France finally scored a stage win in this Tour as Europcar’s young Pierre Rolland won atop l’Alpe d’Huez, grabbing the white jersey for best young rider on the day his teammate Thomas Voeckler finally gave up the yellow jersey.
A day after cracking on the final climb and publicly ceding any chance of winning the 2011 Tour de France, Alberto Contador went on the attack early Friday, putting Cadel Evans in a tough spot. The Spaniard’s bid for a stage win finally faded on the Alpe, where he finished third and only gained a handful of seconds on Evans and Andy Schleck.
Schleck took over the jersey from Voeckler and enters Saturday’s critical final time trial with a 57-second gap ahead of Evans. Contador is sixth at nearly four minutes behind Schleck.
“The yellow jersey gives you wings and I hope that is the case tomorrow,” Schleck said at the finish.
“The Tour’s been quite good for me so far, I’ve had one bad day, my legs are good and I’m confident I can actually keep this till Paris,” said Schleck, the runner-up to Contador the past two years.
“It’s not a course for the big specialists, and everybody tells me it’s a course that suits me so I’m hoping that will be the case tomorrow.
“The race is not finished, I have the yellow jersey on my shoulders and I’m sure that’s going to be a huge motivation.”
After his teammate Chris Anker Sorensen softened up the group with a hard attack, Contador attacked on the first of the day’s three climbs, the Col du Telegraph. He was quickly joined by Thursday’s winner, Andy Schleck, yellow jersey Voeckler and Evans.
Voeckler, however, was unable to stay with the Schleck/Contador combine and, after getting dropped himself, Evans suffered a mechanical that forced him to take a bike swap.
Evans, often without allies, had to chase over the Telegraph and the Galibier and down the long descent and leadup to the Tour’s final climb, the Alpe d’Huez.
With some help from Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal, Evans finally rejoined the Schleck-Contador group 15km from the base of the Alpe.
The final climb of the Tour
After Evans made contact, the pace of the front group slowed and Voeckler and others rejoined so that a group of about 30 riders hit the Alpe together.
As the group relaxed, Rolland took a flyer and was joined by Hesjedal; the GC favorites were indifferent to the move.
On the opening switchbacks, Evans was the first GC favorite to go on the attack, and he was soon countered by Contador, who disappeared around the corner and soon caught and passed Hesjedal and Rolland. Evans and Andy Schleck took up the chase. Voeckler faded quickly, making Schleck the leader on the road once again.
Evans settled into to marking Schleck, who eased off and allowed his brother, Cunego, Sanchez, Velits, Hesjedal and others to rejoin. Voeckler, however, was struggling more than two minutes behind.
Rolland and Sanchez attacked the Evans-Schleck group, and slowly inched up to Contador, who weakened in the final 4k.
The pair caught Contador with 2.5km to go and Rolland tried to ride straight past Contador, who fought to hold his wheel. Rolland finally broke free, leaving frequent allies Sanchez and Contador to work together to try and catch the Frenchman. Contador soon let Sanchez go it alone, settling for a third on the stage.
Behind, Evans sensed some weakness in Schleck and attacked repeatedly in the final three kilometers. He couldn’t shake the Luxembourger, but finished with him, Velits, Cunego and Frank Schleck.
Rolland has been Voeckler’s must trusted teammate in the mountains this Tour. This was his first day to go it alone.
“On the Galibier Thomas (Voeckler) told me, ‘forget about me’. That’s when I decided to go for it,” said Rolland.
“I knew the climb to the summit of Alpe d’Huez very well — I did it 10 times during a training camp.”
Saturday’s stage 20 is this year’s only individual time trial, a hilly 42.5km circuit in Grenoble. The same route was used in the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this year, when HTC-Highroad’s Tony Martin won the stage in 55:28.
The Tour concludes Sunday with the race into Paris.
- 1 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 3:13:25
- 2 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:14
- 3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:23
- 4 Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad 0:00:57
- 5 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
- 1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
- 2 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:00:53
- 3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:57
- 4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:02:10
- 5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:03:31