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Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen won his second stage of the 2011 Tour de France on Wednesday, improving on his second place of the day before and giving Norway two stage wins in a row and its fourth stage of this Tour.
Alberto Contador rode aggressively again, attacking on the final climb and the technical finish descent. But in the end, the defending champion finished in the same time as his GC rivals the Schleck brothers, Cadel Evans and Sammy Sanchez.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) lost 27 seconds of his lead to the Contador-Schleck-Evans group, finishing with Ivan Basso and Tom Danielson. The Frenchman, however, was able to retain his yellow jersey.
He lost all the time not on the climb but on the final descent.
“Mountain biking is not my speciality!” said Voeckler, who had at least three near-crashes on the descent.
“If I’d taken fewer risks I would have finished with Evans and the others. But (losing) 27 seconds is not too bad, it could have cost me a (broken) collarbone.”
The stage-win battle
It was a battle between breakaway colleagues Sylvain Chavanel and Boasson Hagen on the ascent of the day’s final climb, the category 2 Côte de Pramartino. The two traded places at the front with a series of probing attacks. Near the top, Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun) came up to the two and Boasson Hagen was first over the top, followed by Hivert.
Hivert, however, had an adventurous descent, crashing once and another time overcooking a left-hand turn and diverting into a parking lot.
Meanwhile Boasson Hagen was having an excellent descent and hit the flats alone for a final kilometer of time trialing to his second stage win of this Tour, a step up over his second place behind Thor Hushovd on Tuesday.
The GC war
Basso’s Liquigas-Cannondale mates took the front of the yellow jersey group on the opening slopes of the final climb, with Voeckler, Contador and Evans alert near the front on the narrow, shaded road.
The yellow jersey group hit the climb more than five minutes behind the Boasson Hagen/Chavanel breakaway.
Contador threw in the first, very sharp attack on the steeps, but he was marked immediately by Andy Schleck and a remarkable Voeckler. Schleck pulled aside Contador and gave him a look as the two rode side-by-side for a few meters before Voeckler’s team took the front again.
After another attack by Contador, again marked by Andy Schleck and Voeckler, Frank Schleck took the front and the aggression softened for another kilometer. The front group was whittled down to an elite cadre of about 10 riders.
Contador attacked the descent with abandon, joined by Sanchez. But the Schlecks and Evans were able to latch on to the pair in the final kilometer to finish together.
Voeckler had a less successful descent, nearly losing it twice and diverting into the same parking area as Hivert.
Thursday’s stage 18 heads back into France over the hors categorie Col Agnel, which at 9,002 feet (2,744 meters) is the highest mountain pass this year. The peloton will split dramatically here before a sharp descent, and this should herald multiple attacks on the following Col d’Izoard (almost 15km at 7.1 percent). Another technical downhill ends in Briançon, where the race covers a dozen kilometers in the valley before the 23km-long haul to the finish on top of the Col du Galibier.
“Tomorrow’s stage will be decisive,” Andy Schleck said. “I hope it’s not going to be a case of everyone watching each other until we get to the final climb (Galibier),” said the Luxembourger.
“It’s 210 kilometers long and we go up over 2500 meters (8,200 feet elevation) twice. It’s going to be the stage of the Tour.”
Asked to name his top rivals, Schleck said, “I think that Cadel is very strong and Alberto was really strong yesterday, although that was in rainy and cold conditions.
“(Samuel) Sanchez, Alberto and Cadel.”
- 1. Edvald Boasson Hagen , Sky Procycling, 4:18:00
- 2. Bauke Mollema, Rabobank Cycling Team, 0:40
- 3. Sandy Casar, Fdj, at 00:50
- 4. Julien El Fares, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, at 00:50
- 5. Sylvain Chavanel, Quick Step Cycling Team, at 00:50
- 1. Thomas Voeckler, Team Europcar, at
- 2. Cadel Evans, Bmc Racing Team, 01′ 18″
- 3. Frank Schleck, Team Leopard-Trek, at 01:22
- 4. Andy Schleck, Team Leopard-Trek, at 02:36
- 5. Samuel Sanchez, Euskaltel – Euskadi, at 02:59