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Tour de France stage 9: Voeckler leads Tour of attrition as peloton licks its wounds

Stage 9: Issoire to Saint-Flour, 208km

As expected, Thor Hushovd‘s week-long stint in the yellow jersey was finally ended in Saint-Flour, and Philippe Gilbert extended his lead in the green jersey competition. But those was the only predictable events on a quite incredible day of multiple incidents and retirements which turned the Tour de France upside down. Luis-León Sánchez claimed the stage win and Thomas Voeckler took over the yellow jersey after the day’s break survived for the second day in a row. Tomorrow’s rest day could not have come at a better time for a peloton which has been bruised and battered more in this opening week than any other in recent memory.

A breakaway and broken bones aplenty

In amongst all the carnage a race did actually take place today, albeit one whose outcome was inexorably shaped by two key incidents. The stage included eight moderate climbs on a constantly undulating profile – a different but in many ways equally difficult challenge to those to be faced in the Pyrenees and Alps.

Vinokourov suffered multiple broken bones in what may have been a career-ending crash

After a fast-paced initial 40km intended to discourage an early escape, Voeckler initiated the successful breakaway on the first climb of the day. He was joined by Rabobank’s SánchezJuan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), Nicki Terpstra (Quick Step) and Sandy Casar (FDJ) in a group which could boast eight Tour stage wins between them (three for Casar, two each for Sánchez and Voeckler, and one for Flecha).

Terpstra was dropped on the second climb, the second-category Col du Pas de Peyrol, leaving the remaining five out front. It was on a left-hand bend on the descent from this mountain – on roads of varying dampness – that a massive crash ripped through the chasing peloton. Alexandre Vinokourov was flung into a ditch on the outside of the bend, with most of his Astana team stopping to help him out, but he was in obvious agony and immediately abandoned with a fractured femur. In what was already likely to be his final year before retirement, the injury is most likely season and therefore career-ending.

Vinokourov later said:

I never expected such a dramatic end [to] the Tour de France. This is a terrible disappointment to me, I am so sad tonight. But I want to reassure [myself] by telling me that it could have been much worse. The injury will stop me for quite a long time, and I will follow the Tour on television to support the entire Astana team. I know they will do everything to win at least one stage.

Although I always struggled to see Vino in the same light after his blood doping ban, the fact remains he served his time and will be rightly remembered for his unpredictable banzai style and an impressive palmarès. No one’s career deserves to end in the circumstances he endured today. If this is it for him, I can only bid farewell and good luck to one of the peloton’s more entertaining characters.

Vinokourov was not the only rider to go down, however. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), fifth last year, fractured a shoulder blade. Teammate Frederik Willems broke his collarbone. And Garmin-Cervélo’s David Zabriskie broke a wrist. Each of them immediately abandoned the race.

The peloton immediately neutralised the pursuit to allow stragglers caught up in the crash to regain their losses. This allowed the five-man lead group to push their lead out beyond seven minutes – making Voeckler the virtual yellow jersey – before battle was rejoined.

Hoogerland’s reward is the polka dot jersey – and a bouquet of barbed wire

By the sixth climb of the day, the Col de Prat de Bouc, with around 55km remaining, the break’s advantage was just under five minutes and this stabilised on the run down to the day’s intermediate sprint and the final two climbs. Hoogerland had taken maximum points over four summits in a row to guarantee him the polka dot jersey and Voeckler’s prospects of joining him on the podium wearing yellow were looking bright when, on a flat, straight but narrow road section 37km from the finish, disaster struck.

A car carrying the colours of French TV was attempting to pass the lead quintet with its left-hand tyres on the grass verge when it suddenly veered right – rather than braking – to avoid a tree. It hit Flecha broadside, pushing him into both Voeckler and Hoogerland. But whereas the Frenchman was somehow able to catch his bike and remain upright, the Vacansoleil rider was less fortunate. He somersaulted across the road before landing – back first – in a barbed wire fence. Both Flecha and Hoogerland were able to remount and limp to the finish, with the latter bleeding heavily from deep cuts on his legs.

It is not the first time we have seen a car or motorcycle driver attempt a reckless manoeuvre to dive past riders. Some accidents are unavoidable. This was not one of them, and the driver was unsurprisingly ejected from the Tour. One has to hope it will be the last time he is ever seen at a professional bike race.

Sanchez claimed his third career Tour win with ease

After a moment’s hesitation the remaining three continued on, hampered by the loss of two of their number but with their prospects of a stage win enhanced by the absence of Flecha, who possessed arguably the strongest finishing sprint. Voeckler, realising the yellow jersey was within his grasp, effectively sacrificed his victory prospects by time-trialing the group up the last climb to the finish, and after he launched a heavy-legged sprint he was easily overtaken by Sánchez, who romped home. Casar was a distant third.

Behind them, the Garmin-Cervélo-led peloton made minimal inroads into their deficit, with Philippe Gilbert – who had had to chase back from behind the peloton after puncturing 15km from home – winning the sprint for fourth place at a canter. His lead in the green jersey competition is now 45 points.

Hoogerland put in a superhuman effort to finish a few seconds behind Flecha. Both were nearly 17 minutes down on the winner but more than four minutes ahead of a 40-strong autobus. In tears, the Dutchman was clearly in considerable pain as he climbed the podium to receive his polka dot jersey. What condition he will be in to defend it after the rest day remains to be seen. The pair were jointly awarded the day’s combativity prize by way of wholly inadequate consolation – it is intended to be given in recognition of the day’s most aggressive rider, as opposed to the one(s) who have most been in the wars.

Hoogerland said afterwards:

We can still be happy that we’re alive. It’s horrible. I think the people in the car will have a very big guilty feeling and they will surely apologise to me and Flecha.

I have three cuts that are about seven centimetres long and quite deep too. I’ll go to the hospital now and I think I’ll need about 30 stitches at least.

I did what felt like a few somersaults. I landed on the fence and I looked at my legs and thought, “Is this what cycling is about?” I have the polka-dot jersey but I’m going to spend the rest day in a lot of pain.

Sánchez was pleased to have reversed a stage finish last year where he had lost out at the end to Casar, and revealed that the breakaway group had been unaware of the details of the crash behind them:

It’s true that there was a rematch of last year with Casar but Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne was very different because I didn’t know the final very well, while today I had studied the course. Above all, I had tremendous confidence – I felt very strong.

We never knew what happened in the bunch [with the crash]. When the gap began to grow quickly, reaching almost eight minutes, we thought that Garmin had stopped riding to leave the responsibility of the race to other teams. In fact, we only learned about the crash after arriving in Saint-Flour.

A good-humoured Voeckler was delighted to take the yellow jersey seven years after he spent ten days in the overall lead, but admitted that he had no hope of defending it all the way to Paris:

When you only have two minutes on a rider like Cadel Evans in the overall, I have to be realistic. I’m not a dreamer, I will just fight and give all that I can. I know it’s impossible for me to keep the lead for ten days like in 2004 but one thing is sure: tomorrow I can keep the jersey because it’s a rest day.

The result shook up the overall standings as Hushovd finally relinquished the maillot jaune. Voeckler now leads Sanchez by 1:49, with Cadel Evans dropping to third at 2:26 and Fränk and Andy Schleck just behind. Andreas Klöden was caught on the wrong side of a split in the main field which caught out a number of GC riders and lost eight seconds, sending him sliding down to eighth. Defending champion Alberto Contador is 4:07 adrift, having had an awkward spill after receiving what appeared to be a shove from Katusha’s Vladimir Karpets. Both riders shrugged it off as an accidental coming together afterwards, agreeing that the Spaniard’s handlebars had become caught up in Karpets’ saddle. Contador also revealed we was suffering from pain and inflammation in his knee, having now crashed three times this week.

Stage 10 preview

The race resumes on Tuesday as the riders continue south towards the Pyrenees. A short but lumpy stage features an early intermediate sprint after just 37.5km, so the sprinters’ teams may impose a fast pace from the outset to prevent an early break. Four relatively straightforward climbs follow, although the last comes just 15km from the end and is followed by another rise 4km from the finish which may prove too much for the pure sprinters. Team tactics in the final 20km will determine whether this ends up being a full-on bunch finish or, more likely, a smaller group sprint.

Stage 9 result:

1. Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank) 5:27:09

2. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) +0:05

3. Sandy Casar (FDJ) +0:13

4. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto+ 3:59

5. Peter Velits (HTC-Highroad) same time

General classification:

1. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 38:35:11

2. Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank) +1:49

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) +2:26

4. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +2:29

5. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +2:37

6. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) +2:38

7. Peter Velits (HTC-Highroad) +2:38

8. Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) +2:43

9. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:55

10. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +3:08

Points classification:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 217 pts

2. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) 172

3. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) 153

4. Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) 137

5. Cadel Evans (BMC) 135

Mountains classification:

1. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) 22 pts

2. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 16

3. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) 5

4. Rui Costa (Movistar) 5

5. Sandy Casar (FDJ) 5

Links: Tour de France official websiteSteephill.tv

Race analysis

Is the new green jersey points system working?

Stage recaps

Stage 1: Gilbert climbs to victory as Contador faces uphill battle

Stage 2: Hushovd takes yellow as Evans misses out by one second

Stage 3: Farrar’s green jersey challenge is born on the 4th of July

Stage 4: Evans wins slug-fest but Hushovd clings on to yellow

Stage 5: Cannonball Cav conquers crash carnage

Stage 6: Boasson Hagen wins battle of the strong men

Stage 7: Cavendish wins again as the Sky falls in for Wiggins

Stage 8: Costa’s winning break as Contador continues to look vulnerable

Tour de France preview

The Tour in numbers

Teams and sponsors (part 1)

Teams and sponsors (part 2)

Official Tour teaser video

Ten riders to watch

Six key stages

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

31 Responses to Tour de France stage 9: Voeckler leads Tour of attrition as peloton licks its wounds

  1. gonecycling says:

    Great write-up as ever, Tim. Hoogerland’s crash was one of the worst I’ve ever seen; being hit from behind by a car is every road cyclist’s nightmare, and to have a barbed-wire safety net waiting for you is something you don’t even like to imagine. Agree with your conculsions on Vino, too; while I’m glad to see the back of him, no one deserves to go out like that.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Nick. Did you see Hoogerland’s post-stage interview? For someone who had just had a horrible crash from which he was lucky to walk away needing no more than stitches (33 of them, apparently), he was incredibly phlegmatic and gracious in not hammering the driver of the car. These boys deserve our admiration, for they are made of stern stuff.

  2. Kitty Fondue says:

    Hoogerland – honestly, that man had me in tears when he was crying on the podium. He must have been in such pain – and in shock for a good part of the ride in, I would think, and then, as you say Tim, he was so forgiving to the idiot driver. I wonder, it’s illegal to leave the scene of an accident and it’s also illegal not to stop and offer assistance to someone injured in France, will the driver get done for that? Of course it wasn’t on purpose, but I hope that there is some follow-up on this other than just being thrown off the Tour.

    There really couldn’t have been a more popular choice for getting the yellow jersey off Thor than Thomas Voeckler. A much needed bright spot in a harrowing day. I hope he holds on to it for a few days.

    And it’s official – I am totally in love with Philippe Gilbert now. Even with the dodgy hair colour … I wonder if Cav has the measure of him yet – as in the measure of his will – because if he doesn’t or if he’s not taking him too seriously, it’ll be Gilbert in green on the Champs.

    • Tim says:

      From the way Cav is now making an effort in most of the intermediate sprints, I’m sure he’s taking Gilbert seriously. I would expect him to go all out over these next two days in the hope of picking up at least 80-90 points, which is what he will need to close the gap to Gilbert, who will just keep grinding out points in the intermediates both here and potentially in the mountains. After tomorrow there is just one more flat stage before Paris.

      Gilbert has been quite wonderful to watch because you can see what a true racer he is. In a sense, he has underperformed slightly because he has “only” won one stage (I had him down for two out of 1, 4, 6 and possibly 8), but he is always there and he is always giving 100%.

      Hoogerland. Chapeau. End of. I would also like someone to ask questions of whichever official gave permission for that car to go through (assuming they received permission).

  3. Sheree says:

    It was a day of highs and lows for three of the most attack minded guys in the peloton. While it was lovely to see Thomas Voeckler’s delight at pulling on the yellow jersey, it was heart sickening to see Alex being lifted into the waiting ambulance by his team mates. We then had another heart stopping moment as the car sent both Flecha and Hoogerland flying. As you say, the latter was incredibly phlegmatic about the entire incident. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been so charitable. That’s bike racing.

    • Tim says:

      It is bike racing, and yet it shouldn’t be, really. I’m so glad to read that he is starting today and I will be hoping he makes it all the way to Paris. Just finishing is a big enough achievement at any time, but finishing after doing an impression of a human cannonball would underline his reputation as one of the peloton’s tough guys.

      The next two days shouldn’t be a problem, but I’m hoping Voeckler can hold on to the yellow jersey for at least one day in the Pyrenees with the kind of gutsy rides he put in during his previous stint in 2004. There are times I think the French media goes a bit over the top with their worshipping of Tommy, but it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, that’s for sure.

      I can only imagine how much pain Alex was in as his teammates – understandably but perhaps unwisely – hauled him out of that ravine. The last thing you want with the kind of injuries he had is to be dragged about like that.

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  6. Kitty Fondue says:

    No one let that car through – they were going against orders from the commissaire’s car, which told them to slow down because Voeckler had called for his team car and that took precedence (did I spell that right? Looks weird). Apparently they told them to back off a couple of times before they plowed into Flecha. It was also said that that particular French TV had a reputation for driving really aggressively in races. And, find out today, it was an ex-pro cyclist who was driving! Unbelievable!

    • Tim says:

      Ah, thanks. I knew Prudhomme had hinted as much but I hadn’t read the full story, as yesterday was my official rest day too. The riders have it easy. Us bloggers have to watch them, keep up with our reading AND write about them. Still, at least there’s no random knocks on the door from the testers … 😉

      You would think an ex-pro would know better, wouldn’t you? I do feel a bit sorry for the drivers sometimes, though. They travel in a tightly-packed convoy for hours upon end, and always need to be ready to react to an incident at a split-second’s notice. Doesn’t excuse the incident in any way, though – I just wouldn’t want to have the responsibility of driving a car at a Grand Tour myself.

  7. Kitty Fondue says:

    I can only imagine that driving at a Grand Tour is right up there with death and divorce as life’s most stressful events. But still.

    You didn’t get a visit from the dope testers? Oh, um, I did … ha ha ha.

    • Tim says:

      Apparently you only get tested after you’ve been chucked into a wire fence by a car. Although I can actually understand why you might target a rider in desperate need of a pick-me-up to see him through the next few days, I do think that knocking on Hoogerland’s door at 7am today to spot-test him was incredibly insensitive.

      The testers would certainly find large traces of salbutamol in my system. But, as an asthmatic, at least I have a medical explanation for any positive result. 🙂

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