This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France fan who is reporting his 2nd full tour
The Andy & Alberto Show @ Tourmalet!!
The 17th Stage of the TdF was from Pau to Col du Tourmalet, a distance of 174km. A stage, which was to be the ultimate challenge to the riders did prove to be the perfect battlefield for two gladiators to fight it out. Through the day the breakaway did try & move in for a finish, but the Astana & Saxo Bank teams kept a tight leash on the peleton & their lead never went beyond the 7min mark. Thus in the end when Andy Schleck exploded from the ranks, only the Yellow jersey of Alberto Contador could keep up the pace and as predicted in yesterday’s post by me, it was Andy Schleck who won the stage, but Contador hung in right behind all through out to grab the same time & thus keep his Yellow jersey & also the vital 8secs lead.
The start town of today, Pau, with a population of around 82,000, is on the tour route for the 62nd time. A beautiful part of the Pyrenees, the sporting people of this town have given the whole culture of this place a whole new dimension.
As the finishing stage of TdF Col du Tourmalet is hosting the tour only for the second time after 1974, though every year the tour passes by its slope and stories / legends are written for the eternity. The tour has already climbed the Col du Tourmalet 73 times before this. Legend has it that since 1675, when Madame de Maintenon crossed it on a Sedan chair to reach Barèges, as the route via the valley bottom was blocked by floods, Tourmalet has been on the travelers route maps. Today, at an altitude of 2,115m, Tourmalet is one of the highest road passes in the Pyrenees. In the winter, with 100 km of slopes, the biggest skiing resort in the French Pyrenees, under the name Domaine du Tourmalet opens up. Overlooking the pass, the peak of the Pic du Midi de Bigorre rises up to an altitude of 2,877m.
After a rest day the stage began at Pau with all 172 riders who finished Stage 16 in the peleton. The race route for this stage, in the last day in the Pyrenees had 2 Cat I climbs, 1 Cat IV climb & the Hors Categorized climb of the Col du Tourmalet. There were no intermediate sprint points in the race route today.
The race began with Team Sky attacking straight away with Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen. With in 5km another set of 5 riders including Kristjan Koren of Liquigas, Alexandr Kolobnev of Katusha, Marcus Burghardt of BMC Racing, Remi Pauriol of Cofidis and Ruben Perez of Euskaltel joined them. By the 12km mark Konovalovas of Cervalo Test Team attacked the peleton & left to join the leaders. And around the 23km mark, Samuel Sanchez, who is overall 3rd in GC, crashed. Contador & others requested everyone to slow their pace for Sammy to join back but Sastre who had let his teammate fly off in search of the leaders refused to listen & tried to go away from the peleton. He rode a solo race for two climbs but was caught by the peleton & passed over. Sanchez in the meanwhile took another 10km before joining up with the peleton.
From there on to the climbs of the Col du Tourmalet, there were not much of attacks as the teams of Astana, Saxo Bank & OmegaPharma Lotto kept the pace in the front of the peleton high enough to keep the breakaway in the catchable position.
By the time the peleton hit the climb of Col du Tourmalet, the breakaway had splintered and the riders were being caught one after the other. Team Saxo Bank drilled away at the front & rider after rider built a very high speed and dropped out finally leaving just Schleck in the front. With around 10.5km to go, Schleck launched an all out attack and dropped everyone except Contador, who tucked in neatly behind his wheel, and rode as a limpet all the way through.
The last 10km of the climb was what legendary duels are made of and today another page was added to the legends chapter. Schleck threw everything in his armory including the kitchen sink at Contador, who bravely withstood the onslaught and kept riding right behind him till the very end. Schleck tried different rhythms, dancing on the pedals, speeding around corners, for every move of his Contador had an answer. In the middle, Contador also launched a savage attack of his own, which Schleck was able to catch up to. This titanic match up was being witnessed by 1000’s of fans who literally threw themselves on the riders, encouraging them and egging them on. In the end, Contador simply sat through at the finish line, allowing Schleck to take the stage, but keeping his Yellow jersey, thus making up for his slight in the “Chaingate” mechanical that happened two days ago.
This final onslaught by Schleck opened up the GC standings between him & the others, but all the major contenders made it within a few minutes of the top two at the finish line, thus minimizing their losses. The major casualty was Levi Leipheimer of Radio Shack, who was unwell, who dropped a few minutes and went out of the top 10. But Chris Horner of RadioShack, another 38 year old rider, who is riding an excellent tour stormed back in the last climb to get himself into the 10th place overall.
After the race Andy Schleck in the interview backstage said, “I’m satisfied with the stage win but I also wanted to turn white into yellow but unfortunately it wasn’t possible. I really tried hard, you have to believe me about that. I changed rhythm and I tried everything but I think we’re on the same level on the climbs. Alberto attacked and I could go with him – it was a quick response – but in the end he didn’t sprint to win the stage because I did the most work. I have a lot of respect for that, it shows that he’s a great champion. I tried to find out how he was feeling. You need to look at someone to see how he was coping. I think you can find out a lot if you look someone in the eyes. He didn’t have the sunglasses on today so it was possible to see, that’s why I looked so many times. But he always looked good and that’s kind of what killed me. El Pistolero is strong, huh? I could not drop him. He was always there. I wanted to find out if he was getting weak but he didn’t succumb. He even attacked me to show, ‘Hey, listen young boy, I’m still here! You better stop playing these games with me.’ I’m super happy to win this stage today – it’s the Queen stage of this year’s Tour. To win on the Tourmalet is like a win on Alpe d’Huez. When I turned to talk to him, I said: ‘You pass?’ And he didn’t. I would have done the same. Why should he pass me? In the end, he let me win the stage and I’m super happy.”
At the end of Stage 17 the over all race results are as follows. Alberto Contador of Team Astana remains in the Yellow. Thor Hushovd of Cervalo Test Team continues in the Green jersey. Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank continues in the White jersey & Anthony Charteau of Bbox Telecom continues in the King of the Mountain jersey. Team RadioShack consolidates their position as the best team in the race.
The Tour de France Stage 18, is from Salies-de-Béarn to Bordeaux, a distance of 198km. The sprinters have one last stage for glory before the final stage at Paris on Sunday. Me thinks, the Manx Missile after 4 days of spending time at the rear of the peleton will be raring to have a go and stretch his sprint legs, also to prove a point that with or without Renshaw, he is the best.
So till tomorrow…:)
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