 Col de la Columbiere and Col des Saises were too far from the finish to be decisive. And the final climb of the day, the Madeleine, topped out with more than 30km to go.
The stage got right down to business, kicking off with a quick unrated ascent to Les Gets followed by a 13km descent. Next up was the Category 4 Côte de Châtillon, a 2.1km, 3.9 percent climb to the 18.5km mark.
Then the hard part of the day began with the Category 1 climb up the Col de la Colombière, a 16.5km climb that averaged 6.7 percent. Next up, the 7.6km, 5.9 percent, Category 2 ascent of the Col des Aravis, followed by the 14.5km Category 1 Col des Saisies.
The long descent off the Saisies led to a 12km march across the valley to the base of the Col de la Madeleine, this Tour’s first hors catégorie climb. It was 25.5km long and averaged 6.2 percent, topping out at 172.5km, 32km from the finish.
Another long descent followed, capped by a slight rise to the line, with a slight kicker at the end — just to add insult to injury.
Retirements and attacks
Four more riders called it quits after the rest day: Simon Gerrans (Team Sky), Vladimir Karpets (Katusha), Roger Kluge (Milram) and Fabio Felline (Footon-Servetto).
Karpets, who injured his left hand in the stage-2 pileup, learned after an X-ray on Monday’s rest day that he had actually broken the palm.
“I was struggling to keep a grip on the handlebars and it was virtually impossible to continue,” said Karpets, who will take a month off and then concentrate on September’s Vuelta a España.
Concentrating on this grand tour, meanwhile, was a breakaway of 11.
The early break
- Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse D’Epargne), 20th at 05:03
- Sandy Casar (FDJ), 34th at 11:08
- Cyril Gautier (BBox Bouygues Telecom), 51st at 24:17
- Jérôme Pineau, Quick Step), 58th at 27:38
- Anthony Charteau (BBox Bouygues Telecom), 66th at 29:38
- Christophe Moreau (Caisse D’Epargne), 68th at 30:41
- Ivan Gutierrez José (Caisse D’Epargne), 71st at 32:22
- Johannes FrÖhlinger (Team Milram), 92nd at 42:47
- Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) ,116th at 49:29
- Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam), 129th at 53:31 (dropped on the Colombière)
- Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank), 132nd at 55:12
- Later joined by:
- Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese), 98th at 45:14
- Rin Taaramae (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne), 154th at 1:04:36
A chase group formed on the Col de la Colombière. But the group — Janez Brajkovic and Chris Horner (Radio Shack), former yellow jersey Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) and Mathieu Perget — proved unattractive to the peloton and was quickly retrieved.
Hushovd and Frohlinger dropped out of the break on the Colombière as Cunego and Rin Taaramae (Cofidis) tried to bridge, picking up Frohlinger and closing to within 1:20 of the leaders.
Moreau was first over the top, followed by mountains leader Pineau and Charteau. The peloton, led by Evans’ BMC team and Team RadioShack, hit the summit 3:15 behind the nine-man break.
The Cunego group made it across to the break in time to tackle the Col des Aravis. This time Pineau led the way over the top. The peloton followed five minutes later, led by BMC.
Onto the Madeleine
The break extended its lead to 5:30 going onto the Col des Saisies, putting LL Sanchez — 20th overall at 05:03 — into the virtual lead. Once again Pineau took top honors at the summit, followed by Charteau and Moreau.
The gap began dropping, to just over four and a half minutes with 100km to race. But it went back out once more as the leaders hit the 20km stretch between the descent of the Saisies and the start of the Madeleine, putting LL Sanchez back into the virtual yellow jersey. With 73km to race, their lead was more than six minutes.
Taarame popped off the back of the break as behind, Chris Anker Sorensen came to the front and Saxo Bank began drilling it for Schleck, shedding first the classics riders and sprinters like Fabian Cancellara (Saxo) and green jersey Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), and then stage racers like Amgen Tour of California champion Mick Rogers (HTC-Columbia) and Critérium du Dauphiné winner Janez Brajkovic (Team RadioShack).
As the gap to the break closed to five minutes, Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov attacked the bunch, trying to bridge.
The break was coming apart at mid-climb, with LL Sanchez, Casar, Gautier, Charteau, Moreau, Gutierrez, Cunego and Voigt up front with 47km to ride. Vinokourov was making headway, albeit slowly — he caught and passed Taarame, closing to within four minutes and change of the leaders.
Moreau and Spanish national champion Gutierrez were pushing the break for LL Sanchez, while Evans had one teammate setting tempo in the yellow-jersey group. Then Saxo Bank’s Sorensen came to the front once more and put the pressure on.
The break was down to five — Casar, Charteau, LL Sanchez, Moreau and Cunego — as Jakob Fuglsang took over from Sorensen. Defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana) remained in the shrinking peloton, as did RadioShack’s Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong, though teammate Chris Horner was tailed off. So, too, were Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions).
The yellow jersey cracks, as does RadioShack
Evans was yo-yoing off the back with 10km to the summit of the Madeleine. Astana’s Maxim Iglinskiy was on the front and cranking out the revs.
Up front, Moreau was popped off the break — and then Evans cracked, sliding off the bunch being driven by Iglinskiy and Daniel Navarro, with Leipheimer and Armstrong on their wheels. Then Armstrong lost contact, followed by Leipheimer — but Schleck was still there, glued to Contador’s wheel.
Novarro pulled off and Schleck attacked — but he failed to shed the defending champ. Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) came back to them and moved ahead as Schleck and Contador eyed each other.
Schleck attacked again, shedding Samuel Sanchez but not Contador. Another surge, another failure.
Up front the break was down to three: LL Sanchez, Casar and Charteau. Behind, the yellow jersey was losing minutes, not seconds.
Contador and Schleck swept up Gutierrez, the Caisse d’Epargne rider passed a bottle to his countryman, and the three riders began to work together, riding through the remnants of the break.
Gautier tried to hang with the trio, but couldn’t — and then Gutierrez popped off, too, leaving Contador and Schleck to chase the leaders.
Voigt was next to be caught, and he went straight to work for Schleck, dragging the trio up to 2:42 behind the leaders.
Some 90 seconds behind, Armstrong was in a group with Vinokourov, Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Jurgen Van den Broucke (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Leipheimer was ahead of the Armstrong-Basso group, in a chase with Rabobank teammates Denis Menchov and Robert Gesink. Evans, meanwhile, was struggling nearly seven and a half minutes behind the leaders — and five minutes behind the Contador-Schleck-Voigt group.
Ahead, Cunego rejoined LL Sanchez, Casar and Charteau in time to reach the summit of the Madeleine, which was lined six deep with cheering spectators. Charteau led over the top, moving him closer to the polka-dot jersey of Jérôme Pineau.
Behind, Voigt finally shattered, practically coming to a dead stop on the final steeps of the Madeleine as Contador and Schleck forged ahead, with the Saxo Bank man summiting first at 2:10 behind the break. Samuel Sanchez followed some 40 seconds later. The Menchov-Leipheimer group followed at 3:24 with the Basso-Armstrong chase at 4:25.
Evans, who had Steve Morabito with him, crossed at 9:37, more than seven minutes down on his rivals for the overall.
Down the Madeleine
The riders faced a fast 30km descent, and Contador was taking full advantage of it, testing his rival’s nerve as they chased the four-man break.
Van den Broucke flatted on the heavily wooded descent and had to take a spare bike, losing contact with the Armstrong-Basso group.
Samuel Sanchez, who began the day in ninth position overall, was chasing frantically on the descent, closing to within 30 seconds of Contador and Schleck, who had gotten himself in front of the Spaniard to keep the pace manageable. They were within two minutes of the leaders and closing in on Moreau.
With 15km to go the yellow jersey was nearly 10 minutes off the leaders. But Schleck, Contador and Moreau had closed to within 90 seconds of the break with Samuel Sanchez a further 20 seconds in arrears.
Schleck was cornering far more cautiously than the Olympic champ, who had the first chase in his sights going around a right-hand hairpin. The leaders clung to two minutes on the Schleck-Contador chase with 12km to race.
With 10km to go the break still held 90 seconds on its pursuers, while Samuel Sanchez appeared to throw in the towel, having run out of downhill as the race hit the valley.
The final kilometers
Cunego, LL Sanchez, Casar and Charteau began eyeing each other about 6km from the finish. The Contador-Schleck chase was just a minute behind, while Samuel Sanchez was losing ground.
Behind, Evans tried to use the descent to take back some of the time he lost on the Madeleine, but was still nearly 10 minutes off the leaders.
With 3km to go the chase was breathing down the break’s collective neck, just 36 seconds behind, with Contador and Schleck doing the work and Moreau sitting on the wheels.
Cunego was perhaps the strongest sprinter in the break, with LL Sanchez perhaps the strongest time trialist. But the finale best suited a climber, and the chase was just 16 seconds back with 2km to go. Sanchez was a minute back and out of the fight.
Hare and hounds were within sight of each other going under the 1km kite. Schleck was driving the chase with Contador on his wheel. Schleck took the front with 500 meters to go, then Casar led out the sprint with LL Sanchez on his wheel.
Cunego moved forward, but too late — he couldn’t get the inside line on the final corner and Casar took the stage ahead of Cunego and LL Sanchez. Sammy Sanchez crossed next at 55 seconds.
“I had such a bad time on Ramaz, I decided to go for stages,” said Casar. “This one I like a lot. I like the route, it’s difficult but not a summit finish, because that’s not possible for me to win.
“Until the moment you finish second you don’t always know the difference from first or second. But when you begin to win, you know it’s something completely different. Last year I finished twice second in a stage, and I was thinking I really wanted to win. I really willed this victory today.”
The Leipheimer-Menchov group followed at 2:07 with the Basso-Armstrong group at 2:52.
And Evans? He limited his losses, but only slightly, hitting the finish just over eight minutes down. He slid to 18th, at 7:47 behind Schleck.
Admitting his Tour is now all but over, the Aussie said an injury to his left arm, sustained during a crash on stage 8, left him below par.
“I’m not at my normal level, but when you’re in the yellow jersey at the Tour whether you’re good or not you have to be there,” said Evans. “I haven’t seen the results yet but I’m pretty sure it’s over for this year.
Stage 10 is the last alpine stage, taking riders over only three categorized climbs with the most difficult, the Cat. 1 Cote de Laffrey, falling just 77km into the stage.
While the profile looks somewhat benign for a stage in the Alps, history suggests otherwise. On a nearly identical course in 1971, Eddy Merckx experienced one of the most trying days of his Tour career. Unable to follow the accelerations of other top contenders on the Cote de Laffrey, he was forced to chase for 100km behind Spain’s Luis Ocaña. Merckx finished third, almost 9 minutes behind Ocaña. Only 38 riders finished within half an hour of the winner. More on stage10.
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