This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France fan who is reporting his 4th tour
As predicted by yours truly in my last post, Pierre Rolland of Europcar was the rider, who chose to escape from the peleton today and steal a stage win, the second in this year’s TdF for the team. On a day when the climbs were taking their toll on every single rider, when 3 big names in professional cycling, Mark Renshaw & Bauke Mollema of Rabobank team and Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoleil-DCM, decided to call it quits at the tour this year, when no proper breakaway could materialize due to steep climbs, it was the young Frenchman, Rolland, who chose to shine away in today’s stage, despite a crash 25kms away from finish.
Speaking to the media after winning, he said, “It was a great day. We expected a big show, and we got. I was not sure if I would try to go clear on climb of the Madeleine or wait a little later. We spoke with Christophe Kern, and he helped me to get me back to the lead group, then I reached the front in the ascent of the Croix de Fer and Mollard climbs. I told him he was going too fast, but he kept saying, ‘Shut up and trust me, you’ll have them!’
“This stage, it’s been in my dreams for six months. (this is what my last post had predicted) This is the queen stage for me, because it is the most difficult, because it’s in the Alps. And the Alps, is my home. This victory is very different from last year; as soon as I found myself in the break, I had to take my responsibilities as the others looked at me. Last year, I could play on the element of surprise, and also work with nerves of Sanchez and Contador. Both stages today’s and at Alpe d’Huez in 2011, are similar on paper, how to win them was entirely different and so my two wins at the Tour have a different flavour.”
With the tour hitting the Alps deeper today, the 11th road Stage of the 99th Tour de France was from Albertville to La Toussuire – Les Sybelles, a distance of 148kms. With 2 HC category climbs, and 2 other categorized climbs on the race route today, it was a real test of the courage & mettle of the riders that was on display.
There were many breaks, each one with 28-31 riders, formed at many stages of the race today. But, each time the tough climbs would see to it that they splintered and only a few riders could make it to the top together. With the descent, again these riders would all join up. This continued till the third climb of the day, for by then a small group of 6 riders consolidated and in the end, it was from this 6 that Rolland drove to victory on the climb up La Toussuire.
Today the race began with a group of almost 30 riders forming a escape party from the peloton. This group had some big names as well, but the first climb of the day to La Madeleine, soon saw a splintered set of riders coming over the top.
The first rider to come over was Peter Velits of Omega Pharma-QuickStep, followed by Kessiakoff of Astana. The KOM jersey wearer Thomas Voeckler was seen disappearing at the back of the breakaway as soon as the climb began, his yesterday’s efforts to win taking its toll on him.
Though Michael Scarponi of Lampre-ISD and Alexander Valverde of Moviestar were there in the breakaway, they could not make any impact on the peloton. With the next climb of La Croix de Fer coming up it was Christopher Kern of Europcar, who was driving the escape group, at a searing pace, which ensured that the group again split up into small numbers. His ride was a boon for Rolland, as he got a safe ride across the 2 climbs. Once the descent of the La Croix de Fer began, it was clear that Rolland would be playing a big league game. The climb of the Le Mollard started with a strong group of 6 with Chris Horner of RadioShack Nissan leading away. But soon he had a mechanical issue & stooped allowing Rolland and others to get away.
Chris Anker Sorenson of Team Saxobank-Tinkoff Bank was perhaps the pluckiest of all riders today. He was there in the front right from the beginning, but at each climb the remaining riders would power away from him. By the end of the descent, he would be back in the main group again. This was a scene repeated on all climbs and till the very end, he was a rider in the middle of action.
On the descent from the La Mollard, the Astana rider in the front Kiserlovski,went a bit too far around a hairpin bend, and though he did not crash, Rolland who was coming right behind him crashed. But except for a slightly torn jersey and a little skin exchanged on the tarmac, he was in fine condition, and soon rode himself back with the other two riders before the final climb of almost 18km began. He kept his pace up in the front and in the end with 10km to go, he upped his pace and soon rode away from the others into the history books with his second Stage win in the tour, he won last year on the Alpe d’Huez stage.
In the meanwhile, on the La Croix de Fer, Cadel Evans of BMC Racing team, did try and ride away from Wiggins led peloton. He did try his best, but was caught later on by the Wiggins group. Similarly, Nibali also attacked twice, but was caught and dragged back into the Yellow Jersey group by Team Sky. They were very attentive to Wiggins and protected him right throughout the day. Initially, it was Edvald Boasson Hagan who rode almost half of the race in the front. Then it was Michael Rogers, who turned on the heat. In the final climb, it was the in-form Chris Froome, who at one stage, kicked and rode away, even from Wiggins, and was subsequently ordered by the team to drop back and drag Wiggins across.
In what was a titanic struggle, perhaps, the biggest test of the tour so far, Cadel Evans was the biggest loser, as he cracked on the last climb and came in more than a minute late than Wiggins and is now 3’19” adrift of Wiggins. But the rider to impress was also the White Jersey of Tejay van Garderen, who despite good legs, stayed on to pilot Evans across the line, knowing that he was loosing time in the bargain.
The leader board changed again. With Chris Froome going up the ranks to second spot behind Nibali, leaving Evans at fourth spot. Jurgen van den Broeck rounds off 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 Racing team, while Fredrick Kessiakoff of Team Astana once again wears the King of the Mountain polka dotted Jersey.
In the end Rolland added, “Since the presentation of the Tour, the team knew that the route was not ideal for me when it came to the overall standings. But we still we decided to pursue this goal. To reach the podium, requires total commitment and consistency over three whole weeks, which is very different to come to a race to win stages by having some less intense days. This is something I want to work on improving over the coming years.”
On the strong showing of Chris Froome, Yellow Jersey of Bradley Wiggins admitted, “the moment when Froome went ahead, I was just concentrating on my effort and keeping it constant because I’d been riding hard for a km and a half, or two km before that. We came down off a dip and up a climb and I wanted to just clear the lactate more than anything. I didn’t want to make any more of an acceleration but there was a lot of noise and a lot of things going on over the radio and there was a bit of confusion at that point as to what we were doing. But Chris showed today that he had good legs. And it was another great day for the team, it really was.”
Team Sky’s plan for the day was, “I didn’t have a radio at that point as my earpiece had fallen out. But this morning we certainly spoke about Chris maybe attacking in the final and we had already gotten rid of Cadel… but this morning we were planning on him still being there and Chris maybe making up those 20-odd seconds to move into second on GC because he wasn’t 100 per cent confident that he’ll have the better of Cadel in the last time trial. We wanted to try and get a bit of time today… it was the plan this morning as long as I stayed with Vincenzo and those guys. And Chris didn’t drag them away.”
“I think that race certainly lived up to the expectation of it being the hardest stage. Even when we got to the last climb with 7km to go, the relief started to come because I knew the last 3km of this climb, from the Dauphiné last year, was pretty much rolling flat. Once Cadel got dropped and we were in that little group the sense of relief was slightly overwhelming really. ‘God, we’ve actually made it – we’ve got through this stage. and we can tick that one off’. In fact, we’ve taken more time on Cadel which I don’t think we ever expected this morning.”
On Evans attack he said, “I was surprised that Cadel attacked on the Croix de Fer really because there was a hell of a long way to go from there. We were already riding a pretty strong tempo with still a fair few riders – Richie and Mick – and I thought to attack and sustain a high enough tempo to stay away with two climbs still to go… I was surprised. It’s not something I would have had the balls to do.”
The 12thstage of TdF will be from St. Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay Davézieux, a distance of 220kms, making it one of the longest race route, in terms of distances. With this being the last of the Alps, will Nibali be able to put some time into the Yellow Jersey? Will Evans attack today and climb away from Wiggins? Me thinks, Chavanel has to make his attack today. Today the end comes a long way after the major climb, so escapers have to watch out, as the leaders teams might be able to come around them. But the men to watch today will be Peter Sagan & Nibali. Watch this space tomorrow for another tour update…:)
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