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Madeleine breaks Evans’ heart as Schleck and Contador move clear

Stage 9: Morzine-Avoriaz > Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne (204.5 km)

The Col de la Madeleine is a demanding mistress. If you are not man enough to cope with her 1,600-metre plus ascent, or if you display even the slightest hint of weakness, then she will crush your dreams and break your heart. Cadel Evans is one of the toughest riders in the peloton, but even he could not blot out the agony of a cracked elbow on the 25.5 km climb, the longest in this year’s Tour. At the end of another explosive stage in the Alps – won by Sandy Casar – Evans relinquished the yellow jersey to Andy Schleck who, along with defending champion Alberto Contador, has now established clear daylight to the rest of the GC contenders.

Andy Schleck leads Alberto Contador on the slopes of the Col de la Madeleine (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Evans had picked up his injury when he was an innocent victim of a crash in the opening kilometres of Sunday’s stage to Morzine-Avoriaz. He finished, inheriting the maillot jaune from Sylvain Chavanel in the process, but was always going to struggle today. He has now worn the race leader’s jersey in each of the last three Grand Tours (here, the Giro d’Italia in May and last September’s Vuelta a España), and lost it the very next day on each occasion.

New King of the Mountains leader Anthony Charteau

An break of eleven riders went away early on, including Casar, polka dot jersey Jérôme Pineau, Anthony Charteau, Thor Hushovd and three Caisse d’Epargne riders: team leader Luis León SánchezChristophe Moreau (at 39, the oldest rider in the Tour) and José Gutiérrez. Hushovd claimed the six points on offer at the first intermediate sprint to extend his lead in the points competition, before dropping back to the peloton.

Further attacks on the first major climb of the day, the first-category 16.5 km ascent of the Colombière, caused the peloton to fracture on the way up and then partially reform on the descent, but the pattern was soon set for a long day of attrition as gaps between the various groups concertinaed back and forth. Nonetheless, there were no major attacks on either of the following two climbs – the Col des Aravis (category two) and the Col des Saisies (category one) – as the riders contemplated the looming mass of the 2,000-metre high Madeleine, the first hors catégorie mountain of this year’s Tour.

At this stage, the escape group still held an advantage of over six minutes, and as first Saxo Bank and then Astana moved to the front and began to raise the tempo, riders started to fall out of the back of the elite group. Pineau was among the early casualties, loosening his grip on the polka dot jersey. And then, still around 12 kilometres from the summit, the yellow jersey began to slide inexorably backward. Inch by painful inch Evans, his injured left arm swathed in blue bandages, lost contact with the back of the group. The news was quickly transmitted forward, where Astana’s Daniel Navarro picked the pace up a notch, firmly and permanently dislodging the Australian. Evans would eventually trail in eight minutes down, all hope of a podium finish snuffed out in the space of a single climb.

Evans was in tears and obvious pain after the stage, but explained to reporters:

I had a big crash six or seven kilometres into [Sunday’s] stage and I’m experiencing the consequences. It was all going so well, but I’m sorry to let them [my team and BMC boss Andy Rihs] down. I was vulnerable on the climb and that’s not my normal level. But when you’re in yellow at the Tour de France, you’ve got to be there.

Further up the Madeleine, Charteau led the remnants of the escape group – Casar, Damiano Cunego and Luis León Sánchez – over the summit, and started on the long 30-plus kilometre descent to the finish in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. Behind them, Schleck and Contador had burned off the last of their teammates and all their rivals, and as they approached the summit themselves Schleck made a series of short, sharp attacks to test out Contador, only to find he was equal to the challenge on each occasion. They went over the peak together, with Samuel Sánchez not far behind, and started working together on the descent to chase down the leading four, picking up a passenger in Moreau (who had dropped back near the summit) on the way.

Stage nine winner Sandy Casar

With the leaders’ pace slowing in the final kilometres as they began sizing each other up tactically, the trio behind them devoured a gap of about 50 seconds in five kilometres to catch them with under a kilometre to go. Schleck kept on going, looking for the stage win and the maximum possible gain over those behind, only for Casar to force his way past in the final 300 metres and win the seven-man sprint for the line. It was the Frenchman’s third career Tour win, in addition to six second places.

Casar was overjoyed afterwards, despite almost being caught by surprise at the very end:

The last 5 km nobody was riding and it wasn’t exactly what I expecting. We knew some riders were coming from behind but we didn’t know who it was. I was a little surprised there were no attacks 3-4 km from the finish. When the Schleck group caught us and Andy took the lead it was a surprise for us. At 200 meters I had to go for it. I knew that if I went a little to the left that no one could come by me.

Schleck donned the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, adding the prize to his first Tour stage win on Sunday. While he knows the job is not even half done if he wants to still be wearing it in Paris, his confidence is clearly growing:

Right now I have [the yellow jersey] and I know it’s not going to be a piece of cake to hold onto it. But I have a good team around me and of course I’m happy that I have it. It’s a dream come true to have the yellow jersey. Now I’ve got 40 seconds [actually, 41] on Contador and there’s a pretty big gap to everyone else – now I’ve only got one guy to watch.

Last year he [Contador] dropped me wherever he wanted, and this year he is scared of me; he has respect.

The defending champion agreed, and overall he will have been delighted with his day’s work:

We had a good battle on the Madeleine. At first he was attacking me, but then we agreed to work together to arrive to the finish line [to maximise the time gains]. It’s clear now that my rival is Andy.

On by far the highest-scoring day in the King of the Mountains competition so far, it is all change at the top of the order. Charteau picked up 40 points as the first man over the Madeleine, which edged him ahead of Pineau by the finest of margins to claim the polka dot jersey, with fellow escapees Moreau and Cunego also moving into contention.

Behind the first seven, the shattered peloton rolled in in dribs and drabs. Samuel Sánchez overcooked in trying to bridge the narrow gap to Schleck and Contador on the fast descent and finished alone, 52 seconds down. Next came a small group including Denis Menchov, Levi Leipheimer and Robert Gesink, just over two minutes behind. Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and Jurgen van den Broeck were a further 43 seconds back, and all the other top men lost more time still.

Tonight, with everyone from Robert Gesink, in seventh, onwards now at least four minutes off the pace and effectively out of serious contention, there will be a lot of riders and directeurs sportif hastily re-evaluating their race strategy. Do they continue to aim for a possible podium place, knowing the top step is out of reach? Or do they switch focus to aim for stage wins or the polka dot jersey?

Bradley Wiggins

Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, who entered the race with the primary aim of a podium finish, is one of the riders facing exactly this quandary:

I’m going to keep pushing and doing my best. I may keep trying for a top 10 on GC. So much has been put into this; I don’t just want to give up. I’ll keep trying.

Up front, the focus remains clear. Schleck and Contador are now firmly established as the race favourites, but it is not quite a two-horse race yet. With four torturous days in the Pyrenees and the individual time trial – Schleck’s Achilles’ heel – to come, Samuel Sánchez, Menchov, van den Broeck and Leipheimer in particular will be contemplating what, if anything, they can do to reduce their deficit to the two leaders. But for the next four days, the yellow jersey battle should be put on hiatus, with tomorrow – Bastille Day – certain to produce a breakaway group dominated by French riders, and possibly a certain Lance Armstrong. Should he attempt to join the break, it will be interesting to see whether the senior figures in the peloton give their blessing or decide to hold a grudge for past slights. He may be out of overall contention, but an Armstrong sub-plot is never far beneath the surface. We shall see.

Stage 9 result:

1. Sandy Casar (FDJ) 5:38:10

2. Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne) same time

3. Damiano Cunego (Lampre) s/t

4. Christophe Moreau (Caisse d’Epargne) +0:02

5. Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) s/t

6. Alberto Contador (Astana) s/t

7. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) s/t

General classification (yellow jersey):

1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 43:35:41

2. Alberto Contador (Astana) +0:41

3. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +2:45

4. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +2:58

5. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +3:31

6. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +3:59

7. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +4:22

8. Luis León Sánchez (Caisse d’Epargne) +4:41

9. Joaquín Rodríquez (Katusha) +5:08

10. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) +5:09

Selected others:

11. Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) +5:11

12. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) +5:42

13. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +6:31

16. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +7:18

18. Cadel Evans (BMC) +7:47

31. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +15:54

Points classification (green jersey):

1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 124 pts

2. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 114

3. Robbie McEwen (Katusha) 105

4. José Joaquín Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne) 92

5. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 85

Climbers’ classification (polka dot jersey):

1. Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) 85 pts

2. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) 85

3. Christophe Moreau (Caisse d’Epargne) 62

4. Damiano Cunego (Lampre) 56

5. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 50

Stage 10 preview:

Start & finish: Chambéry > Gap

Distance & type: 179 km, medium mountains

Prediction: The final day in the Alps, and definitely one for the leaders to enjoy a moment’s peace as they start to look forward to a series of flat days before the perils which await them in the Pyrenees. On Bastille Day, a group of predominantly French riders will inevitably escape early and stay away to the finish. With bigger fish to fry, expect Schleck and Contador to tell their teams to take the day off. It won’t be dull, but there won’t be fireworks either – unless Armstrong attempts to join the group, at which point things could get very spicy.

For more reviews and informed comments about the Tour de France, please read any (or all!) of the following excellent blogs:

Marc’s sports blog

Todd Kinsey’s TDF blog

SportPH

Cyclingproject365

Richard Tulloch’s Life on the Road

The social cyclist

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

9 Responses to Madeleine breaks Evans’ heart as Schleck and Contador move clear

  1. I felt somewhat cut-off from my usual TourdeF live TV show in Canada. That is until I discovered that the national TV sports channel replays most of the official Tour de France TV footage.

    It’s great! I can read your report early in the AM and around 8:30 AM I get to see the full TV replay. The real faces of agony and the flow. Most of the mountain images are great. I get to see the crowd reactions. And then the lonely struggle up to the col summits. I even see the wounds on Lance’s arms and tears in his uniform.

    The shots from helicopters are just amazing. These are scenes you can’t see by the side of the road no matter how strategic your position. This is the way to see the Tour!

    But the dialogue does leave a lot to be desired since it’s all in Mandarin!

  2. Tim says:

    What takes you to China, Bob? I once watched the Super Bowl (2000, I think) with Mandarin-only commentary in a hotel in Hong Kong, which was hilarious because every now and then they would break into English when using a technical term they clearly didn’t have an equivalent for. Hence “gabble gabble gabble quarterback sneak gabble gabble first down gable gabble sack gabble” …

    The mountain stages are a thing of beauty. The camera work is sumptuous, and the crowd reactions part of the dramatic tapestry. And you have the contrast of the riders struggling up the steepest climbs, sometimes barely at walking pace, and then flying down the descents with a grace which belies their speed. Yesterday’s stage was at times excruciating to watch – which is what makes it so fantastic.

    Stage 10 report will probably be 12 hours later than normal as I’m out tonight, but bear with me, caller, your custom is very important to us and your call will be answered by the next available representative … 🙂

  3. gonecycling says:

    Hi Tim – this is a great blog; chapeau on a fine write-up of a cracking stage. I’ve added you to my blogroll: you never know, you might even persuade me that football is a game worth watching one day! I’m commentating on the Tour in verse on my blog; it’s not nearly as informative as yours, of course, but it’s a different persepctive on this mad, inhuman and utterly glorious race.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve been reading your verses for a few days now and have been meaning to comment (but have usually been too busy writing!) They have always raised a smile. Keep up the good work!

  4. It’s shaping up as one of the best tours in years, isn’t it?

    One upside of Wiggo’s performance (for me anyhow!) is that it might lead to more support for Edvald Boasson Hagen and improve his chances for a stage win. Perhaps today?

    • Tim says:

      It certainly is – not least because of its lack of predictability. I think Wiggo will still ride for a top-10 spot, but Sky’s main focus now switches to stages. Whether that is Wiggo, EBH or even Flecha, who is a bit if a breakaway specialist, we shall see …

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