July 19, 2011—-Gap, France—In a day spotted with calm weather and flats followed by dense
rains, difficult climbs, attacks and counter attacks, Thor Hushovd come to the front once again to win the stage in Gap 162.5 km from the start.
The idea that the Norwegian is no longer seeking the Green Jersey, but is looking to better pastures, has finally sunk in.
After the stage he said his team mate Ryder Hesjedal started the attack and he had no other choice than to follow him.
But although the World Champion told reporters he felt bad to attack his fellow country man Edvald Boasson Hagen, Hushovd at the same time he “had to do it for the team.”
“It’s been a really super Tour de France for me. I was strong at the beginning of the race. But its not just luck but because I spent a lot of concentration and energy on those stages (that I won,)” said Hushovd at a press conference after the stage.
Among the general contenders for the tour classification it was a difficult final 20 km with attacks and counter attacks, the most dramatic attacks delivered by Alberto Contador on the way up to le Manse. He showed his famous ability to drive an acceleration on the climb, and managed to put some time between himself and Andy and Frank Schleck.
Those two Leopard Trek riders pose the most challenge for Contador in the Alps as they become steeper and longer.
Thomas Voeckler kept his Yellow Jersey by staying close to the finishers, while Cadel Evans battled it out with Contador and Sanchez to the finish line. Evans showed a lot of strength, perhaps more than Voeckler, and if he isn’t surpassed by Contador and the Schlecks in the final three Alp stages, Evans could be someone to really contend with.
The general classification for the Tour’s top six riders did not change in the end, with Cadel Evans second, Frank Schleck third, Andy his brother fourth, Samuel Sanchez fifth and Contador sixth.
But it was evident from today’s attacks that Contador showed a stronger and better form than
that of the two Schlecks and Voeckler, and it remains to be seen if he continues in this way tomorrow and the next day, he might shatter a few cyclists’ strength.
After the stage Voelcker said he may have made a mistake by thinking the other GC contenders would follow Contador’s attacks, but he was not able to follow by himself. “I was disappointed that I lost time, but I have no regrets,” said the Frenchman, who said he thought overall he did better than he had expected to in the end. He also pointed out that he won time over Ivan Basso (in 7th position) and Andy Schleck (in 5th).
Mark Cavendish, the “fastest man in the world,” at least in a sprint, was able to stay within the
time cut to preserve his Green Jersey. After today’s second break and sprint performance by Hushovd, it appears the World Champion has really and truly (and perhaps finally) left the Green Jersey competition to others.
Cavendish told French television that he tried to conserve energy today so he could try and retain the Green Jersey through the next few challenging stages in the Alps. That will be his goal when he rides into Paris on July 24th.
He also flatly refuted the repeated accusations from French television reporters which he called “false” that he had been seen holding onto the back of a car in one of the tougher climbing stages in the Pyrenees. “When I am 50 years old I will be able to sit in my chair and say I did my best,” he told reporters after the stage.
At 20 km to the end of the course, while the battle was still high in the mountains before the descent into Gap, the lead rider Mikhail Ignatyev was 6 minutes ahead of the peloton. Pouring rain that started once the race hit the mountains added to the misery of riders.
With only 5 km to go, Ignatyev was 8 minutes ahead when Alberto Contador attacked the Yellow Jersey group that included Voeckler, the Schleck boys, Sanchez, and Evans.
Contador was followed by Voeckler and Sanchez, who bridged the gap: Team Leopard’s Schleck brothers followed with Fabian Cancellara, and BMC’s Cadel Evans close behind.
Contador was caught. Then there was a counter attack by Andy Schleck, but he could not shake off the other riders.
Meanwhile, in the lead groups, Hesjadel rode behind Ignatiev but also ahead of the peloton; behind Ignatiev was Hushovd, and Edgar Boasson Hagen.
Contador attacked again, this time with a fury. He was trailed by Voeckler, then Andy Schleck. Eventually the rest of the lead group containing the Yellow Jersey had caught up, but then Contador launched another attack, with a pursuit by Evans, then Sanchez close behind. Andy Schleck was shredded in the third or fourth aggressive move.
Then Evans came to the front and Contador followed, with Sanchez close behind.
Dropped, Andy Schleck led another pursuit behind Contador.
Contador continued to attack at the front of his three-man group, while ahead, Hushovd and Hesjadel passed Boasson-Hagen on the descent. Boasson Hagen hung on to his new team mates as they rounded the famous Beloki curve without incident: that became the famous corner when Lance Armstrong flew across the grass to avoid crashing into Joseba Beloki in front of him in 2003.
The group in front containing Hushovd, soon passed Tony Martin, and they were at the front on the descent. At that point it was Hushovd, Boasson Hagen, and Ignatiev, with Martin behind them by 30 seconds, and Contador and Evans behind by 4:35 as they started the tricky descent into Gap.
Now Voeckler, Andy Schleck and others were in a fourth chase group about 5 minutes behind the lead group.
In the follow the FDJ rider Arnold Jeannenson slid down the pavement at the Beloki Corner. Ahead, Contador pulled in front of Evans and Sanchez. Then they switched places as Evans pulled ahead of Contador as he was the better descender on this twisted and wet entry into Gap.
As the three leaders came to the finish line, Hushovd pulled out in the final 100 meters, and bested Boasson Hagen with a little help from teammate Hesjadel.
Behind them, Tony Martin of HTC Highroads came in fourth. Alberto Contador who had battled with Evans and Sanchez did not increase his standing from sixth position.
Play by Play
The day did not look promising when we started off from St. Paul Trois Chateau at 6:30 am this morning. The idea was to test the route and see just how difficult the course would be for the riders.
Soon after our start, it began to rain, then to pour. On arrival in Gap several hours later, it was cold, wet, in a word, horrible. But by the time the racers left the start at 13:00 hours, the sun was shining, spectators were cheering, and the blue sky was peaking through the clouds.
Would the good weather follow the riders? On the twisting descent from the summit at le Manse to Gap, we saw nothing but narrow 180-degree pin curves, recipes for crashes and accidents even in clear weather, and perhaps a recipe for tragedy in bad weather.
The weather did not hold, and riders were enveloped in a slanting, nasty rain that sent tire spit into their faces throughout the ascent to the col de Manse. And roads on the descent were wet, but those conditions did not affect the race general contenders, except perhaps to make them more cautious on the final kilometers down into Gap.
At about 36 km from the start, there was an attack at the front, and 10 riders were able to get away. That attack was eventually absorbed by the peloton once they reached the gentle slopes heading up to le Manse, a two category climb.
But another attack at 91 km from the start included Hushovd, Hesjedal, Boasson Hagen, Perez-Lezaun (EUS), Devenyns (QST), Grivko (AST), Roy (FDJ), Martin, (THR) and Ignatyev (KAT). That break was ahead of the peloton by six minutes and 20 seconds when it reach 25 km to the finish.
Ignatyev flew to the front of the lead group at the base of the final climb to the col de Manse, and kept his lead well after the start of the descent. Behind him however, Hushovd, Hesjedal and Boasson Hagen had made a counter attack.