This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France fan who is reporting his 4th tour
Just as I had predicted in my last post, about how I would bet on the breakaway winning today, Movistar rider Alejandro Valverde, rode a professional race, judging his opponents to a nicety, and winning atop the final climb to Peyragudes on Stage 17 of the 2012 tour.
Valverde has returned to professional cycling after serving a two year suspension and from the start of the year has been slowly trying to get back to his prime form of yore. Speaking after the win he said, “This is a very special victory for me: I’m back in the squad and I’m winning again, like I did before. For two years I had to stop competing but I never stopped working. And now this is the fifth victory of the season for me. They are all emotional. This is why I was on the podium in a world of my own, and I was not able to restrain my tears.”
On his terrible start at the tour, he added, “I’ve had a lot of bad luck since the start of the Tour, and it was very difficult to manage. I fell three times in two days, and it wasn’t looking good. Then it was no longer possible to fight for a good general classification result, especially when Froome and Wiggins are so strong, so I focused on a stage win. I really tried. Until now far it hasn’t worked but we had to keep fighting the bad luck.”
About the final moments of the race, he said, “When I felt that Froome and Wiggins were approaching me on the final climb, I gave everything I could to resist their chase and, after 500m from the finish line, I started to tell myself that it was good,”
The final day in the Pyrenees,saw the 17th road Stage of the 99thTour de France go from Bagneres de Luchon to Peyragudes, a distance of 143.5kms, but with some famous peaks on the course. For the record 153 riders reported at the start today.
As today’s race started,a series of attacks was seen in the front. But, for a long time, no rider was able to get away and form a group, which could actually stay away the whole day. Even on the Category 1 climb of Col de Menté the peloton was together, but as they summited, KOM Thomas Voeckler of Europcar beat his challenger Frederick Kessiakoff of Astana for the top points. It was on the descent that a group with Voeckler, Kessiakoff, Valverde and RuiCosta of Moviestar, Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Jean-Christophe Péraud of AG2R La Mondiale and Sandy Casar of FDJ-BigMat got away.Soon another group of 10 was formed behind them and after the climb of Category 2 Col des Ares, where Voeckler again beat Kessiakoff to reach the summit first, the two groups merged to make the breakaway of 17.
At the top of the Côte de Burs, with the gap to the peloton around3min, Voeckler marking Kessiakoff very closely, outsprinted him again for the maximum points on offer. As the climb of the Hors Category Port de Balès started Gorka Izagirre and Jorge Azanza both of Euskaltel-Euskadi, were the first ones to attack and move away. Soon they were joined by couple of other riders, including Plaza of Movistar. But around the 8km to go mark, Levi Leipheimer of Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Valverde & Costa along with Martinez joined them in the front. Costa, after staying for a short duration, attacked and tried to do a solo up in the front. In the KOM struggle, Voeckler & Kessiakoff, both realized that they did not have enough left in the tank to fight for the top spots on Port de Balès, and eased off, with Voeckler satisfied to just mark the later to ensure his lead in the KOM category.
At the 4km to go mark, Valverde, made his jump and joined Costa up ahead on the climb, and after staying for a short time and realizing that Costa did not have the energy to help him, kicked away solo for his flight to victory. From then on, it was only a matter of by how much time would he win the stage with on the rest of the field that mattered, for such was his determination and planning, that at no stage did he look like giving a chance to the rest of the field. Summiting the Port de Balès, he still had over 15km left, of which almost 10km was a descent, which he went over like a man possessed, using the whole road and his super bike handling skills. On the 4km final climb of the Peyragudes, Valverde was keenly watching to see, if the Yellow jersey was catching up with him. And in the final 1km, though he knew there was some danger of Froome catching him, he kept his cool and rode into the finish without much of a challenge, a clean win for a team which has been battered on this TdF.
In the main peloton, after the breakaway left, it was a show of defiance, albeit a bit too late (me thinks!), by Liqigas-Cannondale that was the highlight of the day. All the riders on the team were seen riding at the front and they kept the pace very high, leading to several riders being popped off at the back. This high pace was to try and isolate the Yellow jersey of Wiggins from his team, but in the end, the leading riders of the tour all stuck together, and it was the Liqigas-Cannondale riders, who after putting their efforts, were popped of! Only Ivan Basso remained in the front and even him after a long stretch at the front was left floundering, when Jurgen van den Broeck of Lotto-Belisol made his move.
As Broeck, made his move to join his teammate up ahead, the race leaders group finally decimated. Froome who was marking Nibali so far, moved strongly and covered the attack, leaving even Nibali in his wake. As the top two riders, Froome and Wiggins, kicked the pace a little higher, they were able to shed all the other contenders. With both of them clean and the final 3km of the climb coming up, it became very clear that this British duo had finally broken the long standing story of how the mountains were the death knell for all British riders. Not only did they beat the very best in the field, but they also showed that they could put time into any other rider, if they wished.
Froome, once again proved the stronger of the two and kept urging Wiggins to come after him and gain some more time on the rest. Over the last 2km, even though he had a chance for personal glory by taking the stage after chasing Valverde down, he refused to do so, and stood by a loyally with Wiggins, dragging him over the finish line second and third respectively. In the last km Wiggins was seen fading off, something which, in the post interview he admitted, that he did lose his concentration in that last stretch, as by then he knew that this year’s tour was already in his bag!
The rest of the leading riders came in one after the other, with Zubeldia being the biggest loser as he moved down from 5th spot to 7th in the overall. Cadel Evans, whose tour was over yesterday, also lost time, but came up one spot on the leader board to the 6th spot.
The White Jersey leader, Tejay van Garderen, once again put in a sterling performance and almost sealed his victory in the best young rider category.
The top 4 on the leader board remain the same today. With Bradley Wiggins in the Yellow Jersey, Chris Froome in the second spot followed by Nibali at third and Jurgen van den Broeck in the fourth spot. Haimar Zubeldia of RadioShack-Nissan moves out of the top five overall and Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing takes his place.Me thinks, all the jerseys have been finalized for this tour. The Yellow Jersey of will be with Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. The Green Jersey will be with Peter Sagan of Liqigas Cannondale. The White Jersey will be with Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing team, while Thomas Voeckler of Europcar takes the King of the Mountain polka dotted Jersey. Team RadioShack-Nissan continues as the best team in the race.
Yellow Jersey of Bradley Wiggins talking about the last few kms, said, “We were talking about Nibali, because we knew he was on his limit. Chris said he wanted to go for the stage and I said, ‘Yeah… ah… pff’. You know. I wasn’t too sure on the time gap at that point but from the moment I crossed the Peyresourde, 1.5km from the finish, I allowed myself to drift; at that point it was the first time I allowed myself to think that I’ve won the Tour. All the way up the last bit my concentration had gone. Everything about performance had gone and Chris was egging me on to take time and, ah, I was just in another world really.”
The domination of his team on the race was emphasized in, “Today it was more a case of everyone faltering around us and us just continuing what we were doing. That’s very much how it was today as opposed to yesterday when we were taking on the attacks of Nibali and all that. Once we saw that Nibali had cracked at the top of the Peyresourde, we knew we didn’t have the danger of him attacking in the final so it was at that point that I knew it was pretty much over.”
On him waning away in the last 1km, he admitted that, “We rode away from the rest of the field and I lost concentration. I was thinking of lots of different things at that time. Chris wanted more but the fight had gone from me at that point. I said at the start in Liège that it’s about being good for 21 days and never really having any super days or any bad days. I think we saw that today: Nibali was super strong yesterday and perhaps didn’t back it up today. It’s about consistency really.”
Knowing that he had already sealed the tour with a resounding performance he said, “It was an ideal situation. As soon as we went of the Peyresourde, I knew that that was the climbing done, really. It was an incredible feeling because that’s where everyone said that I was at my weakest – in the mountains – so it was good to go over the last summit. All the way up the last climb I almost had tears in my eyes. It’s a really nice feeling.”
Praising Froome, his super domestique, he admitted that, “Chris was super strong again today. He’s super excited. He’s been a fantastic team-mate during this Tour de France. For sure, one day, he’ll win the Tour and I’ll be there beside him to do it.”(Me thinks, Wiggins already owes Froome the Vuelta crown, which Froome would have won last year, if not for Wiggins bad form, now he also owes Froome – the Tour de France crown, and hopefully next year, will stand by his words and ensure a good effort for Froome)
The 18thstage of TdF will be from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde, a distance of 222kms. With the Pyrenees behind them, the peleton will take it easy. Me thinks, the sprinters, who have suffered in silence over the Alps & now the Pyrenees will come into their own tomorrow. Cavendish will be trying to add to his tally of just one win, in this tour. Same for Greipel.Me thinks, Sagan will try his hand at making a psychological move before the finale at Paris.Watch this space tomorrow for another tour update…:)
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