This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France fan who is reporting his 4th tour
This indefatigable Frenchman on the Europcar team, by the name of Thomas Voeckler, simply knows how to make it, in the month of July. At the age of 37, and perhaps riding his last professional tour, he rode like a champion that he is, and repeated a victory at the same place where he won two years back!!Just as I had predicted in my last post, about how the breakaway could win today, and named Voeckler amongst the most probable ones to do so, in the Queen’s Stage of the race today, Voeckler rode, what might be ultimately his final swansong ride to victory and what a spectacular ride it was! But knowing this sportsman, am not willing to place any bets, for all you know, he might just decide to continue next year too!!
A very relaxed Voeckler said, “This morning at the start, considering the number of mountain that were spread across the stage, I couldn’t really claim that I was the best rider to go and hunt the polka-dot jersey. There were at least a dozen riders who were in a similar position. Then, once the escape of 38 riders was established, I really felt I had good legs. But anyway, I approached this stage as if there were four races, one to the top of each of the climbs.”
On his race strategy, he shared, “I said we had to increase the pace on the climb of the Tourmalet, because the gap to the peloton was not significant enough. We worked with Yukiya (Arashiro), who accompanied me during my victory already on the day I won at Bellegarde-en-Valserine. And then, when we were with (Brice) Feillu, and only 30 seconds ahead of (Chris Anker) Sorensen and (Alexander) Vinokourov, I attacked because it was not sure of myself if I reached the top with them nearby. But once I crested the Peyresourde with a lead of a minute and a half, I could begin to appreciate what had been achieved already. I’m a good on descents so the stage victory then became a priority.
On his plan for the KOM jersey, he very clearly stated, “I am very proud of what I did, because it resembles what I saw on TV when I was a kid. I’m in another dimension. It’s cycling as I like to practice it. Now my priority is to defend the polka-dot (KOM) jersey. And normally, my Tour will effectively be over once we finish the stage tomorrow!”
The second day in the Pyrenees,saw the 16th road Stage of the 99thTour de France go from Pau to Bagneres de Luchon, a distance of 197kms. For the record, only 155 riders reported to the start today.
The action on the rest day was all around the RadioShack-Nissan team, as Frank Schleck, currently in the 11 spot, was tested non-negative for a banned substance after a routine test done on the 14th July after Stage 13. As a result of this finding, he with his team’s concurrence stepped out of the race and is now starting his preparations in his defence. He has the right to get his sample B analysed, and if the same result persists, might have to look for legal defence. In his credit, he called a press meet and announced his innocence, and is looking at a protracted battle if the next test also shows the same result. Though the stuff detected now, is not a major doping element, it still can result in either a warning or a more severe suspension. It all depends on what the sample B test results shows.
The race started in Pau and within the 20km mark, a group of 38 riders had formed the breakaway of the day and started consolidating the escape. All the major suspects that I had mentioned in my last post, Kessiakoff, Rolland, Voeckler, Casar, …etc. all had made the cut at this stage. With four huge climbs on this Queen Stage of the race, it was going to be very tough battle for the riders on a slightly more than average hot day.
The breakaway crested the first climb of Col d’Aubisque almost together. It was the Polka dotted jersey of Kessiakoff and Voeckler who were fighting it out for the points on the first climb of the day, something which, Voeckler in his plucky way, easily won. Over the top they lead the peloton by a margin of over three minutes.
Next was the climb of the Hors Category on the Col du Tourmalet. This is one of the most famous climbs of the tour and it was on this climb that the Garmin Sharp rider, Dan Martin, broke the pack up with a relentless burst of speed. Soon, he was able to drag away a small group in which apart from himself and Voeckler, they had Astana’s Kessiakoff and Vinokourov, Chris Anker Sørensen of Saxo Bank Tinkoff Bank, Brice Feillu of Saur-Sojasun, Laurens Ten Dam of Rabobank, Jens Voigt of RadioShack-Nissan, George Hincapie of BMC Racing and Simone Stortoni of Lampre-ISD. It was once again Voeckler who went first over the top first, and soon went away from the others with Feillu. The remaining riders formed a small group, but were unable to make any major impact. By now, Kessiakoff was dropped and he knew that he would loose his jersey by the end of the stage.
On the descent of the Tourmalet, Voeckler & Feillu soon distanced themselves from the rest. But Sørensen and Voigt combined to bring them back into the main fold. Soon Vinokourov, who also is riding his farewell tour, joined up with this bunch of four.
Riding down from this climb, the duo of Voeckler & Feillu made a gap of over a minute on the rest. Every time they faltered slightly, Voigt in his highly physical style of riding would catch up with them. This game continued on the climb up the Category 1 ramp of Col d’Aspin. Again at the top, Voeckler summited first. By now, the pursuants were splintered, and Voeckler knowing that he was in a great position, pushed hard. At the back, Sørensen and Vinokourov joined together in an effort to reach up to Voeckler. But Vinokourov, after trying for a very long time, finally gave up and Sørensen seeing his chances of winning dropping, kicked hard and started for the front alone.
Riding at the front, knowing that another summit climb would give him the KOM jersey, was all the motivation which Voeckler required now to keep going. On the climb of the Col de Peyresourde, he kept with Feillu for a long time, but with 5.5km left for the summit, he kicked hard and Feillu could only see his back receding in the distance. Voeckler continued up solo, descended like a man possessed and rode in to the stage finish, like a champion. Behind him Sørensen’s effort saw him close the gap with Feillu, but Voecklerwho had summited ahead by over 90secs, kept that gap till the end. The last 1km of the ride was perhaps the most enjoyable finish Voeckler would have had in his tour career, as no rider was in sight of catching him, he could wave to the fans all across and finish with his arms spread wide open in a huge hug.
Once the 38 member breakaway went away, the peloton, with the lead group of the race leaders, was almost riding on auto pilot. The race was almost a farce, with no rider attacking and everyone biding their time. This saw the group climb, the first 3 Cols, in a very sedate manner. The unexciting procession continued till the third climb of the day at Col d’Aspin, where for the first time, Liqigas –Cannondale team flexed their muscles. This burst of speed by Ivan Basso, put defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing team in a tight spot. He just rolled of the back of the group, but fortunately for him, his team mates brought him back on the descent and the group once again started the last climb all together.
Here again, a very predictable effort from Nibali, saw him make a small gap between him & Wiggins group, but Froome rode a strong turn and bridged the gap. Nibali continued to churn away, but Froome & Wiggins marked him down, and in the end the top three riders of the tour summited the final climb together and finished the race stage also together. Evans lost over 5 minutes in the stage today and that seals off any effort on his part to retain the overall. The fragmented peloton rolled in over the next 30 minutes to mark a “boring” day on the tour.
The rider who impressed on the day was the White Jersey leader, Tejay van Garderen, who at the young age of 23 showed that he will be the guy to beat in the years to come, as he stuck with the lead group all the way through till the very end. Once Evans, the team leader, realized that he was not shaping well for the fight today, allowed Garderen to continue alone behind the Yellow Jersey and save his standings in the overall race, something which saw him leapfrog in the overall leader board to the 6th place.
The leader board changes today. With Bradley Wiggins in The Yellow Jersey, Chris Froome in the second spot followed by Nibali at third. Evans was the loser in this stage as he drops down from 4th place to 7th. Jurgen van den Broeck takes the fourth spot, while Haimar Zubeldia of RadioShack-Nissan moves into the top five overall.The Yellow Jersey of the race leader continues with Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. The Green Jersey for the points leader continues with Peter Sagan of Liqigas Cannondale. The White Jersey, for the best young rider also continues with Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racingteam, while Thomas Voeckler of Europcar becomes the new King of the Mountain for the polka dotted Jersey. Team RadioShack-Nissan continues as the best team in the race.
Commenting on the stageYellow Jersey of Bradley Wiggins said, “It was hot out there today, probably the hottest we’ve had on the Tour and the day after the rest day everyone responds differently. As a team I think we passed the test again. The team rode fantastically well again today and we’ve created the ideal scenario by putting even more time into Cadel Evans and although we weren’t able to get rid of Nibali – who is very strong – it was a great day.Nibali, is a class bike rider. The guy has won the Vuelta, he’s been on the podium at the Giro… and you can never underestimate him. It’s nice to be able to finish with him.”
On the strategy of the competitors, he said, “I don’t think that the others have eased up trying to beat me and start thinking of the other places on the podium. Not yet. They gave us a good go over on the climbs today and tomorrow is another day, another challenge. I guess everyone will also start thinking about the time trial and things. That’s a mountainous stage in itself. Another day ticked off and tomorrow is a whole other day.We’ve got a good scenario for the final day in the mountains but the process now starts: recovering, eating, drinking lots and getting ready right away… I’ll have a warm down and start thinking about tomorrow.”
The Green jersey holder Peter said, “I’m happy with how this Tour de France is going and I’m also pleased for my team. We will see what happens tomorrow and, afterwards in the time trial, but I think Vincenzo has not finished yet. We will see if he has more tomorrow.”
The 17thstage of TdF will be from Bagneres de Luchon to Peyragudes, a distance of 143.5kms. The final Pyrenean stage with one Hors Category climb in Port de Balès & two Cat 1 climb of Col de Menté and Peyragudes apart from one climb of a Cat 2 & Cat 3 summits each, will be the last test of wits between the climbers & race leaders. Nibali, tried to attack today, but was unsuccessful. Will he break away and race to a race lead? Me thinks, if Nibali attacks tomorrow and cracks Wiggins, he will be playing into Froome’s hand, as I don’t think he will be able to run away from Froome. With the leader board in the state it is I WILL PUT MY MONEY ON THE BREAKAWAY TOMORROW. For Sure. Watch this space tomorrow for another tour update…:)
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