July 9, 2009
Tour de France Stage Seven: Barcelone to Andorre Arcalis
224 km (139 miles)
In a phenomenal breakout performance, newly-minted professional Brice Feillu rode away from eight break-mates today to cross the line alone at the top of Andorre Arcalis. After looking a bit haggard toward the bottom of the final climb, the rookie 23-year-old Agritubel rider delivered a career-making attack and accelerated away from the lead group to take the win. He’d been riding in the break for more than 200 kilometers.
Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) crossed the line 26 seconds later. He had been the highest placed rider in the break at the start of the day (32nd place on the GC, 3:13 down) and managed to cross the line with a wide enough margin to catapult him to the front of the general classification and make him the first Italian in 9 years to wear the coveted maillot jaune.
The bigger race, however, was happening behind the breakaway finishers as Astana’s Alberto Contador attacked the front of the chase group, putting 21 seconds into his nearest challenger, teammate Lance Armstrong. The ride moved Contador from 3rd to 2nd overall, two seconds ahead of Armstrong, going into another big mountain stage tomorrow.
Cavendish remains in green for 7th straight day, Tony Martin 7th in GC
Today wasn’t a day for the sprinters, but Cavendish got a little help from the boys in the break and maintained control of the Points Classification. Members of the breakaway claimed all of the intermediate sprint points along the way, ensuring that sprinting rival Thor Hushovd didn’t snag any of them to move into the lead in what’s shaping up to be an epic battle for the green Points Classification jersey. Cavendish remains in the lead for today and will wear the maillot vert again tomorrow for the 7th day running.
Rain and wind battered the peloton in the second half of today’s stage, creating slick roads and dangerous conditions. Cervelo Test-Team’s Thor Hushovd (nicknamed “The God of Thunder”) roared to victory on the uphill finish, after the peloton reeled in an impressive solo escape attempt by Garmin-Slipstream’s David Millar.
Today’s stage did not affect the top tier of the GC – Cancellara (Saxo-Bank) remains in the yellow jersey heading into tomorrow’s first mountain stage with Astana’s Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador nipping at his heels in second and third place. Sitting in 7th place, Tony Martin remains Columbia-HTC’s highest place rider in the overall classification.
Cavendish remains in green, Mick Rogers involved in a nasty crash
The finish didn’t suit Mark Cavendish’s strengths and he crossed the line in 16th position but managed to retain his lead in the points classification by just a single point, so he will once again ride in the green jersey tomorrow. As the race now heads up and into the mountains, Cavendish will have to wait until Stage 10 before he gets another opportunity to go after his third stage victory.
Today’s stage was riddled with crashes – including one that took out Columbia-HTC’s George Hincapie and Mick Rogers.
Voeckler’s incredible win today was a shining example of why riders will turn themselves inside out to get into a break early in the race. 99% of the time they’ll be pulled back by the main field with just a few kilometers to go - but sometimes?
Sometimes the breakaway sticks.
It requires a bit of luck, a few suitcases of courage, and a little disorganization in the main field – but when it happens, it can make a lesser-known rider’s entire career.
The anatomy of the break
Typically, at the beginning of the race, the peloton will “cover” (chase down) attacks until the right combination of riders gets away. In the Tour, race favorites, teammates of race favorites and other major players are never allowed to make the break. Instead, you’ll see no-name riders from smaller teams. (The best-placed GC rider in today’s break was Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) who was 3:02 behind Cancellara and Astana's Lance Armstrong).
Making the break is important for these riders because even if they may never manage to win a stage and probably won’t place very high in the overall tour standings, their time in front of the television cameras while they’re out ahead of the peloton is invaluable to their sponsors.
Since they aren’t a threat to any of the big dogs, the peloton is content to let them ride ahead for an (unlikely) go at glory – and will keep them at least 4 minutes or more out in front in order to discourage more riders from attacking the field to try to bridge up to the lead group.
Timing the catch
July 8, 2009
Tour de France Stage Five: Le Cap d'Agde to Perpignan 196.5 kilometers
196.5 kilometers (122 miles)
Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) stole the show today after dropping his breakaway companions in the final 5k to take the solo win, ahead of a hard-charging peloton. The six-man break had been away from the field for almost the entire 122 mile race and the main field, who waited just a fraction too long to orchestrate their chase, was unable to catch the runaway Frenchman.
Finishing with the main group just behind Voeckler, Team Columbia-HTC’s Mark Cavendish was able to sprint for third place, grabbing a few more precious sprint points to bring his total to 96. He is currently 20 points ahead of nearest rival, Thor Hushovd, and will ride in the green sprinter’s jersey again tomorrow.
How it unfolded
Today should have been a day for the sprinters: a relatively flat stage with a long, straight run into the finish. As it was, the 196.5 kilometer run from Le Cap d'Agde to Perpignan had something different in store.
Incredible glory for the French, the return of an old hero, and a finish that would ultimately confound a nervous peloton.
Thomas Voeckler attacked from the gun, riding into the fierce 'Tramontane' winds to initiate a break that quickly stormed away from the main field. Though not a GC contender or threat to any of the major teams, Voeckler is not a complete unknown: in 2004 he wore the maillot jaune for an impressive 10 days, solidifying his station as a French national hero and capturing the hearts of many.
Along for the ride with Voeckler: Anthony Geslin (Française des Jeux), Marcin Sapa (Lampre), Thomas Yauheni Hutarovich (Française des Jeux), Mikhael Ignatiev (Katusha) and Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano).
July 7, 2009
Tour de France Stage Four: Montpellier to Montpellier (TTT)
39 kilometers (24.2 miles)
Coming off a herculean effort in yesterday’s road stage, Team Columbia-HTC rallied to hammer through a tough and technical team time trial course today, finishing the 39 kilometer (24.2mi) course in 47:28, averaging just about 30mph. The ride was good enough to put them in fifth place on the day.
Narrow roads and winding turns challenged nerves as well as legs, as the team worked together to keep the speed high and the paceline tight. Starting second-to-last (teams started in inverse order of their position in the overall team classification competition) they hit the pavement and set out to conserve time and defend the GC positions of yellow-jersey contenders Kim Kirchen and Michael (Mick) Rogers.
Starting behind them, Team Astana was heavily favored to win the day - and they delivered on the hype.
Recap: How the TTT Works
The team time trial (TTT) follows the same basic principle of the ITT (teams ride alone and the team with the fastest time wins) but requires each team to work closely together. Riders draft in an aerodynamic line, each member taking a turn at the front while teammates 'sit in' behind. After their turn, the lead rider will swing over, allowing the next rider to take the lead, while the leader goes to the back of the line. By rotating this way, the team is able to maximize recovery and speed, moving far faster than a single rider could on their own. The official team time is clocked when the 5th rider crosses the line.
Why It’s Important
The Tour de France hasn’t featured a Team Time Trial since 2005 and its inclusion this year will be extremely important in the yellow jersey and team competitions. In years past, organizers limited the amount of time any given team could lose in the TTT (in an attempt to control its effect on the GC competition), but they’ve chosen not to do that this time around. This means GC contenders on weaker teams risk losing serious time in the overall classification.
Who to Watch
Team Astana is the runaway favorite to win, with a stacked squad and four time-trial powerhouses. Four other squads are capable of delivering an upset, but it will take a near perfect ride to pull it off. Among them, of course, Team Columbia-HTC. Coming off a TTT win in the Giro D’Italia earlier this May, they’ve shown that they’re capable of riding with the best and will look to deliver another dominating performance.