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.
Andy Schleck nails it, finally!!
The 8th Stage of the TdF was from Station des Rousses to Morzine-Avoriaz, a distance 189 km and it was classic hill top finish in the Alps. The scores of camper vans lined up on the route to the hill tops once again underlined the sense of participation & involvement the thousands of cycling fans have for this annual extravaganza – TdF and having met many of them last year, I do know that majority of these are people who come year after year!! The major surprise for the day was the was the cracking of Armstrong with 40km left to go, but the action at the front was dominated by the Astana team of Contador who kept such a high pace that slowly the whole of the peleton unraveled and it was Andy Schleck who led the race to the finish line with a well timed sprint.
Station des Rousses, with a population of almost 6,000 is a first time addition to the tour, though it has featured in many a other smaller tour routes. Situated near the Switzerland border, this resort town also boasts of some museums like the Ski museum, Bushel museum, Paul-Emile Victor Polar Centre & the Lapidary Museum. Cheese specialties like Comté, Morbier & Bleu de Gex along with by the yellow wine, the delicious nectar of the Jura vines is also something not to be missed. Also a must visit spot is the Les Rousses Fort which has the biggest Comté cheese maturing cellars in Europe.
The finishing stage towns of Morzine-Avoriaz both boast of excellent cycling pedigree with Morzine having been a stage town 17 times, whereas Avoriaz has been a stage site for 6 times. Avoriaz, set at an altitude of 1800m, the high-altitude ski resort that is part of the town of Morzine, specialized in hosting hill climb time-trials in the late part of last century. Apart from cycling it was the “The Fantasy Film Festival” that took place here from 1973 to 1993 that helped to build the resort’s reputation. Today “The Grand Odyssey”, “The Avoriaz Jazz Up Festival,” “The International Extreme Sports Festival,” …etc are few events that still bring name & fame to this resort.
The stage began at Station des Rousses with all 186 riders, one rider less than Stage 7 as Stijn Vandenbergh of Katusha was disqualified for finishing out of time. The race route for this stage was one with five climbs – two Cat I, one Cat III & two Cat 4 climbs spread over the course till the finish. There were 3 intermediate sprints too in the course.
In the beginning there were several efforts by riders to break away, but Vasil Kiryienka of Caisse d’Epargnes’ effort was the only notable break. Just after the 6km mark GC contenders Cadel Evans of BMC Racing, Jerome Pineau of Quick Step, Lance Armstrong of Team RadioShack & Roman Kreuziger of Liqigas all crashed in the front of the peleton.
Evans & Armstrong had to go to the race doctor’s car for treatment. Later it was Popovych of RadioShack who escorted the group back to the front of the peleton. Soon the escapee rider was brought back into the peleton, but by the 28km, Mario Aerts of OmegaPharma Lotto along with two Cofidis riders – Amael Moinard and Sebastian Minard, Christophe Riblon of Ag2r, Ollo Erviti of Caisse d’Epargne & Koos Moerenhout of Rabobank formed a breakaway. As the climbs started coming Quick Step team with the Yellow jersey of Chavanel had to take its position at the head of the peloton with none of the other teams contributing to the pacesetting for almost two hours.
But the drama of the day started on the approach to the Col de la Ramaz, when at 133km, Armstrong was involved in a crash at a round about. He was thrown to the ground and as he later recounted, at 65km speed when the body hits the road surface, its not a joke and something to be taken slightly. He quickly remounted his bike with his jersey torn at several places and was helped back to the peloton by four of his team-mates. With the climb approaching fast, Armstrong was dropped by his rivals and having heard that he was not looking good the GC contender’s team of Astana & Sky piled in more pressure in the front. At the top of the Ramaz, a peloton of 30 riders – including Contador (and three team-mates), Evans, Schleck, Basso, Wiggins, Sastre and other title favorites – was 2’05” behind the breakaway. Armstrong was at 3’15” and the yellow jersey at 4’45”. Even at this stage Armstrong was trying to bridge the gap between him & the rest. But continuing his ill luck, just before the Les Gets summit, two Euskaltel-Euskadi riders were involved in a crash just ahead of Armstrong who had nowhere to go but into the back of them – he didn’t fall to the ground, but it was the third accident of the stage for the American. Changing his bike after this incident, as his seat was broken in this crash, Armstrong tried to get back once again – but by then the gap had opened up from 1 min to a huge 5 mins. Also with Team Astana driving the head of the race in a bid to put Armstrong out of the race, there was no way for Armstrong to wriggle back into the race.
In the front, the breakaway was slowly being caught and one after the other, the riders stated dropping with Moerenhout being the first to drop from the lead, then Aert and eventually Moinard was caught just before the 5km to go mark. Danny Navarro after burning himself up for Contador till the very last 2 kms gave way for the major GC riders to fight it out amongst themselves with Wiggings having being dropped much earlier. This was exactly what Andy Schleck was looking for and broke away from the group consisting of Contador & Evan, with only Sanchez following him. The race ended with Andy Schleck winning his first ever stage at the Tour de France. Cadel Evans finished sixth in the stage, 10secs behind Andy but he took the lead of the general classification for the Yellow jersey.
Andy Schleck after winning his first stage at TdF commented, “I take some really good morale from knowing that I could attack and not have Contador follow me. Maybe he takes it the other way but I’m happy. For me it’s a fantastic stage win – everything worked out to be perfect. It’s hard but the team can have confidence in me and I promise to them that I’ll fight until Paris – I’ll fight until I fall off my bike. I hope you’ll see me in the yellow jersey as soon as possible but I predict… ah, the Pyrenees. I feel really good. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I have the best shape of my life. I showed at the end that I have some punch.”
With the Yellow Jersey on him, Cadal Evans summarized the stage, “I can’t quite believe it just yet. The cameras probably didn’t catch the crash in the first kilometers. I hit the ground pretty hard but fortunately I took all the impact on my arm and not on my legs but it make it a hard day even harder. In the end, Schleck went away but I had to conserve a little bit. It wasn’t an easy stage and the wind made it difficult to judge in the final but at this point I’m in a great position. I’ve got an advantage over Contador and when you look at our history that’s a good thing to have. It’s a bit of a rare honor to have in cycling – to swap the rainbow jersey for the yellow one – but I want to say a big thank you to everyone who has believed in me, not only this year at the BMC team but over all the years, since I was 14 years old and started racing mountain bikes.”
At the end of Stage 8 the over all race results areas follows. Cadel Evans of BMC Racing is in the Yellow. Thor Hushovd continues in the Green jersey. Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank keeps the White jersey (though on the road tomorrow Roman Kreuziger of Liqigas will wear that jersey as Andy wears his yellow jersey), Jerome Pineau of Quick Step keeps the King of the Mountain jersey. But Rabobank takes over as the best team in the race.
Speaking at the end of the stage on day when he crashed thrice (point to note is that during his 7 years stretch of winning the TdF – never did Armstrong ever crash – not even once!!) Armstrong acknowledged, “My Tour is finished but I’m going to hang in there and enjoy my last Tour de France. The Tour is over for me but I’ll stay in the race and try and win stages, help the team and appreciate my time here. No tears from me. It was a bad day, a really bad day, I felt strong but it was tough to recover and it went from bad to worse. It’s not going to be my year.”
The Tour de France Stage 9, is from Morzine-Avoriaz Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne a distance of 204.5 km with the most famous of climbs the Col de la Madeleine to contend with. Team RadioShack has to now come out with a new strategy as the race focus changes from Armstrong to Levi Leipheimer. Will we see Contador attack to get himself into Yellow? Will we see a resurgent Armstrong try & win this stage to go out in glory? Or will it be a basso attack? Whatever happens I seriously think Evans will get dropped on the Madeleine climb by Schleck, as he is bursting with energy to claim his first Yellow jersey.
So till tomorrow ….
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