July 16. 2011
This year’s Tour de France has shown that predictable outcomes are no longer the norm.
The reason, the stage courses have changed, as have the strengths of individual teams, like Team RadioShack.
And even riders whom we expected to be performing at their peak, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck are two obvious examples, are showing weaknesses we never expected to see.
That’s why yesterday’s formidable win by Jelle Vendendert of Omega Pharma Lotto after he took off from a main contender group of cycling stars about 6 km from the finish proved that the guys with big powerhouse teams like HTC Highroad, Team SaxoBank and Team Radioshack last year, don’t always finish first.
A late attack by Samuel Sanchez off the front did not reel Vendendert in, and he won handily.
The stage included seven climbs ending in an Hors Categorie finish at Plateau le Beille. Before the riders would ascend that brutal climb, they also had to face the category 2 Portet d’Aspet (26.5km), the col de la Core (Category 1 at 62.5km), Col de Latrape (Category 2 at 94km), col d’Agnes (Category 1 at 109km), and the Port de Lers Category 3 at 118km).
The first attack of the stage was initiated by Chavanel, and that group grew to 20 people at 2.5 km from the start. The riders included Gerdemann, Voigt, Izagirre, Mollema, Luis Leon Sanchez, Millar, Di Gregorio, Koren, Bouet, Riblon, Zandio, Chavanel, Casar, Delage, Vichot, Quinziato. El Fares, Charteau, Silin and Marcato.
Seven counter-attackers surged ahead of the Europcar-led peloton, this group was composed of: Perez Moreno, Iglinskiy, Costa, Gutierrez, Ventoso, Pineau and Malori.
At the 16 km from the stage start the group of 20 riders led the counter-attack by two minutes and five seconds, and the peloton by four minutes.
At the top of the first climb, the peloton was four minutes and 45 second behind, when Gutierrez, Ventoso and Iglinksiy were dropped from the counter-attack. Then at the 43 km mark, Pineau, Malori, Costa and Perez Moreno caught the lead group, and the gap to the peloton behind them grew to five minutes 4 seconds.
On the slopes of the second climb, there were just 24 riders ahead of the peloton. The peloton was led by Europcar all the way up the col de la Core.
Cavendish was the first to be dropped (with about 1 km to climb). Later it was reported in French sports paper, l’Equipe, that several riders had told reporters they saw Cavendish holding on to the back of a a team car which is not allowed by TDF rules, but those allegations were hotly denied by HTC Highroad’s Directeur Sportif.
Riders Casar, El Fares and Millar descended faster than the rest of the break and arrived at the feed zone at 76.5km with an advantage of 40 seconds.
As the leading threesome began the ascent of the col de la Trappe, Casar became the virtual leader thanks to an advantage of 8 minutes and 45 seconds on the peloton. The former escape companions were now only one minute and 35 seconds ahead.
Leopard-Trek put five riders on the front of the peloton 2 km from the top of the third climb. At that mark (92km), the peloton was more than nine minutes behind the lead group.
Casar took first place on the Trappe climb, ahead of Riblon and one minute and 35 seconds ahead of Chavanel. The peloton was now more than 7 minutes behind when they reached the top, and they were gaining.
The escape group split to pieces on the fourth climb, the Col d”Agnes.
Nine riders formed a lead with 5 km to go to the top of the col d’Agnes: Voigt, Izagirre, Di Gregorio, Riblon, Zandio, Casar, El Fares, Silin and Charteau. With 3 km to climb, Gerdemann and Chavanel rejoined the lead group.
Chavanel and Charteau sprinted for first place points on the col d’Agnes with the French champion winning. On the fourth climb, the peloton was five minutes and 1 seconds behind.
Izagirre attacked the lead group early on the descent and held on to the lead right to the foot of the final climb but ten of his former break group formed a chase and Casar launched an attack right at the foot of the Plateau de Beille ascent.
The peloton arrived at the base of the last climb 2 minutes and 2 seconds behind Casar. With 12 km to climb the Francais des Jeux rider had a lead on the yellow jersey’s group of by one minute and 40 seconds. Voeckler’s group was being helmed by Leopard-Trek riders until the 12.5 km to climb mark when Vande Velde and Danielson moved forward.
While the pace thinned out the yellow jersey’s peloton to just a selection of GC specialists, Casar ploughed on ahead with his move early on the slopes of the final ascent.
Pierre Roland supported Voeckler in a group that also contained Contador, Andy and Frank Schleck, Evans, Peraud, Sanchez, Basso, Uran, Danielson and Jelle Vanendert.
After a series of attacks by Andy – four in total, but not which netted any true gain on his rivals, Vanendert surged ahead.
No one responded to his attack 6.5km to go, and he reeled in Casar, flew past him and raced to the biggest win of his career so far.
Vanendert took over the lead in the climbing classification and will wear the polka-dot jersey in stage 15.
Voeckler will continue to wear the yellow jersey in stage 15.