I thought that the racing in the Pyrenees was a bit boring, and said so in a couple of my recent posts. The riders have more than made up for their apparent reluctance to race properly since Le Tour hit the Alps.@lancearmstrong agrees with me, he tweeted earlier;
If you thought the Pyrenees were boring (I admit, so did I) then the boys are making up for it yesterday and today!
Stage 19 was short (by Tour de France standards) 109.5 km trip from Modane Valfréjus to Alpe-d’Huez. That is the sort of distance that I might do on a Saturday ride. I probably wouldn’t take my route over the Col du Telégraph the Col du Galibier and finish it 1850m up on l’Alpe d’Huez. and I couldn’t even dream of trying to do that distance in just over three hours, even if it was pan flat.
The stage produced another fascinating afternoon of racing. This time with Alberto Contador animating the race. I was working at home today and I managed to resist going downstairs to watch it, just relying on cyclingnews.com’s live text report to keep up with what was happening. I cracked before Thomas Voeckler did for the second time, and went down and put the telly on to watch the final climb.
I’m not sure why Contador initially attacked on the Col du Telégraph, if he was only intending to win the stage, surely he would have been better to wait until the final climb? If it was to try to win the Tour, then it was a brave move, but the 45 km descent from the Galibier to Bourg d’Ossians was always likely to bring the race back together at the foot of the final climb. It might just have been a show of defiance.
Another thread in the narrative of this year’s race has been the failure of a French rider to win a stage. Norway has two riders in the race, France had forty-four at the start of the race. A the start of today’s stage the score was Norway 4 France 0 – slightly embarrassing. Thomas Voeckler salvaged a lot of national pride with his time in le Maillot Jaune, but as early as the Col du Telégraph, when he found himself stuck in no-man’s land after trying and failing to go with Contador’s first attack, it was obvious that today would be the day when he was going to finally lose the jersey. Pierre Roland, the rider who has been Voeckler’s bodyguard throughout his time in yellow was given his freedom to ride his own race. He grabbed it with both hands.
He attacked initially with Ryder Hesjedal at the bottom of the final climb. They were both caught by Alberto Contador after he had attacked the GC group. They dropped Hesjedal soon after that. Roland hung on for a while after before Contador gradually rode away from him. With about 5km to go Samuel Sánchez attacked the Schleck/Evans group and quickly bridged up to Pierre Roland, Roland took his wheel and allowed Sánchez to take them both up to Contador. By this time Contador was beginning to fade, not too much, but you could see that it was beginning to hurt seriously. Roland attacked and neither Sánchez or Contador could do anything to counter. He rode off to record the first French stage win of this Tour, and the first French win on Alpe d’Huez since Bernard Hinault won there in 1986.
About a minute further back the Schlecks and Cadel Evans were having a slightly bad-tempered stalemate. Andy Schleck wanted Evans to ride, Evans said no, there are two of you and only one of me. The all eventually finished in the same time, about a minute down on Roland.
Three of the competitions are pretty well tied up. Samuel Sánchez, by finishing second on the stage today picked up enough mountain points to put him into the lead in the King of the Mountains competition, and since there are no more climbs he has won the Polka-dot Jersey. Garmin-Cérvelo have the team prize as good as won, and Mark Cavendish looks to have the Green Jersey tied up as well. Cav lost another twenty points for finishing outside the time limit (along with roughly half the peleton) but his nearest rival Jose Joaquin Rojas was also in the same group so he lost 20 points as well. The Green Jersey is now his to lose.
Le Maillot Jaune is still very much in the balance. Andy Schleck has 57 seconds lead over Cadel Evans (and 53 second over his brother Frank, but I am assuming that Frank won’t try to beat Andy). Evans is a better time trialist than either of the brothers. Andy Schleck’s time trialling has improved over the years, and in last years final time trial, he matched Alberto Contador for a long time before fading slightly towards the end.
A reporter asked him whether he would beat Andy Schleck by enough to win the Tour a very grouchy and monosyllabic “Cuddles” stated;
“I’ve had been is a similar position twice before, and both times I lost.”
We will find the answer about quarter past five tomorrow afternoon. For what it’s worth I think that he probably has enough of a time trial to take the required 57 seconds back, but it could be as close as 1989
The stage will be won by Fabian Cancellara, probably with Tony Martin second and possibly David Millar third.