Valverde defends, Leipheimer slips, Trofimov surprises
By Andrew Hood
It’s not the longest climb nor is it the highest, but the Joux-Plane always proves troublesome in any race it’s featured.
That was certainly the case in Friday’s short but explosive 125km fifth stage in the 60th Dauphiné Libéré that saw plenty of action on both sides of the 11.5km climb high in France’s Haut-Savoie.
A pair of mountain bikers-turned-roadies were among the main protagonists as Yury Trofimov flew down the treacherous descent to win the stage into Morzine and Cadel Evans turned the screws to Levi Leipheimer up the 10 percent grades to claw into second overall.
Trofimov, who won the U-23 world mountain bike championship in 2005, attacked compatriot Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Juan José Cobo (Saunier Duval-Scott) near the Joux-Plane summit and rocketed into Morzine to win 18 seconds ahead of Evans, who twice won the World Cup mountain bike circuit.
“It’s a big surprise for me to win, because when I went into the breakaway, I wasn’t thinking about winning,” said Trofimov, who will race for the Russian mountain bike team in Beijing. “When I passed over the Joux-Plane, I took risks on the descent because I’m good on the downhill. My goal now is to finish in the top 10.”
Trofimov slotted into fourth at 2:16 back on a day that saw Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) solidify his grip on the race leader’s jersey.
Evans attacked on the upper reaches of the Joux-Plane to distance Leipheimer, who started the day second at 23 seconds back but couldn’t quite match the pace following an acceleration by Valverde.
Leipheimer, fresh off finishing 18th in a Giro d’Italia he didn’t expect to start, stayed close as Valverde, Evans, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre) and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) were leading the GC group toward the Joux-Plane summit.
Evans took digs in at the front to open up enough gap to Leipheimer that he could never regain contact.
Evans out-sprinted Valverde to take second at 18 seconds back, but there were no time bonuses at the line. Leipheimer crossed the line ninth at 1:24 back and moved into third at 1:29 back.
“I got a bit of an extra incentive when I saw Leipheimer struggling,” said Evans, now second at 37 seconds back. “I was trying to put some time on Leipheimer and move up one step at a time, from third to second, but I don’t know if I can think about winning because I see Valverde really strong.”
Valverde, who finished third to tighten his grip on the leader’s jersey, faces Saturday’s decisive climbing stage finishing on the La Toussuire summit with renewed confidence.
“I attacked to test Evans and Leipheimer. Evans could follow and the truth is that I was feeling good on the climb,” said Valverde, who’s won two stages and held the leader’s jersey since Wednesday. “Gesink was really setting a hard pace on the Joux-Plane to explode the group.”
Valverde is now firmly in the driver’s seat heading toward the final two stages. His Caisse d’Epargne team rode well to protect his flanks and he had plenty in the tank to fend off attacks on the Joux-Plane.
Valverde relaxed by drinking a Budweiser and eating a sandwich while waiting for post-stage doping controls.
“I have nothing to fear in the final two stages. Things are going well and I hope they continue on the same path for the remaining days,” Valverde said. “I’m closer to winning the Dauphiné. Tomorrow will be hard, but I have good sensations. I didn’t come here thinking to win, but now that it’s there for the taking, I’m not going to let it slip away.”
Pain on the Joux-Plane
The 125km leg from Ville-La-Grand to Morzine saw an early break that included Trofimov, George Hincapie (High Road), Hubert Dupont and Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Juan José Cobo (Saunier Duval-Scott), Daniel Navarro (Astana), Iñigo Cuesta (Team CSC) and Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas).
The pace up the steeps of the Col de Joux-Plane shot riders out the back of both break and chase. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) came to the front of the peloton and trimmed the chase to five riders, among them race leader Valverde, Levi Leipheimer (Astana), Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre) and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). Up front, the break was down to three riders: Efimkin, Cobo and Trofimov.
Gesink’s efforts continued to draw praise, with Valverde saying that the 22-year-old Dutch rider “has a big future ahead of him.”
For Gesink, who moves into fifth at 2:36 back, Friday’s fireworks are just a prelude for what he hopes will be a victory atop La Toussuire in Saturday’s queen stage.
“I came here with some GC ambitions and I went hard in the lower and middle parts of the climb because the pace was pretty slow. I wanted to try eliminate a few guys and move up higher,” said Gesink, sixth in the stage at 26 seconds back. “I was happy to get down the Joux-Plane in one piece. People said it’s a dangerous downhill, but I got down it okay, so that’s a good sign for me for the future. Tomorrow? I’d love to win the stage. I almost won at Mont Ventoux (at Paris-Nice), so I’m going to be extra-motivated tomorrow.”
Then Valverde had a dig out of the chase, shelling Leipheimer. Szmyd jumped next, followed by Evans, Valverde and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Evans took over then, driving the chase up the Col de Joux-Plane.
Up front, Cobo briefly went it alone in the final kilometer of the climb to collect the KOM points, and the break summited some 40 seconds ahead of the Valverde group with 12 downhill kilometers to go.
Then, on a short rise following the initial descent, first Szmyd and then Trofimov attacked. As Cobo faltered, the Bouygues Telecom rider whistled down the technical descent, quickly taking a gap.
Cobo was happy with the effort.
“First, I was hoping to win the stage, but I’m still not quite 100 percent, so to gain the King of the Mountains jersey is a nice consolation prize for the day’s effort,” said Cobo, who won the 2007 Vuelta al País Vasco. “I’m here to gain fitness for the Tour. I’ll take aim for the top 10 in the Tour. Last year I was 20th in my first crack at it, so this year, I’m things will go even better.”
With 4km to go, Trofimov had more than 30 seconds on his closest pursuers. Three kilometers later, he clearly had the victory in hand — taking a quick glance over one shoulder, he zipped up, drove to the line and threw both arms skyward, clapping his hands once and then blowing a two-handed kiss to the crowd.
Evans followed 18 seconds later for the runner-up spot, with Valverde on his wheel for third. Leipheimer, meanwhile, crossed in ninth spot, nearly 90 seconds off the winning pace.
Dauphiné Libéré: stage 5 (provisional)
1. Yury Trofimov (Rus), Bouygues Telecom, 125km in 3:07:46 (39.943 km/h)
2. Cadel Evans (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 0:18
3. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, same time
4. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:23
5. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol), Lampre-Fondital, at 0:26
6. Robert Gesink (Ned), Rabobank, s.t.
7. Juan Jose Acebo Cobo (Sp), Saunier Duval-Scott, s.t. ‘
8. Vladimir Efimkin (Rus), Ag2r-La Mondial, at 0:44
9. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Astana, at 1:24
10. Michael Rogers (Aus), Team High Road, s.t.
Overall (after 5 stages)
1. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 17:57:50
2. Cadel Evans (Aus), Silence-Lotto, at 0:37
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Astana, at 1:29
4. Yury Trofimov (Rus), Bouygues Telecom, at 2:16
5. Robert Gesink (Ned), Rabobank, at 2:36
6. Cyril Dessel (F), Ag2r-La Mondiale, at 3:03
7. Maxime Monfort (B), Cofidis, at 3:13
8. Mikel Astarloza (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:15
9. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 3:17
10. Pierre Rolland (F), Crédit Agricole, at 4:25