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Katusha's Sergei Ivanov takes Stage 14 win, Hincapie misses yellow by 5 seconds

By Heidi Swift - July 18th, 2009

Sergei Ivanov delivered the first Russian victory of this year’s tour with a massive effort in the final ten kilometers of the race. Ivanov had been in a break of 12 men for the better part of the 199 kilometer stage when he attacked his breakaway companions with 10 kilometers to go.

With such a long way still to go to the finish, it seemed like a risky move, but the six-time Russian National Champion used his time-trialing skills to stay clear of the group, crossing the line with a comfortable margin of 16 seconds.

Just behind him, Team-Columbia’s George Hincapie finished with the rest of the breakaway and, for a moment, it looked like his efforts might payoff with a day in the yellow jersey as the main field was still almost six minutes back.

But it was not to be.  A big push from AG2R (attempting to defend Nocentini’s race lead) and Garmin-Slipstream brought the gap down just enough to deny Hincapie his day in the maillot jaune. He’s now sitting second in the overall standings, 5 seconds off the pace of Nocentini, with Contador and Armstrong just behind in 3rd and 4th.

Woman killed by caravan vehicle

Overshadowing today’s race was the tragic news of a 60-year-old woman who was struck and killed while crossing the road after a breakaway group of riders had passed. She was hit by one of the several police motorbikes which accompany the race.

It was the first fatality since two children were killed in 2000 and 2002 hit by cars from the publicity caravan.

The biggest accident in the Tour’s 106-year history took place in 1964, when a police supply van struck a bridge in the Dordogne region, killing 20 people.

Racers are constantly engaged in close calls with spectators, who line the courses and congregate en masse (especially up the mountain-top finishes).

How the race unfolded (Take a deep breath)

Today’s breakaway formed early and originally included Mark Cavendish who may have been looking for intermediate sprint points to help in his bid for the win in the Points Classification. However, Cavendish soon sat up and drifted back to the peloton and the twelve remaining riders pressed on without him.

The group included an interesting mix of riders in addition to Hincapie. Among them, Hayden Roulston (Cervelo) and Martijn Maaskant (Garmin). Because many today expected another bunch sprint finish between Cavendish, Garmin’s Tyler Farrar, and Cervelo’s Thor Hushovd, the presence of riders from all three of the sprinter’s teams presented a tricky situation out on the road.

None of those teams necessarily wanted to chase back their own men, but all of them had to also think about whether or not they should close the gap to set up the bunch sprint as planned.

As it was, teams that didn’t have representation in the break took on the early duties of keeping the gap in check, but with 90k to go, Astana went to the front to start their patrol. The gap eventually opened to as much as 8 minutes, making Hincapie the virtual race leader on the road and at 50k to go, AG2R moved to the front of the peloton and began working to bring things back into check.

Meanwhile, Hincapie threw in a handful of accelerations at the front of the lead group to keep the pace high – AG2R was unable to bring him within reach and with just 15k to go, the breakaway was still more than six minutes ahead of the field.

Nicolas Roche (AG2R) was the first man in the breakaway to make a move with 12k to go, but the group brought him back almost immediately and Ivanov launched a surprise counterattack up the right side. The Russian’s well-timed move opened up a sizable gap that he was able to increase over the final run to the finish to take the victory.

Hincapie crossed the line 16 seconds later and waited to see if his ride would be good enough to put him in yellow.

Down the road, Garmin-Slipstream were driving hard at the front of the peloton while Team Columbia-HTC was walking a delicate line: trying to avoid helping Nocentini and the rest of the field close in on Hincapie’s gap, but also thinking about how to set Cavendish up for much-needed points in the bunch sprint.

When the shoe dropped, Cavendish came across the line first in 13th (ahead of Hushovd), George Hincapie was denied the jersey by five seconds, and Nocentini remained in the yellow jersey for another day.

Unfortunately, Cavendish was later relegated for not sprinting in a straight line in the finale and was penalized by being moved to last place for the day. The points he would have garnered went instead to rival Thor Hushovd, who now leads the Points Classification by 18 as the race heads into the Alps tomorrow.

Wow, that was crazy.

If the race recap makes you scratch your head a little, don’t worry – you’re not alone.  Today’s stage was anything but typical and the tactics and outcome will likely be discussed and debated in days to come.

Sometimes bike racing is just bike racing and sometimes? Well, sometimes there are some other things going on. Today’s race brought to light some of the subtle nuances and complexities of professional cycling.

For starters, many (including Hincapie) believe that Garmin-Slipstream should not have chased down Hincapie’s gap today. He presents no real threat to the overall outcome of the race and is regarded as a legend of American cycling – it was the chance of a lifetime for him. The fact that an American team delivered the final blow to his chances to wear yellow is a serious point of contention among spectators and racers alike. George was extremely vocal today about his disappointment in Garmin and his sentiments have been echoed by many other big names including Astana’s Johan Bruyneel and Lance Armstrong.

Garmin claims to have been keeping their GC contenders out of trouble but Armstrong insinuated that he believes it was the result of a growing rivalry between the two American squads. Either way, the result is disappointing and you can expect the media to be all over this one for a while.

Why was Cavendish relegated?

There are certain rules about how riders are allowed to ride in a bunch sprint. These rules are designed to keep everyone as safe as possible in an extremely dangerous environment. One such rule stipulates that a sprinter must “hold his line” coming into the finale – basically, they need to keep moving straight in their direction of travel and not move sideways across the road.

Officials today reviewed the footage of the sprint after a complaint by Thor Hushovd and determined that Cavendish failed to hold his line. Both Cavendish and Mark Renshaw insist that they sprinted with the barriers and that one barrier was out of position, making it seem as if they switched lines. Cavendish looked back at Hushovd in the final meters, which is frowned upon and may have tipped the scales in the judges decision making.

Whatever the case, being disqualified from the sprint is one thing but being given last position in the peloton is a severe penalty. Many believe Cavendish should have been given 14th position with Thor moving up to 13th.

Unfortunately, public opinions count for little and the ruling will stand. Now trailing in the Points Classification by 18, Cavendish will need a little luck (along with his powerful legs) if he hopes to reclaim the green jersey.

Looking ahead to Stage Fifteen

The GC competition has been relatively ho-hum so far, with the top-ten overall remaining virtually unchanged for an entire week. Despite mountain stages in the Pyrenees that could have been grounds for an attack among the front-runners, we saw careful, calculated (and kind of boring) riding from the GC group.

That should all change tomorrow.

Cue the Alps. The heart and soul of the Tour de France. With only a week to go until Paris, those with real designs on winning this big old bike race will be forced to make something happen. Tomorrow’s stage covers 207.5 kilometers from Pontarlier to Verbier and features 7 categorized climbs including a Category 1 mountain-top finish.

With a rest day on the horizon after this monster mountain stage, expect attacks, surprises, battles, and fireworks.

Stage 14 Results: Top Five Individuals

1.      IVANOV Serguei          TEAM KATUSHA              4h 37' 46"       
2.     ROCHE Nicolas         AG2R LA MONDIALE         + 00' 16"
3.     ROULSTON Hayden         CERVELO TEST TEAM         + 00' 16"
4.     MAASKANT Martijn         GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM         + 00' 16"
5.     MINARD Sébastien         COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE     + 00' 16"

Top Ten Individual Standings (GC) after Stage 14

1.      NOCENTINI Rinaldo          AG2R LA MONDIALE      58h 13' 52"       
2.     HINCAPIE George         TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC     + 00' 05"
3.     CONTADOR Alberto         ASTANA             + 00' 06"
4.     ARMSTRONG Lance         ASTANA             + 00' 08"
5.     LE MEVEL Christophe     FRANCAISE DES JEUX     + 00' 43"
6.     WIGGINS Bradley         GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM     + 00' 46"
7.     KLÖDEN Andréas         ASTANA             + 00' 54"
8.     MARTIN Tony     T    EAM COLUMBIA - HTC     + 01' 00"
9.     VANDE VELDE Christian     GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM     + 01' 24"
10.     SCHLECK Andy         TEAM SAXO BANK         + 01' 49"

Columbia-HTC Individual Standings after Stage 14

2.    HINCAPIE George                136.      CAVENDISH Mark
8.      MARTIN Tony                    137.      GRABSCH Bert
13.      MONFORT Maxime                151.      RENSHAW Mark
20.      KIRCHEN Kim                    152.      EISEL Bernhard
115.      ROGERS Michael


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