Schleck Powers up Highest Mountain: Voeckler Still in Yellow

Andy Schleck comes to finish at le Galibier (c) Benepe

July 20, 2011

Luxembourgan Andy Schleck prevailed today on the highest stage of the Tour history, the Col de Galibier, just barely missing the Yellow Jersey, but claiming a large advantage over his fellow competitors.

With over 60 km to go, the Team Leopard Trek rider attacked the Yellow Jersey group halfway up the second major climb of the day, the Col D’Izoard. It was a bold move that eventually gave him an improved position against the general leader, Thomas Voeckler by 2 minutes and 21 seconds, and knocking Cadel Evans into fourth position.

Schleck said he was “very happy” with his win today.

Until now he has been like the proverbial dragon sleeping with one eye open, waiting for the

Andy Schleck after his stage win on the Galibier with reporters (C) Benepe

right moment to strike. Many of the favorites like Contador and Evans had already begun to discount his ability as he played a safe and quiet race–until now. It was a smart move for the rider, who took all them by surprise because they may have thought he no longer had it in him.

The older brother Frank Schleck came in second, creating the one-two punch that everyone likely feared at the beginning of the Tour this year. Damiano Cunego also did well, sliding into fifth position.

Andy Schleck now only has a 15-second deficit to Voeckler, who seemed defeated after the race even though he managed to make up more than a 3-minute lead that the younger Schleck had taken from him during the stage.

Frank Schleck and Thomas Voeckler coming to finish at le Galibier

Asked by Cyclists International if he thought he could prevail with the Yellow Jersey if he still wears it in two days in Grenoble, Thomas Voeckler said he would like that, but “Schleck is very good in the time trial—and he showed today that he had the legs for climbing today, so I am not so sure.” He said the harsh wind and difficult climb made the stage very challenging.

Alberto Contador who showed some of his famous spirit in the last two stages with repeated attacks was dropped by Cadel Evans leading the Yellow Jersey group in a chase after Andy Schleck about 1.5 km from the summit. It was a tough time no doubt for the Spanish rider who had showed so much promise at the beginning of the Tour. His deficit to the younger Schleck is now at three minutes and 50 seconds.

Fans will do anything to see the finish at the summit (c) Benepe

The top of the Galibier has only been included one time before in the Tour, and that was 100 years ago. It is no wonder: with its snaking, steep climbs, and cold, daunting summit, it’s hard not just for riders, but also spectators, the publicity caravan, and all the technicians who set up their equipment at the summit. As CI awaited the arrival of the first riders, fog rolled in, and the temperature dipped to about 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

French police stood on top od the highest peaks warning off would be spectators: in truth there was little space on the top for anyone to see who was coming in first: An eagle flying overhead had the best view, and his shadow took turns flying overhead with the shadows of the helicopters.

Thomas Voeckler expressed pessimism for the final stages after today (C) Benepe

The day started in Pinerolo, Italy, and snaked through the Italian Alps’ Col Agnel, then to the Col d’Izoard. A breakaway of 16 riders formed just before the intermediate sprint, and included Monfort and Posthuma (LEO), Perez-Moreno and Urtasun Perez, (EUS), Hoogerland, Delaplace, Devyenyns.  By 75 km the group was 7 minutes and 45 seconds ahead.

Three riders, including Delage, Burghardt, and Slin caught the group of 16 at the 82 km mark, and one kilometer later, the group was 7 minutes and 50 seconds ahead of the peloton.

A counter attack formed on the Col D’Agnes consisting of Gesink, Moncoutie, Vestra, Arroyo, and Jeannesson.  They were a little over 4 minutes behind the leaders, while several riders from the front group slipped back on the descent.

At the base of the Col d’Izoard, seven attackers were caught, and halfway up the mountain,

The summit of the Galibier from behind (c) Benepe

Schleck attacked the Yellow Jersey group, and got no reaction from the others. The peloton reached the summit about 4 minutes behind the lead group, and two minutes and 15 seconds behind Schleck.

Uran crashed on the descent and lost contact with the Yellow Jersey group, which at that time included the top 10 riders with the exception of Andy Schleck. Later he rejoined the group in Briancon.

At the top of the Galibier after the finish (C) Benepe

With 25 km to the finish, the advantage of the lead group to Andy Schleck’s group was three minutes and 18 seconds. Behind Schleck the Yellow Jersey group included Cadel Evans, Alberto Contador, Frank Schleck, Samuel Sanchez, Basso, Uran, Jeannesson, Cunego, Thomas Voeckler, and several other riders.

With 13 km to go, that group was chasing the Schleck group, but no one wanted to take the lead, in particular Evans, who was left to the task, so the Schleck advantage grew to four minutes and 15 seconds.  When that deficit grew to 4 minutes and 25 seconds, Evans attacked, while ahead of him Andy Schleck surged out on his own.

Finally Evans led a pursuit of Schleck and dropped Contador: The Spaniard eventually finished in tenth position, and three minutes 50 seconds behind Schleck.  Voeckler finished fifth in the stage, 2 minutes and 21 seconds behind Andy Schleck.







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