TDF 2012: Stage 17: Valverde Takes Lead over Two Mountains to Finish

Valverde first over the finish in Peyregudes, Stage 17 TDF 2012 (ASO)

By Jen Benepe, July 19, 2012

Alejandro Valverde won his fourth stage of the Tour de France today, cresting the last climb through the Peyregude in the Pyrenees, just 19 seconds ahead of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.

Valverde showed himself aggressive riding in the second to last climb over the Port de Bales, pulling away from his competitors and finishing the last 31 km out in front and alone.

The Movistar rider got the second win for a Spain in the Tour (Luis Leon Sanchez was the first), and the first for his team. It was a remarkable move for the Spaniard who was busy serving a suspension last year, when his teammate Rui Costa won the stage at the Super Besse.

Costa helped his team leader today halfway up the Cote de Bales, then dropped off as Valverde took the lead.

It was also a remarkable ride for the Spaniard who was nearly caught by the two leaders of the general classification, Sky Team riders Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the  last 2 km of the stage. But Chris Froome, who had accelerated up the last kilometer of the Peyresoude slowed to allow teammate and Yellow Jersey holder Wiggins, keep up.

Valverde celebrates the 17th stage win, TDF 2012 (ASO)

Froome who has shown he could better Wiggins in the mountains could have won the stage, but instead chose to help his teammate increase the lead against competitor, Vincenzo Nibali of the Liquigas Cannondale Team.

The Liquigas Cannondale Team took the lead in the front of the peloton aggressively in this stage in an attempt to drop the two Sky riders, Wiggins and Froome. But even with Ivan Basso leading the group over the Port de Bales, they were unable to put a dent into the two British riders.

Instead, it was Froome and Wiggins who accelerated in the last 5 km up the Peyresoude to drop Nibali, and leave him in the dust.

Losing 18 seconds today, Nibali is now 2 minutes and 41 seconds off from Wiggins and in third position overall.

Thibaud Pinot, the youngest rider in the Tour who has wowed the French with his abilities this year, was fourth in the stage after having chased and closed the gap.  He had hoped to put more time between himself and American Tejay van Garderen who rides for Team BMC, but van Garderen still holds the honor of best young rider.

Van Garderen lost 20 seconds to Pinot, but came in fifth. Behind him, another American Chris Horner showed that he is the best climber this year in his RadioShack Nissan Team.

Cadel Evans who managed to stay in close contact with Liquigas teammates Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso, increased his placement from 7th yesteday, to 6th today. Yesterday Evans lost time in the Pyrenees due to a stomach parasite that weakened him significantly in the steep Pyrenees.

With so much time lost to the leaders, it is doubtful Evans could claw his way back into the top three before Paris, even with the 55.5 km time trial ahead in stage 19 from Bonneval to Chartres.

If you recall, two of the youngest riders, Tejay van Garderen was fourth at the prologue and Edvald Boasson Hagen was fifth. Evans was 13th, and only a second ahead of Nibali.

At the time trial in Besancon for stage 9, a 41.5 km course brought the best out in Tejay van Garderen, who placed a better time than Evans: Evans was sixth in that event.

Of course, Fabian Cancellara who won the prologue, and was in the top three in stage 9, and was never in contention for the overall general classification, left the tour midway to join his wife who was giving birth to their child.

Barring any mishaps on stage 18, a flat sprinters’ stage, that means the final time trial will likely be a fight for fourth position between Tejay van Garderen and Jurgen van den Broeck, who now has a two minute and 20 second lead over van Garderen.

But now, it looks like the top three in Paris will be Wiggins, Froome and Nibali.

Summary of Stage 17: Bagneres de Luchon to Peyregudes

Today the stage went backwards from the Haut Garoane region to the backside of the Pyrenees that the riders crested yesterday in stage 16, the Peyresoude.

Yesterday in stage 16 the Europcar rider Thomas Voeckler was first over the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde passes and collected a total of 70 points to put himself four points head of the former leader of this competition, Frederik Kessiakoff (AST).

Today he would have to be aggressive over the five climbs ahead, the category-one Col de Menté (at 27.5km), the category-two Col des Ares (at 55.5km), the category-three Cote de Burs (at 76km), the final ‘Hors Categorie’ ascent of the 99th Tour – the Port de Balès (at 111.5km) and the category-one final climb which is 1km shy of the finish in Peyragudes.

There would be five climbs today, starting with Col de Mente, a one category climb.

There were 23 riders up in a break up front as they approached the first climb, the one category Col de Mente, including Thomas Voeckler, who was determined to continue his lead in the climbing category. Among them also was Fredrik Kessikoff who had lost his King of the Mountain jersey to Voeckler in stage 16. Today he wanted to claw back those points.

At the base of the Mente, the lead group was reduced to 20 riders and included Voeckler and Kessiakoff, Brice Feillu, Vorganov, Plaza, Levi Leipheimer, Rein Taaramae, Maxime Monfort, Dan Martin, Nicki Sorensen, Minard, Sandy Casar, and Jelle Vanendert.

Also at  the front was the Movistar rider Ruben Plaza bringing with him Cobo (MOV) Pierre Rolland (EUC) and Denis Menchov (KAT) .

After 24 km of racing the group had established a 15-second lead over the peloton, but back in the main group, several riders were being dropped on the climb over the Col de Mente, among them Peter Sagan, Phillipe Gilbert, George Hincapie, David Millar, Marzano, Azanza, and Riblon.

Then Cobo who had been dropped by the lead group, and caught by the peloton, also slipped backwards.

As the riders approached the summit, Voeckler took the lead with help from teammate Pierre Rolland, and the points over the mountain which amounted to 10 points.

This was going to be the easiest of the climbs to come, as the increasing difficulty of the climbs, exhaustion of the riders, and the forming and reforming of splintered chase groups continued to reshape the leaders in this stage.

Voeckler was so determined to maintain his lead, he also won over the Col de Ares, taking a jump ahead of Kessiakoff and maintaining his lead as they crested the summit collecting 5 more points.

At the Cote de Burs, a category 3 climb, the lead group was still in front of the peloton, and Izaguirre made an attack, but Voeckler matched him taking the points on the summit again, besting Kessiakoff who was on his wheel, and gaining another 9 points.

Ahead were the biggest climbs of the day, the Port de Bales, a hors categorie (outside of category) 11.7 km climb with an average grade of 7.7 percent, followed by a two-punch col de Peyresoude and the Peyragudes a one-category climb of 15.4 km and an average 5.1 percent grade. The finish would be a one km downhill.

As the riders approached the Port de Bales, a three-man break established ahead of the early break, and consisted of two Spanish riders, Insausti Izaguirre and Azanza, of Euskaltel Euskadi, and an Agro Shimano rider, Blel Kadri. They had 11.7 km to go to the summit. As they climbed, they were ahead of the chase group, but soon they the two riders had dropped Azanza.

The 25-year-old Kadri had previously won a stage in St. Gaudens in the Pyrenees in the Rud de Sud 2010.

In the peloton, the Liquigas riders organized in front, arranging for a win by their man Vincenzo Nibali, so much so the front of the group looked like a big, multheaded blue and green insect.

At 11 km to the summit, there was a gap of 2 minutes and 23 seconds to the leaders. Richie Porte who had fallen in the feedzone along with Mark Cavendish, both of the Sky Team, came back to the peloton.

Six Liquigas riders were attempting to drop Wiggins and Froome, and rode aggressively off the front followed by a contingent from the Movistar Team.  But Wiggins sat on the wheel of Nibali, and as they continued to climb, they had dropped already three Liquigas riders. Still with Nibali was Ivan Basso, a formidable climber.

Cavendish fell off the back of the follow group of the peloton as they climbed the Port de Bales. Soon a sprinters group was established at the back, including Cavendish and Peter Sagan.

Other riders losing contact with the peloton were Velits, Riblon, Vanendert, Moinard, Coppel, Morkov, Jeansdesboz, and Hincapie.

Ahead, at 8 km from the top of the Bales, Kadri and Izaguirre were 6 seconds ahead of the chase group which now included six riders, Egoi Martinez, Stortoni, Alejandro Valverde, Rui Costa, Levi Leipheimer, and Weening (OGE), and they were about to catch the leaders.

Not in the six man group, but in a second chase was Thomas Voeckler’s group, 30 seconds behind.

Rui Alberto Costa, a Movistar rider then attacked and went ahead at the front of the stage. Costa was the winner of the Tour de Suisse in June.  He was 5 km from the summit of the Bales.

Then Voeckler bridged up to the chase group with several other riders, and they formed a group of seven riders, Peraud, Casar, Kessiakoff, Weening, Vinokourov, and Stortoni (LAM). They were 1 minute and 10 seconds behind Kadri who was in between by 25 seconds, and Costa was in front.

The peloton was 2 minutes behind, with the gap to the leaders, dropping every kilometer.

Cadel Evans was in the lead peloton group with Bradley Wiggins, Vincenzo Nibali, and Chris Froome. They narrowed the gap to one minute and 14 seconds.

Then at the front, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) attacked at the front of the chase group to the leader, Costa, and joined him.  Behind them by 11 seconds were two riders, Levi Leipheimer and Egoi Martinez. This was going to be the beginning of the end, with Valverde staying out in front for the rest of the stage.

Behind that group, now less than 5 km from the top, was Insausti Izaguirre and Blel Kadri, and behind that group of two were seven riders, one minute and 10 seconds behind the leaders, Sandy Casar, Thomas Voeckler, Alexandre Vinokourov, Jean Christophe Peraud, Fredik Kessiakoff, Simone Stortoni, and Peter Weening.

Behind them by two minutes was the Yellow Jersey peloton.

Then Valderde went into the lead, dropping Costa.

The Liquigas group continued to pick up the pace of the Yellow Jersey group with Dominique Nerz leading the pace.

Casar’s group was one minute 45 seconds behind Valverde, and behind them, Vinokorouv was picked up by the peloton.

In between the leader, Valverde who was stretching his lead, was Egoi Martinez, then Kadri, Leipheimer, and Costa.

Behind that group was Voeckler, Izaguirre and Kesiakoff, one minute and 36 seconds behind the leader as he crested the top of the Port de Bales.

Egoi Martinez and Costa went through the summit in 2nd and 3rd place.

As he descended, Valverde stretched his lead to 2 minutes and 20 seconds to the peloton.

Mist surrounded the narrow roads on the descent where some of the riders could reach 70 mph riding downhill. Valverde was still out on his own, now 28 km from the finish, with the Peyresoude still ahead of him.

He then had a 50 second advantage to Martinez, and Costa, one minute and 38 seoncds to Leipheimer and Kadri, and one minute and 59 seconds to Voeckler, Kessiakoff and Izaguirre.

Now there was only 24 km left to the stage, and still Valverde was in the lead, and Team Liquigas had still not been able to put a dent into the lead of Bradley Wiggins.

With his good descending skills, Voeckler went ahead of Kessiakoff  on the back of Bales, and he caught up to Kadri and Leipheimer, who were the second chase group to the leader.

The Liquigas Cannondale continued to push the pace, and the gap to the front was dropping.

Then Kessiakoff also bridged the gap to the seond chase group of Thomas Voeckler, Levi Leipheimer and Kadri.

Izaguirre was dropped from the third chase group on the descent.

All the riders were approaching the two punch Peyresoude-Peyregude, a 10 km climb to the summit, and there was 20 km to go.

Rui Costa missed a turn on the descent, but ahead, his Movistar teammate Valverde was still in front, and starting the climb up the Peyresoude.

 

The gradient up the back of the Peyresoude (they climbed the front in yesterday’s stage,) averaged 5.1 percent grade.

Soon the third chase group was caught by the peloton, including Voeckler, Kadri and Leipheimer. Still ahead was Martinez followed by Costa.

One km from the summit of the Peyresoude, Valverde was ahead by one minute and 56 seconds in front of Martinez, two minutes and 14 seconds ahead of Costa, and 2 minutes and 34 seconds from the peloton.

Ivan Basso continued to push the pace at the front of the peloton, with a win in mind for his teammate Vincenzo Nibali.

Dropped off the back were Thomas Voeckler, and Chris Anker Sorensen with two damaged fingers that he hurt when trying to put newspaper for a descent and caught his hand in his wheel. Maxime Monfort of Agri Shimano and Haimar Zulbedia were also dropped. By the end of this stage, that would cost Zubeldia his position in the overall GC.

Alejandro Valverde was still ahead by two minutes and 25 seconds to the peloton.

Twenty four men were in the peloton group pursuing Valverde, among them Wiggins, Nibali, Evans, Monfort, Scarponi, Menchov, Martin, Roche, Trofimov, Basso, Boasson-Hagen, Rogers, Caruso, Horner, van Garderen, Brajkovic, Pinot, Rollland, Vandendert, Porte, and of course Chris Froome who has now become a very familiar presence in the lead peloton group.

Jelle Vanendert of Lotto Belisol moved aggressively ahead of the peloton, hoping to make a push for Jurgen van den Broeck, but VDB did not respond, and Vanendert continued ahead.

Then Brajkovic was dropped along with Rogers, and Kern (EUC).

As they approached the cloud line, Vanendert was still trying to reach Valverde ahead, who was a minute and 47 seconds ahead with 8.4 km to go, 4.3 km of climbing and the rest downhill.

As Ivan Basso pushed the pace, Cadel Evans was dropped by the Yellow Jersey. He was knocked out by a parasite infection and lost time yesterday as the peloton hit the Pyrenees. Today he was trying to stay in the top 10.

Jurgen van den Broeck lifted the pace, and was followed by Rolland (EUC) then Kern and Pinot: Nibali and Basso were left behind, but still in contact. Wiggins remained unruffled by the accelerations ahead of him, and the group came back together.

At 6 km from the top, Thibaut Pinot attacked the chase group, and was nailed back by Van den Broeck. In that group there were now only 8 riders, Wiggins, Froome, Nibali, Van den Broeck, Van Garderen, Rolland, Pinot and Roche.

Basso was dropped by the attack, with Evans behind him.

Valverde went over the summit of the Col de Peyresoude with a minute and 60 seconds over the group behind.

As he approached the final climb to the Peyregude, the final big climb of this year’s Tour de France, he was still ahead by one minute 25 seconds, but behind Wiggins was initiating an attack with 3 km to go, to create a win for his teammate Froome.

Then Froome accelerated, unhitching Horner at the back, ahead of VDB, then Wiggins, and pulling away from van Garderen and Nibali.

Soon it was just Froome and Nibali, and had imploded the peloton across the Pyrenees, and come closer to Valverde who was now only 45 seconds ahead.

Valverde had one km to go, and Froome accelerated to catch Valverde, but then slowed down to bring back Wiggins.

It looked like he was forsaking his win of the stage to clinch the win in Paris. Now the gap was 33 seconds, and there was a flat downhill for one km coming after the summit.

Pinot, in battle for the white jersey, breached up to the two chasers, Froome and Wiggins.

Two British riders dominating the Tour de France in the Pyrenees, this could be where they would win the Tour this year.

Valverde rode proudly over the finish line in Peyregude, zipping up his jersey and smiling.

Froome and Wiggins came behind the leader Valverde by 19 seconds, with Pinot fourth.

Tejay van Garderen lost about 32 seconds, and Chris Horner came in sixth, a great ride for the American who climbed better than any of his teammates from the RadioShack Nissan Team.

Van Garderen has now moved up into 5th position, and Evans won back one position and is now in 6th place.

Overall Classification at the End of Stage 17 (ASO)

rank rider rider No. team times gap
1. GBRWIGGINS Bradley 101 SKY PROCYCLING 78h 28′ 02”
2. GBRFROOME Christopher 105 SKY PROCYCLING 78h 30′ 07” + 02′ 05”
3. ITANIBALI Vincenzo 51 LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 78h 30′ 43” + 02′ 41”
4. BELVAN DEN BROECK Jurgen 111 LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 78h 33′ 55” + 05′ 53”
5. USAVAN GARDEREN Tejay 9 BMC RACING TEAM 78h 36′ 32” + 08′ 30”
6. AUSEVANS Cadel 1 BMC RACING TEAM 78h 37′ 59” + 09′ 57”
7. ESPZUBELDIA Haimar 19 RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 78h 38′ 13” + 10′ 11”
8. FRAROLLAND Pierre 29 TEAM EUROPCAR 78h 38′ 19” + 10′ 17”
9. SLOBRAJKOVIC Janez 181 ASTANA PRO TEAM 78h 39′ 02” + 11′ 00”
10. FRAPINOT Thibaut 146 FDJ-BIGMAT 78h 39′ 48” + 11′ 46”
11. IRLROCHE Nicolas 79 AG2R LA MONDIALE 78h 41′ 00” + 12′ 58”
12. GERKLÖDEN Andréas 15 RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 78h 42′ 11” + 14′ 09”
13. USAHORNER Christopher 14 RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 78h 42′ 24” + 14′ 22”
14. DENSORENSEN Chris Anker 178 TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 78h 46′ 36” + 18′ 34”