24 hours from the Tour de France

The title of the Gene Pitney song is actually 24 Hours from Tulsa, but what the hell? For both die-hard and occasional cycling fans, the biggest day in the sport’s cycling calendar is now just one day away. Tomorrow, in Liege in Belgium, the 2012 edition of the Tour de France begins. Three weeks of hell. Two wheels. One amazing race.

Will Sky’s Bradley Wiggins live up to his billing as the bookies’ favourite and become the first British rider to wear the coveted yellow jersey in Paris (let alone the first to finish on the Paris podium)? Or will Australia’s Cadel Evans be able to defend the title he won with such battling panache last July?

Will the combination of Mark Cavendish‘s preparations for the Olympic road race and Sky’s focus on Wiggins compromise his effectiveness as he seeks to add to his 20 Tour stage wins in defence of his green jersey? Or will we see a new sprint king crowned in Peter Sagan or perhaps Andre Greipel, Matt Goss or Mark Renshaw, all former teammates of Cavendish at HTC-Highroad?

Who will delight us with their daring attacks on the steep climbs and equally precipitous descents of the Alps and Pyrenees? And who will provide us with the drama and romance which featured protagonists such as French media darling Thomas Voeckler and Johnny ‘Barbed Wire’ Hoogerland?

In previous years I have provided stage-by-stage recaps and analysis here. However, all cycling coverage has now transferred over to our new dedicated site, where you will find full previews, daily recaps, stats and analysis throughout the next three weeks. Just click on the banner above and come and join us!


The week in numbers: w/e 22/1/12

Joe Paterno, RIP (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

85 – Age of Joe Paterno, former football head coach of Penn State University, who died after a short battle with lung cancer. Paterno won 409 games and two national championships in nearly 46 years as coach, but was sacked last November for his links to a child abuse scandal.

0 – Number of sets won by the five British players – Laura Robson, Heather Watson, Elena Baltacha, James Ward and Anne Keothavong – who competed on the first day of the Australian Open. They lost ten sets and all five matches between them.

3 – Former Chelsea and Leeds defender Michael Duberry scored an unusual hat-trick for current club Oxford United. He conceded two own goals to put visitors Hereford United 2-1 up at the Kassam Stadium, before snatching a last-minute equaliser to earn Oxford a point.

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Vuelta a España: Sagan and Kittel debut wins promise end to Cavendish domination

Contrasting maiden Grand Tour stage wins by a pair of Vuelta a España debutants – Peter Sagan and Marcel Kittel – punctuated what should have been a relatively quiet couple of days for the big names, but turned out to be anything but. A late team attack by the Liquigas team of defending champion Vincenzo Nibali on Thursday’s stage was followed by a crash within sight of the finish today to leave many riders cursing a combination of unexpected time losses and crash injuries.

Stage 6: Úbeda to Córdoba, 196.8km

Stage six to Córdoba saw a four-man break reeled in by the peloton with 27km remaining, just before the final second-category climb. Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek) set a fierce pace on the front which soon had several riders hanging on desperately at the back, including the now familiar sight of a struggling Igor Antón. It’s safe to say now that the Euskaltel-Euskadi leader’s general classification hopes have vanished.

Defending King of the Mountains David Moncoutié predictably popped off the front to collect maximum points over the summit and was joined early on the subsequent descent by Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad), David de la Fuente (Geox-TMC) and Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step). However, with just under 10km to go to the finish, Liquigas launched a pre-planned attack, with four men – including 2010 champion Vincenzo Nibali – breaking away from the bunch at speeds touching 90kph and flying past the Moncoutié group. Only stage three winner Pablo Lastras – who had previously won in Córdoba back in 2002 – was able to go with them as the Liquigas attack put clear daylight between themselves and the other GC contenders.

Having executed their plan to perfection, you would imagine that in the final few kilometres there would have been a communication from the Liquigas team car to its four riders saying something along the lines of:

Right, we want Vincenzo to get as many bonus seconds as possible, ideally the 20 seconds for the win. So let’s set him up for the sprint. If he can’t beat Lastras, make sure none of you finish ahead of him so he gets second place and 12 seconds. Okay, everybody got that?

Sagan won a stage on his Grand Tour debut (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

But no. As the lead quintet approached the finish, the four Liquigas riders seemed unclear what to do and as Lastras opened up his sprint Sagan shot forward to cover the move and at least ensure the stage victory stayed within the team. Lastras crossed the line two lengths behind as Nibali, Valerio Agnoli and Eros Capecchi all looked at each other and, having already shot themselves in one foot, promptly put a bullet in the other as Agnoli took the four bonus seconds for third ahead of his team leader. It was, quite simply, a comedy of basic errors at the end of a superbly executed tactical move.

The key GC contenders all finished in one of two groups, either 17 or 23 seconds behind – red jersey Sylvain Chavanel was in the first of these – meaning a Nibali victory would have effectively doubled his gains and earned him enough time to put him into the overall lead.

At 21 years 203 days, Sagan claimed his first Grand Tour stage on his debut, making him the youngest winner at one of the three biggest races of the year since Heinrich Haussler at the 2005 Vuelta.

Stage 6 result:

1. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 4:38:22

2. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) same time

3. Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

4. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

5. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) s/t

Stage 7: Almadén to Talavera de la Reina, 187.6km

Today’s stage had ‘bunch sprint’ written all over it, and first year pro Marcel Kittel delivered not only his own maiden Grand Tour stage victory but a similar first for his Skil-Shimano squad in their sixth year of racing. However, the finish was marred by a massive high-speed crash near the front in the final 100 metres when Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) drifted right as Michał Gołaś (Vacansoleil-DCM) edged to his left beside him. The two touched wheels, immediately went down heavily, and set off a domino effect which sent several other riders tumbling to the ground.

A first Grand Tour win for both Kittel and Skil-Shimano

Earlier, a four-man break had built a lead of nearly nine minutes, but on a flattish day with a predominantly downhill final 40km a mass finish was always going to occur. With the sprinters’ teams all jostling for position, Skil-Shimano moved decisively to the front under the flamme rouge and provided a strong lead-out for Kittel, who held off yesterday’s winner Peter Sagan by a bike length as the carnage unfolded behind him.

Leading contenders Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim RodríguezMichele Scarponi and Jurgen Van den Broeck all came down in the crash – none appeared to suffer anything more than cuts and bruises – but red jersey Sylvain Chavanel was able to pull up in time to avoid being unseated. Farrar did not remount for several minutes and was taken to hospital immediately afterwards with muscular and tissue injuries to his left leg, but reportedly no broken bones. However, it seems likely he will be forced to abandon.

The crash held up more than half the peloton, but because it occurred in the final 3km everyone in the bunch received the same time. Even without the accident, Kittel would have won anyway as he was in pole position already. Chavanel retains his 15-second lead over Daniel Moreno, with both Nibali and Rodríguez in close attendance. That is likely to change after tomorrow’s finish in San Lorenzo, which features ramps of 27% and 28% on a climb which rises 200 metres in the final 2.4km.

An end to Mark Cavendish’s sprint domination?

For the past four years, the combination of the world’s fastest pure sprinter, Mark Cavendish, and cycling’s best lead-out train in HTC-Highroad have dominated the bunch finishes in every major race they have entered. Cavendish alone has won a remarkable 30 individual stages in nine attempts at the three Grand Tours in that period, while André Greipel added six more before leaving for Omega Pharma-Lotto last winter.

Degenkolb's departure from HTC-Highroad will add to the competition next year

However, HTC-Highroad is disbanding at the end of this season, and Cavendish and arguably the finest collection of sprint talent the sport has ever seen are being scattered across the professional peloton. That roster includes Matt Goss (winner of Milan-San Remo), lead-out man extraordinaire Mark Renshaw, and 22-year old John Degenkolb, who won twice at the Dauphiné and will be joining his compatriot Kittel at Skil-Shimano next year.

Cavendish has yet to confirm who he will ride for next year – Sky are assumed to be his most likely destination – but no matter where he goes he is unlikely to have the kind of well-drilled train that the likes of Renshaw, Goss, Tony Martin and Bernhard Eisel guaranteed him. The Manxman will still win races next year – and plenty of them – but the break-up of his team means the stranglehold he has had on flat stages, where his rivals have generally been racing only for second place, will be broken. That can only be a good thing for the sport.

Already this year we have seen Greipel, Farrar and Edvald Boasson Hagen win their first Tour de France stages, and the addition of Sagan and Kittel to the winner’s circle at Grand Tours will ensure a broader spectrum of potential winners at the biggest races next year.

At 23, Kittel is in his first season as a professional, but announced his presence immediately with a victory at January’s Tour de Langkawi. But it was at the Tour of Poland earlier this month where he really sprang to prominence, winning four stages with devastating final bursts. His win today was equally impressive.

The 21-year old Sagan is already in his second year, and emerged as the overall winner at the Tour of Poland after two stage wins and some dogged defensive climbing on the hillier stages. The Slovakian is well suited to finishes requiring power as well as speed, and had already enjoyed a hugely successful 2011 before the Vuelta, winning three stages at the Giro de Sardegna, one at the Tour of California and two at the Tour de Suisse. He is also a two-time stage winner at Paris-Nice.

The elite group of sprinters will soon be saying goodbye to veteran stalwarts such as Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen but now includes newcomers Kittel and Sagan. Add to that the established Greipel and Farrar, powerful classics men such as the Norwegian pairing of Thor Hushovd and Boasson Hagen and a number of others who are not quite in that top bracket but are all potential big race winners on their day – Degenkolb joins the likes of Daniele Bennati and J J Haedo in this category – the sprinters’ field looks deeper and stronger than it has done for several years. Bunch sprints in 2012 should be quite a sight to behold.

Stage 7 result:

1. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 4:47:59

2.  Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) same time

3. Óscar Freire (Rabobank) s/t

4. Daniele Bennati (Leopard-Trek) s/t

5. Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) s/t

General classification:

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 27:29:12

2. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:15

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:16

4. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +0:23

5. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:25

6. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) +0:41

7. Maxime Monfort (Leopard-Trek) +0:44

8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:49

9. Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) +0:49

10. Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) +0:52

Points classification:

1.  Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 50 pts

2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 48

3. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) 48

4. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 41

5. Marcel Kittel (Skil-Shimano) 41

Mountains classification:

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 20 pts

2. Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) 15

3. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) 13

4. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) 10

5. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 10

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Vuelta a España posts

Vuelta a España preview

Team time trial winners & losers

Stage 2 recap & analysing the sprints

Chavanel leads as heat picks up in GC competition

Rodríguez floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee

Eneco Tour stage 1 & 2: Greipel doubles up but Phinney retains overall lead

Omega Pharma-Lotto’s André Greipel‘s final burst proved too much for his sprint rivals as he claimed stages one and two at the Eneco Tour of Benelux with a pair of textbook late surges to beat out first Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) in Sint Willebrord and then Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) in Ardooie as the race passed from Holland into Belgium. With his nearest challenger Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) managing just a single third-place finish, BMC’s Taylor Phinney retained the overall lead by just three seconds ahead of tomorrow’s queen stage, which features the vicious Mur de Huy midway and two climbs in the final 6km.

Stage 1: Oosterhout to Sint Willebrord, 192.1km

On a typical Dutch stage featuring narrow roads littered with street furniture, it was no small achievement just to survive to contest the inevitable bunch sprint on a crash-strewn day. Indeed, a crash just over 1km from the line reduced the front group to around 20 riders, with André Greipel outmuscling Denis Galimzyanov to win a tight finish.

An early six-man break formed consisting of Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), Matteo Trentin (Quick Step), Jens Debusschere (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Stijn Neirynck (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) and Feng Han (Skil-Shimano). They build a lead of ten minutes before the BMC team of overall leader Taylor Phinney started to bring it down, aided by Sky and Garmin-Cervélo. Neirynck and Han subsequently fell back from the lead group, leaving the other four on their own at the front.

With around 55km to go, a crash towards the back of the peloton unseated several riders, including Movistar’s Francisco Perez, who was forced to abandon and taken to hospital. A second crash at the 40km mark involving Daniel Sesma (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Sébastien Minard (AG2R La Mondiale) saw the latter retire, and a dozen kilometres later Astana sprinter Allan Davis also had a close encounter with the tarmac. Nonetheless, despite the disruption caused by the crashes, the peloton remained fully committed to the chase, with the lead quartet’s advantage down to three minutes with 33km remaining, two at 26km and just one at 19km.

Greipel timed his effort to perfection to claim the first of two wins

At this point Phinney punctured but was able to chase back to the pack with the help of several BMC teammates. And despite Fouchard’s solo attack off the front of the breakaway, a Rabobank-led peloton swept up all four leaders with about 10km to go. The Dutch team set a rapid tempo, but a counter-attack by HTC-Highroad’s Lars Bak with about 4km to go saw them swamped by other teams. However, with stiff winds buffeting the peloton, no one seemed willing to take on the pace-making. The bunch slowed and compressed, forcing some riders on to the pavement in the search for empty road space as any semblance of organisation disappeared. Eventually Sky and then Quick Step moved forwards, but with the peloton still tightly packed rather than strung out approaching the final kilometre, the chances of an accident were high. Sure enough a Liquigas rider came down after a touch of wheels, and this sliced the bunch in two, with around 20 riders – including most of the top sprinters – in front and everyone else cut adrift.

Phinney himself opened up the sprint as the leaders rounded the final corner. Tyler Farrar shot past him, but Galimzyanov emerged from his wheel to overhaul him. However Greipel, who had initially looked too far back to challenge, accelerated out from behind the Russian to take victory by just under a wheel’s length.

Phinney finished seventh, immediately behind Edvald Boasson Hagen, to maintain his seven-second lead. He was grateful to have steered clear of all the crashes:

I was feeling good at the end. Rabobank made a big push to try and split the field and I was right up there with great help from Greg Van Avermaet and Karsten Kroon in the final. I was fighting for Boasson Hagen’s wheel because I knew that if he won the stage he’d take the jersey. Happy to be up there, but also happy to miss the crashes and I’m really thankful to the guys for all the work they did today.

Greipel explained that his run to the line only opened up in the closing seconds:

It was pretty narrow in the final straight. The team did a really good job to keep me up at the front; but I couldn’t get a gap at first. With a hundred metres to go I think I was 12th, 13th maybe, but finally I could find a bit of space, and I could do my sprint.

Stage 1 result:

1. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4:21:20

2. Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) same time

3. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) s/t

4. Theo Bos (Rabobank) s/t

5. Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano) s/t

Stage 2: Aalter to Ardooie, 173.7km

A different country today – Belgium rather than the Netherlands – produced the same result, as Greipel again proved the fastest man over the final 200 metres to take a second successive stage win ahead of Tyler Farrar.

Four riders – Rob Goris (Veranda’s Willems-Accent), Sam Bewley (RadioShack), Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator) and Skil-Shimano’s Feng Han (for the second day in a row) – formed the breakaway of the day, gaining over five minutes on the peloton at one stage. However, this was reduced to just one minute with 56km left, and after a counter-move off the front of the peloton Wallays was the only survivor of the lead group, joined by Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis). The pair rebuilt their lead to over a minute ahead with 39km remaining, but despite crosswinds which caused the peloton to split they were caught with 23km still to go.

After a brief solo break by Saramotins’ teammate Julien Fouchard (who had featured in the previous day’s escape) was reeled in, Astana ramped up the pace on the front of the main bunch, with Lampre, RadioShack, HTC-Highroad, Sky and Skil-Shimano all showing intent as the jostling intensified on the narrow, twisty approach to the finish. Into the last kilometre, first Sky and then Skil-Shimano tried to take control, but it was Garmin’s Farrar who made the first decisive move in the sprint, only for Greipel to again time his late run to perfection, this time taking victory by close to a full bike length.

Unlike his stage one victory, where he had to come late after his path to the front was slow to open up, this was a far more routine finish for the German:

I know this finish well, it was the same as last year. There was a block headwind, so I told the guys with five kilometres to go that we had to move up. They did it, it was just a question of [being in] the position in the corner with 1.5 kilometres to go. Sieberg and Roelandts brought me in a really good position there, then Roelandts was pulling the sprint a long time. I let three guys in between us and then I started the sprint. I am really happy.

Farrar finished second, with Boasson Hagen picking up four bonus seconds in third. His maiden Tour de France win notwithstanding, Farrar continues to be the nearly man of sprinters when it comes to the big races – always there or thereabouts, but too often a fraction short of victory. You have to wonder whether his continued inability to turn good positions into stage wins lends credibility to the latest whispers linking Garmin to the best finisher in the business, Mark Cavendish. I’d say it’s likely to be little more than scurrilous rumour – Sky remains the Manxman’s most likely destination – but stranger things have happened.

Taylor Phinney held on to the race lead, although his lead over Boasson Hagen is now down to three seconds. However, he acknowledged that it will be tough to resist the challenge of both the Norwegian and Philippe Gilbert on tomorrow’s hillier stage:

I’m looking forward to the hills tomorrow. It will make for stressful racing, but a little bit more of a natural selection. We will try to hold onto the jersey. Obviously Boasson Hagen took some time back on me today and is a very good climber. Gilbert is the king of these kind of mountains. But we’ll see – we’ll take it as it comes and I’m looking forward to it.

Stage 2 result:

1. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4:07:21

2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) same time

3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t

4. Jean-Pierre Drucker (Veranda’s Willems-Accent) s/t

5. Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank-Sungard) s/t

General classification:

1. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 8:35:38

2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +0:03

3. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:08

4. Alex Rasmussen (HTC-Highroad) +0:09

5. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:10

Points classification:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 62 pts

2. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +60

3. Taylor Phinney (BMC) 58

4. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) 47

5. Tom Veelers (Skil-Shimano) 30

Link: Official website

Eneco Tour recaps

Prologue: Phinney delivers on his promise with prologue win

Tour de France 2011 review: Stage-by-stage

The 2011 Tour de France is done and dusted, having covered 3,430.5 kilometres in 21 stages over 23 days, from east to west and north to south of the country, taking in a brief sojourn in the Alps into Italy, before finally providing us with a new champion in Cadel Evans. The 167 finishers can now enjoy a well-earned rest or earn some deserved appearance money at the post-Tour criteriums, but in the meantime here is a stage-by-stage reminder of how the race was won and lost.

Stage 1: Passage du Gois La Barre de Monts to Mont des Alouettes Les Herbiers, 191.5km

Stage report

On a testing uphill finish reminiscent of the spring classics Philippe Gilbert – the acknowledged current classics king – sprinted to victory, chasing down Fabian Cancellara’s final kilometre attack and riding the last 500 metres solo. The opening stage was also notable for several crashes, including a collision involving a spectator with 9km remaining which split the peloton and cost Alberto Contador over a minute.

Stage winner: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

General classification: 1. Philippe Gilbert, 2. Cadel Evans +0:03, 3. Thor Hushovd +0:06

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 2: Les Essarts, 23km team time trial

Stage report

Garmin-Cervélo took victory in the team time trial by four seconds over the day’s surprise performers, BMC. The top five teams were separated by just five seconds as Sky, Leopard-Trek and HTC-Highroad fell just short, with HTC hampered by the loss of Bernhard Eisel in a crash inside the first half-kilometre. Garmin’s win put Thor Hushovd in the yellow jersey.

Stage winner: Garmin-Cervélo

General classification: 1.Thor Hushovd, 2. David Millar +0:00, 3. Cadel Evans +0:01

Excitement factor: 3/5

Stage 3: Olonne sur Mer to Redon, 198km

Stage report

On the 4th of July, American Tyler Farrar claimed his first individual Tour stage after being led out by yellow jersey Hushovd in a broken sprint. An accident near the front at the final corner put paid to the hopes of Mark Cavendish, who along with Hushovd was subsequently declassified by the commissaires from the intermediate sprint after briefly touching.

Stage winner: Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo)

General classification: 1. Thor Hushovd, 2. David Millar +0:00, Cadel Evans +0:01

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 4: Lorient to Mûr-de-Bretagne, 172.5km

Stage report

A nail-biting finish on the concluding climb of Mûr-de-Bretagne saw pre-stage favourite Philippe Gilbert overrun by the overall contenders as Cadel Evans held off Alberto Contador by a matter of inches to claim his first Tour road stage. Contador regained a handful of seconds against several of his rivals, while Hushovd clung on to the front group to finish sixth and preserve his one-second overall lead.

Stage winner: Cadel Evans (BMC)

General classification: 1. Thor Hushovd, 2. Cadel Evans +0:01, 3. Fränk Schleck, +0:04

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 5: Carhaix to Cap Fréhel, 164.5km

Stage report

A combination of crosswinds, narrow roads and an increasingly nervy peloton resulted in at least seven separate crashes. In a final kilometre disrupted by uphill ramps, Mark Cavendish charged through from 11th to first in the last 300 metres to win a chaotic sprint and claim his 16th Tour stage.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad)

General classification: 1. Thor Hushovd, 2. Cadel Evans +0:01, 3. Fränk Schleck, +0:04

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 6: Dinan to Lisieux, 226.5km

Stage report

Edvald Boasson Hagen claimed both his and Sky’s maiden stage win in a strong man’s sprint ahead of Matt Goss and Thor Hushovd, after a tricky uncategorised climb 3km from the finish excluded the sprinters. The riders had to endure torrential rain for long stretches, with Levi Leipheimer losing over a minute after crashing on a slick road 5km from the end.

Stage winner: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)

General classification:  1. Thor Hushovd, 2. Cadel Evans +0:01, 3. Fränk Schleck, +0:04

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 7: Le Mans to Châteauroux, 218km

Stage report

Mark Cavendish took a comfortable sprint win at the end of an exemplary HTC-Highroad lead-out. However an otherwise routine stage was marred by a crash about 40km from the end which eliminated Bradley Wiggins and Rémi Pauriol with broken collarbones and saw Chris Horner finish 13 minutes down with concussion and a broken nose.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad)

General classification: 1. Thor Hushovd, 2. Cadel Evans +0:01, 3. Fränk Schleck, +0:04

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 8: Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy, 189km

Stage report

Movistar’s Rui Costa just managed to hold on to win as the last surviving member of the day’s breakaway on the first mountain stage of the race. The major GC contenders all finished together, but not before Alberto Contador again looked vulnerable after a weak attack in the closing kilometre.

Stage winner: Rui Costa (Movistar)

General classification: 1. Thor Hushovd, 2. Cadel Evans +0:01, 3. Fränk Schleck, +0:04

Excitement factor: 3/5

Stage 9: Issoire to Saint-Flour, 208km

Stage report

On a rolling stage containing eight categorised climbs, the breakaway survived for the second day in a row as Luis-León Sánchez outsprinted Thomas Voeckler and Sandy Casar at the finish. However, Voeckler ended Thor Hushovd’s week-long stay in the yellow jersey, taking the overall lead by nearly two minutes heading into the first rest day. The stage was marred by two serious crashes, one on a slippery corner which ended the races of Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Alexandre Vinokourov, the other initiated when a swerving media car knocked Juan Antonoi Flecha over and sent Johnny Hoogerland flying into a barbed wire fence.

Stage winner: Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. Luis León Sánchez +1:49, 3. Cadel Evans +2:26

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 10: Aurillac to Carmaux, 158km

Stage report

A late break by Philippe Gilbert, which also included the yellow jersey of race leader Thomas Voeckler, failed but thinned out the field as they scrambled to be in position for the finish. Minus his lead-out train, Mark Cavendish jumped with 200 metres to go but could not hold off Gilbert’s teammate André Greipel, who charged through to claim his first Tour win with an impressive burst.

Stage winner: André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. Luis León Sánchez +1:49, 3. Cadel Evans +2:26

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 11: Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur, 167.5km

Stage report

On a day of heavy rain showers the peloton left it late, only catching the day’s break with 2km remaining. Despite an undermanned lead-out train and having to reach down to adjust a shoe with 600 metres to go, Mark Cavendish took an easy victory – his third of the race – to avenge his defeat by André Greipel the previous day.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. Luis León Sánchez +1:49, 3. Cadel Evans +2:26

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 12: Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden, 211km

Stage report

Samuel Sánchez accelerated away from Jelle Vanendert in the final 250 metres to claim his maiden Tour stage, after the pair had broken clear of the pack. Behind them, the Schleck brothers prodded and probed before Fränk broke free in the closing kilometres to gain 20 seconds on his rivals, who were otherwise largely happy to neutralise racing among themselves.

Stage winner: Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. Fränk Schleck +1:49, 3. Cadel Evans +2:06

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 13: Pau to Lourdes, 152.5km

Stage report

Thor Hushovd judged his pursuit perfectly, chasing down Jérémy Roy in the closing kilometres to snatch victory after the Frenchman had ridden solo over the top of the Col d’Aubisque and appeared to be heading for the first French stage win of the Tour. A disinterested peloton were happy to roll in seven minutes behind

Stage winner: Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. Fränk Schleck +1:49, 3. Cadel Evans +2:06

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 14: Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille, 168.5km

Stage report

Jelle Vanendert won on Plateau de Beille and catapulted himself into the lead of the polka dot jersey competition with a solo win. He rode off the front of the yellow jersey group with 7km remaining, with the leaders content to cover each other as a meaningful attack failed to materialise.

Stage winner: Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. Fränk Schleck +1:49, 3. Cadel Evans +2:06

Excitement factor: 3/5

Stage 15: Limoux to Montpellier, 192.5km

Stage report

HTC-Highroad controlled the stage from start to finish in a masterful display of setting up a sprint on a flat day which was made tricky by coastal crosswinds. Nonetheless, the HTC lead-out deposited Mark Cavendish in exactly the right place, and the Manxman did the rest to hold off Tyler Farrar for his fourth win.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. Fränk Schleck +1:49, 3. Cadel Evans +2:06

Excitement factor: 1/5

Stage 16: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Gap, 162.5km

Stage report

Thor Hushovd outsprinted compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen after both were part of the day’s breakaway. Alberto Contador attacked repeatedly on the final climb, then joined Cadel Evans and Samuel Sánchez to race clear of the pack on a treacherous wet descent to the finish. The trio gained 21 seconds on Thomas Voeckler, with a struggling Andy Schleck losing 1:09.

Stage winner: Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. 3. Cadel Evans +1:45, 3. Fränk Schleck +1:49

Excitement factor: 5/5

Stage 17: Gap to Pinerolo, 179km

Stage report

Edvald Boasson Hagen rode away from the rest of the day’s break on the final climb and mastered the difficult descent to the finish to claim his second win. Alberto Contador attacked on the climb and again over the summit with Samuel Sánchez, only to be caught by Cadel Evans and the Schleck brothers in the last 250 metres. Yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler was one of a number of riders to survive off-road excursions on the descent, but lost 27 seconds of his advantage.

Stage winner: Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. 3. Cadel Evans +1:18, 3. Fränk Schleck +1:22

Excitement factor: 5/5

Stage 18: Pinerolo to Galibier-Serre Chevalier, 200.5km

Stage report

Andy Schleck blew the race wide open with an audacious attack on the Col d’Izoard over 60km from the finish and rode to a solo victory. With no one else willing to force the pace on the final climb to the summit of the Galibier, Cadel Evans dragged the yellow jersey group up the final 10km virtually single-handedly to minimise their losses and prevent Schleck from building a potentially race-winning advantage.

Stage winner: Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek)

General classification: 1. Thomas Voeckler, 2. Andy Schleck +0:15, 3. Fränk Schleck +1:08

Excitement factor: 5/5

Stage 19: Modane Valfréjus to Alpe-d’Huez, 109.5km

Stage report

In a mirror image of the previous day, Alberto Contador launched an attack on the first climb just 14km into the stage. Cadel Evans, who originally followed him but was forced to drop back to the peloton after a bike change, was again compelled to lead the chase over the Galibier. The favourites came back together shortly before Alpe d’Huez, but after Contador had raced clear and a succession of attacks had failed to dislodge the redoubtable Evans, Pierre Rolland went clear in the final 2km to claim the first French win of this year’s race. Thomas Voeckler yo-yoed off the front all day and finally cracked on the Alpe, dropping to fourth overall.

Stage winner: Pierre Rolland (Europcar)

General classification: 1. Andy Schleck, 2. Fränk Schleck +0:53, 3. Cadel Evans +0:57

Excitement factor: 5/5

Stage 20: Grenoble, 42.5km individual time trial

Stage report

Tony Martin won the only individual time trial with a dominant display of power and aggression, as world champion Fabian Cancellara could only finish eighth. Cadel Evans was the only rider to finish within a minute of Martin after a classy ride which saw him devour Andy Schleck’s 57-second advantage before the midway point, putting the Australian into the yellow jersey for the first time this year. Thomas Voeckler defended his fourth place with the best time trial of his career.

Stage winner: Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad)

General classification: 1. Cadel Evans (BMC), 2. Andy Schleck +1:34, 3. Fränk Schleck +2:30

Excitement factor: 3/5

Stage 21: Créteil to Paris Champs-Élysées, 95km

Stage report

Mark Cavendish romped to his third consecutive win on the Champs-Élysées, his fifth victory in this year’s race and his first green jersey as HTC-Highroad put on a tactical masterclass in Paris, forcing other teams to chase down the day’s break and taking over the front of the peloton in textbook fashion with 1km to go.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish

General classification: 1. Cadel Evans (BMC), 2. Andy Schleck +1:34, 3. Fränk Schleck +2:30

Excitement factor: 3/5

Links: Tour de France official

Race review

In numbers

Talking points

Race analysis

Is the new green jersey points system working?

Week 1 winners & losers

Who will win the polka dot jersey?

Week 2 winners & losers

Is Thomas Voecker a genuine contender for 2012?

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

Stage 9: Voeckler leads Tour of attrition as peloton licks its wounds

Stage 10: Greipel the Gorilla gets the monkey off his back

Stage 11: No raining on Cavendish’s parade

Stage 12: Sánchez storms to Bastille Day victory

Stage 13: Thor thunders to victory, leaving Roy tilting at windmills

Stage 14: Vanendert wins as main contenders are happy to man-mark

Stage 15: HTC-Highroad express train delivers 4×4 Cavendish to victory

Stage 16: Norewgian one-two leaves Andy Schleck minding the Gap

Stage 17: Boasson Hagen wins again, Schleck complains again

Stage 18: Schleck one-two knocks out Contador, Evans and Voeckler battle on

Stage 19: Rolland wins at Alpe d’Huez on a day of true champions

Stage 20: Evans triumphs in moment of truth, Schleck becomes the new ‘eternal second’

Stage 21: Five-star Cavendish leaves rivals green with envy

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