Vuelta a España: Rodríguez floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee

Stage 5: Sierra Nevada to Valdepeñas de Jaén, 187km

It was the legendary heavyweight Muhammad Ali who coined the phrase “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” to describe his individualistic boxing style, but that description could equally be applied to Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez. Last year on this very finish he attacked too early and ran out of steam before the line, but this time around he showed he had learned his lesson by leaving his kick a fraction later and powering away from his rivals to take a comfortable win which moved him within 23 seconds of the race lead, which is still held by Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel.

A ‘flat’ stage with zero probability of a sprint finish

Obviously the race organisers had a sense of humour when they classified this as a ‘flat’ stage. For starters, there are two second category climbs – actually, it is the Alto de Valdepeñas twice over – with the second summit coming just 8km from the finish. And then there is the final uncategorised 1.3km climb to the finish at the top of the town, which gradually kicks up and features gradients of up to 27% in its final 500 metres. There was about much chance of the sprinters contesting the stage win as there is of me wearing the polka dot jersey at next year’s Tour de France – which is to say none at all.

Stage 5 profile

The same finish featured on stage four last year, with Igor Antón winning the first of his two stages ahead of Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Velits, Rodríguez and Philippe Gilbert – all punchy climbers to a man. The gaps between the top men were small, but with a bonus of 20 seconds on offer to the stage winner it represented an opportunity for one of the general classification contenders to steal a decent chunk of time on their rivals.

I love this type of stage, particularly when placed early in a three-week race like this. It offers the best chance for a puncheur or classics specialist to claim individual glory and possibly the overall lead, while simultaneously giving the serious contenders the opportunity to lay down a marker and gain a chunk of time without risking going too far into the red as they might do with an attack on a long hors catégorie climb.

This year’s Tour de France served up two such stages early in its first week, on Mont des Alouettes (stage one) and the Mûr-de-Bretagne (stage four), both of which produced exciting finishes won by Gilbert and eventual champion Cadel Evans and served to animate the early stages of the race as a whole. The Giro also specialises in sting-in-the-tail parcours of this nature – often steep, narrow and twisty finishes into hill-top towns – which always seem to throw new names on to the top step of the podium. It serves as a great reminder that many top riders exist in that extremely large grey area between the power of the fast-twitch sprinters and the lightweight chicken skeletons of the pure climbers.

Rodríguez flies, Antón sinks, Chavanel clings on

The day’s racing started at a furious pace despite the hot conditions, with several attacks occurring before an eight-man break finally settled. The group included Michael Albasini (HTC-Highroad), Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis), Angel Madrazo (Movistar) and Johannes Fröhlinger (Skil-Shimano). With the break struggling to stretch out a significant advantage, Albasini kicked on just after the halfway point of the stage, building a lead of over two minutes. He was later joined by Fröhlinger and Madrazo with around 40km left, but although the latter later launched a solo attack all three were comfortably reeled in before the second climb up the Alto de Valdepeñas as Liquigas-Cannondale drove the peloton on.

Halfway up the ascent, Astana’s Alexsandr Dyachenko attacked off the front and was soon followed and immediately passed by three-time reigning King of the Mountains David Moncoutié (Cofidis). The Frenchman streaked away over the summit and continued to build his lead on the rapid descent. With 4km to go he was leading by 34 seconds on the approach into the town of Valdepeñas de Jaén as the peloton, led by Liquigas and Katusha, set a furious pace to reel him in. Yet again it proved to be too much for Antón, who had been barely able to hold on to the bunch on the climb and whose only objective was to minimise his losses on the finish on which he had won last year.

Rodríguez powered clear of the entire field to win at Valdepeñas de Jaén

Entering the final kilometre, Moncoutié’s lead had been reduced to 16 seconds – nowhere near enough to hold off the chasing pack. As the road started to kick up beyond 20% in the final 600 metres or so, he was quickly swamped and spat out the back, eventually finishing a distant 35th, 31 seconds down. It was left to the previous day’s winner, Daniel Moreno, to set a punishing tempo for his team leader Rodríguez which dropped everyone except Vacansoleil’s Wouter Poels. That left Rodríguez with the job of timing his acceleration to fly clear of everyone else, which he accomplished with some ease to lead Poels across the line by four seconds, with Moreno trailing in just after him.

The rest of the peloton followed behind in dribs and drabs, having exploded in the final half-kilometre. Michele Scarponi, Jakob Fuglsang and Jurgen Van Den Broeck were in a group of seven which finished just seven seconds down.Vincenzo Nibali and Denis Menchov conceded eleven seconds, Janez Brajkovič and Bradley Wiggins 20 each, Chavanel 31 and Antón 57.

Overall, the top 17 riders on general classification are separated by less than a minute, with Chavanel’s advantage over Moreno reduced to a wafer-thin nine seconds. The former knows his days in the lead are numbered, but paid handsome tribute to his team for all their support in defending the red jersey.

Stage winner Rodríguez reiterated his desire to win the overall in Madrid and was delighted with both the crowd support on the final climb and the gains he had made on his rivals:

I’ve clearly achieved more than I expected with the gap I created over my adversaries on such a short distance. The last kilometre was extremely spectacular. It was like a big Belgian classic with a huge crowd. Everyone was yelling ‘Purito!’ [his nickname]. It was very enjoyable.

Rodríguez was always a short-odds favourite to win this stage after Antón’s struggles on Sierra Nevada. Already in 2011, he has finished fifth at the Giro, won two stages at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and finished second to Gilbert at Amstel Gold and Flèche Wallonne, both hilly classics not vastly dissimilar to this stage. If he can minimise his losses in the individual time trial, he is clearly the man to beat on the steepest finishes and confirmed his status as a genuine potential GC winner.

The next two days are likely to see the balance tip back in favour of the sprinters, before two days in the mountains and the individual time trial bring an end to what has already proven to be a punishing opening section of the race. In particular, watch out for the end of Saturday’s stage in San Lorenzo, which features ramps of 27% and 28% on a climb which rises 200 metres in the final 2.4km. Rodríguez will be heavily favoured again there.

Stage 5 result:

1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 4:42:54

2. Wouter Pouls (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:04

3. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:05

4. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) +0:07

5. Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) +0:08

General classification:

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 18:02:34

2. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:09

3. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +0:23

4. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:26

5. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:33

6. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) +0:36

7. Maxime Monfort (Leopard-Trek) +0:38

8. Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) +0:43

9. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:44

10. Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) +0:52

Points classification:

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 41 pts

2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 39

3. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) 28

4. Wouter Pouls (Vacansoleil-DCM) 28

5. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 26

Mountains classification:

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 20 pts

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

3. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) 13

4. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 10

5. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 6

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

Vuelta a España: Chavanel leads as heat picks up in GC competition

In blistering temperatures touching 40ºC, the red jersey worn by the leader of the Vuelta a España has been passed from rider to rider like a hot potato. For the first time in the race’s history, four different riders have held the overall lead after four stages, with the jersey passing from Jakob Fuglsang to Daniele Bennati to stage three winner Pablo Lastras before finally settling on the shoulders of Sylvain Chavanel, who finished 57 seconds behind Daniel Moreno on the highest summit of this year’s race at Sierra Nevada, good enough to move him to the head of the general classification.

The intense heat of a Spanish summer is already taking its toll on the peloton and proved too much for Mark Cavendish, who abandoned the race today saying that he had no power left. Whether it was the extreme weather or perhaps a touch of the stomach problems which had already caused his roommate Matt Goss to quit the race is as yet unclear. Either way, his retirement will compromise his preparation for next month’s World Championships in Copenhagen on a course which for once suits the sprinters.

Lastras claimed his third Vuelta stage and the red jersey

No stage win, but Chavanel gains time on the peloton …

Monday’s 163km stage from Petrer to Totana was won by Movistar’s Pablo Lastras – his third career Vuelta win – after he rode away from the rest of a four-man breakaway group over the final climb of the day, whose summit came with just 12km to go. Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel, the best and most experienced finisher of the other three, was left by Markel Irizar (RadioShack) and Ruslan Pydgornyy (Vacansoleil-DCM) to lead the pursuit. The latter pair seemed so afraid of losing to the Frenchman that they effectively sacrificed any chance of victory and gave Lastras a free ride to the finish.

Having been forced to do all the hard work in the closing kilometres, Chavanel nonetheless had enough left to at least win the sprint for second, 15 seconds behind the stage winner and new red jersey, but more importantly 1:28 ahead of the peloton.

… And converts it into the red jersey

Today’s (Tuesday) fourth stage from Baza to Sierra Nevada provided an early introduction to the high mountains on a summit finish at the highest point of this year’s race. Cavendish climbed off his bike, having been dropped from the peloton well before the final 23km hors catégorie climb, which had last featured at the Vuelta in 2008, when it provided the springboard for stage winner David Moncoutié to win the first of his three consecutive mountains classifications.

Moreno won stage four and moved up to second overall

An early seven-man breakaway built an eight-minute lead which the peloton had whittled down to 2½ minutes by the base of the climb. With the pace increasing, the escape group was reduced to four men as the chasing peloton behind also started to thin out. Surprisingly Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Antón, many people’s favourite to win the race, was soon in difficulty, clinging on to the back of the pack and eventually dropping off altogether with around 8km to go as the riders at the front started to test each other’s legs.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali was among the first to put in a meaningful change of pace, before Saxo Bank-Sungard’s Chris Anker Sørensen attacked off the front, followed by Astana’s Robert Kišerlovski. With the Russian sitting resolutely on Sørensen’s wheel and refusing to take a turn at the front, the pair bridged to the four surviving escapees with 5km remaining. Sørensen immediately kicked on, and only Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R) was able to go with him. Again, the Dane was forced to make all the running as the pair sought to establish a stage-winning lead.

Meanwhile, Katusha’s Daniel Moreno had jumped off the front of the peloton and was able to make the junction to the lead pair. An exhausted Bonnafond was quickly dropped, leaving Moreno and Sørensen – with the Saxo Bank man yet again having to do the bulk of the pace-setting – to contest the finish. Moreno was able to bide his time before coming around Sørensen with 200 metres to go and sprint to an easy victory. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) led a group of around 30 riders including most of the favourites across the line 11 seconds down. Chavanel was 57 seconds back, while Antón cut a forlorn figure as he trailed across the finish 1:38 down on Moreno.

Chavanel became the Vuelta's fourth leader in as many days

The result put Chavanel into the red jersey by 43 seconds over Moreno, courtesy of his advantage from the previous day’s successful break. Nibali is the best placed of the major heads of state in fifth, 53 seconds off the overall lead, with Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre) all less than 40 seconds behind him.

It is early days yet, and it is always dangerous to read too much into individuals’ form on the basis of a single mountains stage – albeit one of the more difficult ones – with the key race-defining days still a week and a half away. However, it is clear that Antón does not have the same form which saw him in the overall lead two-thirds of the way through last year’s race before crashing out. Already 1:31 behind Nibali, he himself admitted he is not the rider he was 12 months ago:

I’m not in the same condition as last year. Considering the time I’ve lost today, it’s going to be very difficult to win the Vuelta but there’s still a long way to go. I didn’t climb well today but I’ve limited the damage and I haven’t lost too much.

Who else fared well today? Chavanel‘s occupancy of the red jersey will only be a temporary one – he is more of a hilly classics rider than a true climber. Moreno‘s win catapulted him into second overall, but he will quickly return to his more customary role of supporting Rodríguez’s challenge and will expect to tumble back down the order. Nibali made a clear statement of intent to demonstrate his form and confidence. Wiggins rode at the front in the closing stages to show that he has recovered fully from the crash which prematurely ended his Tour de France, but then this was also the kind of long, steady climb which favours his unexplosive style. We will have to see how he fares on the steepier, punchier climbs. Rodríguez and Scarponi are certainly capable of hurting their rivals on the steepest slopes and were also conspicuous near the front of the pack today, ready to cover any sudden moves. And Van Den Broeck, Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) and Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack), among others, also rode comfortably in the pack throughout. Menchov in particular will be content to just follow wheels and look to make his move in the individual time trial.

In short, with the exception of Antón, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that today’s stage was inconclusive. All the major players looked to be in decent enough form, and even the Euskaltel-Euskadi leader could ride himself back into contention with one well-placed attack. Incidentally, tomorrow’s ‘flat’ stage finishes in Valdepeñas de Jaén ends with a short but brutal climb that touches gradients of up to 27%. When the same climb featured in last year’s race, the stage was won by Igor Antón. I don’t think he will win tomorrow – and even if he were to do so the time gains would be relatively small – but it is the sort of finish which suits him well, and there are plenty more to come in the days ahead.

In boxing parlance, he has been knocked down and given a standing eight count, but he has not been knocked out just yet. Particularly given the draining temperatures of this first week, there is still a lot of racing to come in this Vuelta.

Stage 3 result:

1. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) 3:58:00

2. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) +0:15

3. Markel Irizar (RadioShack) same time

4. Ruslan Pydgornyy (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

5. Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) +1:43

Stage 4 result:

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 4:51:53

2. Chris Anker Sørensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard) +0:03

3. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:11

4. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) same time

5. Przemysław Niemiec (Lampre-ISD) s/t

General classification:

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 13:19:09

2. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:43

3. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:49

4. Maxime Monfort (Leopard-Trek) +0:49

5. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:53

6. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad) +0:58

7. Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) +0:59

8. Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) +1:03

9. Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) +1:03

10. Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quick Step) +1:04

Points classification:

1. Pablo Lastras (Movistar) 28 pts

2. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 26

3. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 26

4. Chris Sutton (Sky) 25

5. Matti Breschel (Rabobank) 22

Mountains classification:

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 20 pts

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

3. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) 13

4. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) 10

5. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 6

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

Nuyens’ sprint trumps Cancellara’s power to claim Tour of Flanders victory

A Belgian rider triumphed at the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen), but it was not Tom Boonen or Philippe Gilbert. Saxo Bank-Sungard‘s Nick Nuyens claimed the biggest win of his career as he prevailed in a three-up sprint against Sylvain Chavanel and Fabian Cancellara to claim the second of 2011’s Five Monuments. Defeat was tough on Chavanel and Cancellara, who had both contributed enormously to a hugely exciting race across the north of Belgium.

Last year, the Swiss world time trial champion powered away from Boonen on the penultimate climb of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, a short, brutish hill which averages 9.3% and ramps up as high as 20%, before soloing to a dominant victory.

This year’s edition, starting in Bruges and ending in Meerbeke, included 18 leg-sapping climbs in its 256km route, finishing as ever with the Tenbosse, Muur and Bosberg hills inside the final 25km.

The peloton ride out of Bruges at the start of the race (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The race set off at a furious pace, with the first 25km flashing by at an average of 50kph. After 55km, five riders successfully broke away, with the British pair of Roger Hammond (Garmin-Cervélo) and Jeremy Hunt (Sky) being joined by Stefan van Dijck (Veranda’s Willems), Mitchell Docker (Skil-Shimano) and Sébastien Turgot (Europcar). The quintet established a lead of six minutes by the time they reached the first climb at the Nokereberg.

A second 15-man escape including sprinters Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) and André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) forced Cancellara’s Leopard-Trek team to expend energy in the chase, as did a subsequent attack by Greipel, as rivals sought to weaken the favourite’s support.

The serious racing kicked off on the Oude Kwaremont, a 2.2km hill of which about two-thirds is cobbled. Cancellara had attacked decisively here in winning the G3 Prijs the previous weekend. Here it was Quick Step‘s Chavanel who launched himself off the front of the peloton in pursuit of the escapees. A series of attacks over the following hills shuffled the order at the front as the original break was swallowed up, various riders had a dig and Chavanel found himself alone in the lead with an advantage of just under a minute.

With 42km to the finish, Boonen attacked the favourites’ group between the Molenberg and Leberg climbs. He was closely marked by Cancellara and Katusha‘s Filippo Pozzato as they swept past the remaining breakaway riders. At the same time, Gilbert stopped to change his rear wheel and had to expend energy chasing back to the pack.

Cancellara then attacked on the Leberg, riding away from the others with his customary power and rapidly bridging the gap to Chavanel before the top of the Valkenberg climb with 31km remaining. Under team orders, the Frenchman left Cancellara to set the pace, content to sit on his wheel in the knowledge that teammate Boonen was in the chasing group. With the gap hovering at around the minute mark BMC – working for 2007 winner Alessandro Ballan and 37-year old veteran George Hincapie – sent their entire team to the front but struggled to make significant inroads as Cancellara single-handedly kept the chasing pack at bay over the Tenbosse. At this point it was hard to see beyond the defending champion for the victory.

Cancellara leads Chavanel up the punishing Muur van Geraardsbergen, with the chasing pack hot on their heels (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

The lead duo at the foot of the Muur van Geraardsbergen – where Cancellara launched his decisive attack last year – with a 40-second advantage, but with the Swiss rider suffering from cramps and their pursuers now in attack mode the gap tumbled with every pedal-stroke and the race was back together again before the summit and heading for a tense, tactical finish.

On the day’s final climb of the Bosberg hill with 12km left, Gilbert launched a savage solo attack which, though unsuccessful, shattered the pack. It left an elite group of 12 riders including Cancellara, Boonen, BMC’s Ballan and Hincapie, and the Sky pair of Geraint Thomas and Juan Antonio Flecha to contest the win.

Nuyens (shown here riding for Rabobank in 2009) prevailed in the final sprint (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

After the usual sequence of feints and counter-attacks, it was Cancellara again who launched the decisive move attack just before the three-kilometre marker, going into time trial mode with only Chavanel and Nuyens able to respond to his acceleration. The trio moved several seconds clear into the final kilometre, although Boonen made one final solo effort in the final 500 metres which prompted Cancellara into opening up the sprint a little earlier than he would have liked. Nuyens waited before jumping, and as Chavanel followed and attempted to dive up his right he found himself squeezed into the barrier and was forced to check his sprint. The Belgian, who had stayed in touch throughout without wasting energy launching attacks of his own, crossed the line first. Chavanel was left to bang his handlebars in frustration at his missed opportinity. A shattered Cancellara was third, with an isolated Boonen a couple of seconds further back ahead of the remainder of the lead group.

Nuyens was rewarded for his persistence on a day which did not run as smoothly as he would have liked:

Never give up. It’s one of the key phrases. Today was not my best day. Every time there was a crash, I was behind it. I crashed myself at one time. At many times today I was very far from the front.

I didn’t feel that well, but then suddenly when we were on the Muur [Cancellara and Chavanel] were 100 meters in front of us. Then I thought, maybe the race can start again “I knew that once we caught them that anyone could win. Because when you don’t have any more climbs, it’s all tactics. That’s something that I really like. It’s the best part of cycling, that you can play a game.

Cancellara talked about how his race had been compromised by a combination of cramps and Quick Step’s refusal to let Chavanel ride:

I had Chavanel with me … I was trying to get alone. I believed it was possible. But we had BMC and Sky chasing, and on the bottom of the Muur I had cramps. Chavanel could see I wasn’t super. If Chavanel could have ridden with me I think we would have battled for first and second spot.

But I believed even then that it was still possible. You only need something little that will make a small gap. The problem is they know me, and they won’t let me go. But to go away with 3.5km shows me I have done the maximum to try and get this victory.

Even in defeat, Cancellara rode with the heart (and legs) of a champion, although I have to wonder whether he was twice spooked into jumping earlier than he would have liked. If Boonen had not attacked so far out, would Cancellara have launched his counter-attack so early, with five testing climbs still to go – or would he perhaps have waited until after Tenbosse or the Muur? And did the glance over his shoulder which showed Boonen launching his last-ditch attempt in the final half-kilometre panic him into opening up the sprint unnecessarily soon? He would likely have struggled to live with Nuyens and Chavanel in a straight-up finish anyway, but going as he did at 300 metres effectively sacrificed his own chances.

I would also question Quick Step’s tactics in ordering Chavanel to sit on Cancellara’s wheel. The Frenchman is the better sprinter, and if the pair had worked together there is a good chance they would have stayed away, with Chavanel the likely victor. Certainly Nuyens would not have won in this scenario, and in the event of the pair being caught Boonen would have been a strong favourite in the likely bunch sprint. Second and fourth was not a bad result – but it could easily have been a victory for the Belgian squad.

Regardless, it was a tremendous race full of attacking riding and tactical switches and Cancellara’s status is, if anything, enhanced on a day on which he proved mortal and yet so nearly prevailed with the entire peloton massed against him.

Next weekend we move on to Paris-Roubaix, the third of this year’s Five Monuments. The defending champion here? Fabian Cancellara.

Result:

1. Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank-Sungard) 6:00:42

2. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) same time

3. Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) s/t

4. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) +0:02

5. Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank) +0:08

6. George Hincapie (BMC) +0:08

7. Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:08

8. Staf Scheirlinckx (Veranda’s Willems-Accent) +0:08

9. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:08

10. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +0:08

2011 ‘Five Monuments’ recaps:

Milan-San Remo

Tour de France 2010 review: In numbers

The basics

3,642 – Total race distance in kilometres.

170 – Number of finishers, out of 198 starters.

91:58:48 – Aggregate time of the winner, Alberto Contador.

39.6 – In kph, Contador’s average speed. This is noticeably lower than in previous years, reflecting the more mountainous nature of the 2010 race, but also perhaps indicative of a much lower level of doping than in recent years.

The battle for the yellow jersey

Andy Schleck

Alberto Contador

5 – This year’s race was the fifth-closest finish in Tour history. Three of the top five have occurred in the past five years.

39 – In seconds, Contador‘s winning margin – the exact amount of time he gained after taking advantage of Andy Schleck‘s slipped chain on stage 15.

0.012% – Expressed as a percentage, the difference between Contador’s aggregate time and Schleck’s.

42 – In seconds, the largest time gap between Contador and Schleck at any point in the race. It was the difference between their respective times in the prologue – Contador was the faster of the pair – at 8.9 km the shortest stage of the race. Without the prologue, Schleck would have won by three seconds (hypothetically).

2 – Stages won by Schleck. Contador won none.

6 – Days spent by Schleck in the yellow jersey, one more than Contador.

3 – Schleck was overall runner-up for the second year running, but he also won the white jersey as the best young rider in the race for a record third time.

Stages and jerseys

Anthony Charteau

11 – French riders have won the King of the Mountains competition in 11 of the past 17 years – Anthony Charteau added to the tally this year – but none have claimed the overall race win since 1985.

6 – Stages won by French riders at this year’s Tour, the most since 1997.

13 – There were 13 stage different winners in this year’s race, five of them French.

5 – Five men were multiple stage winners this year: Mark Cavendish, Fabian Cancellara, Alessandro Petacchi, Sylvain Chavanel and Andy Schleck.

5 – Number of stages won by Cavendish, taking his total in the past three years to 15 and putting him joint-12th on the all-time stage winners’ list.

0 – Number of days on which Cavendish wore the green jersey, despite winning five stages.

2 – Cavendish is the only man in Tour history to win on the Champs-Élysées two years running.

7 – Years since Alessandro Petacchi‘s previous Tour stage win (he won four in 2003).

And finally …

Adriano Malori

4:27:03 – The time gap between Contador and Adriano Malori, who finished 170th and last.

16Saxo Bank‘s unlucky number? It was the race number of Fränk Schleck, who crashed out on stage three. It is also the stage number on which his teammate Jens Voigt suffered a serious crash which wrecked his bike, a year after crashing out of the 2009 Tour – also on stage 16.

1 – As he did last year, Bradley Wiggins finished one place behind Lance Armstrong. Last year they were third and fourth; this year they were 23rd and 24th.

See also my stage-by-stage review.

Tour de France 2010 review: Stage-by-stage

So the 2010 Tour de France is done and dusted. 21 stages (including the prologue) over 23 days, covering 3,642 kilometres across three countries (the Netherlands, Belgium and France).

Here is a stage-by-stage reminder of how the race was won and lost.

Prologue: Rotterdam > Rotterdam (8.9 km)

Fabian Cancellara

Stage report

On an afternoon when the rain turned the prologue into something of a lottery, Tony Martin‘s early lead stood until the penultimate rider, Fabian Cancellara, notched up yet another prologue win. Lance Armstrong was a strong fourth, five seconds ahead of defending Alberto Contador, and split by Sky‘s Geraint Thomas. Andy Schleck and Bradley Wiggins finished well down the order.

Stage winner: Fabian Cancellara

General classification: 1. Fabian Cancellara, 2. Tony Martin +0:10, 3. David Millar +0:20

Excitement factor: 3/5

Stage 1: Rotterdam > Bruxelles (223.5 km)

Alessandro Petacchi

Stage report

On a day packed full of crashes and canine-related incident, Mark Cavendish came off after running wide on a tight downhill corner, and then a mass pile-up inside the final kilometre wiped out most of the rest of the field. Veteran Alessandro Petacchi won virtually unopposed.

Stage winner: Alessandro Petacchi

General classification: 1. Fabian Cancellara, 2. Tony Martin +0:10, 3. David Millar +0:20

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 2: Bruxelles > Spa (201 km)

Sylvain Chavanel

Stage report

Yellow jersey Cancellara enforced a neutralisation of both the final descent and sprint after teammate Andy Schleck and many others crashed on treacherous wet roads approaching the finish. Lone escapee Sylvain Chavanel took advantage, riding to the stage win and into the yellow jersey.

Stage winner: Sylvain Chavanel

General classification: 1. Sylvain Chavanel, 2. Fabian Cancellara +2:57, 3. Tony Martin +3:07

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 3: Wanze > Arenberg Porte du Hainaut (213 km

Thor Hushovd

Stage report

There was non-stop carnage on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, as a combination of a concerted Saxo Bank attack and Fränk Schleck‘s race-ending crash split the favourites apart. Lance Armstrong had an untimely puncture which cost him time and energy, but Chavanel’s luck was even worse as repeated mechanical problems lost him more than three minutes and the yellow jersey. Geraint Thomas finished in the lead group to jump to second overall as Thor Hushovd claimed the final sprint.

Stage winner: Thor Hushovd

General classification: 1. Fabian Cancellara, 2. Geraint Thomas +0:23, 3. Cadel Evans +0:39

Excitement factor: 5/5

Stage 4: Cambrai > Reims (153.5 km)

Alessandro Petacchi

Stage report

A by-the-book sprint finish with an unexpected result, as Mark Cavendish failed to find his legs in the final 300 metres and Petacchi took his second victory of the Tour.

Stage winner: Alessandro Petacchi

General classification: 1. Fabian Cancellara, 2. Geraint Thomas +0:23, 3. Cadel Evans +0:39

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 5: Épernay > Montargis (187.5 km)

Mark Cavendish

Stage report

Another straightforward bunch sprint, with HTC-Columbia getting their tactics spot on and Cavendish finishing it off with ease for his first win of the Tour.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish

General classification: 1. Fabian Cancellara, 2. Geraint Thomas +0:23, 3. Cadel Evans +0:39

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 6: Montargis > Gueugnon (227.5 km)

Mark Cavendish

Stage report

A third day of break-chase-catch-sprint ending in a superlative display of the art of the lead-out by Mark Renshaw, who piloted Cavendish into prime position for another easy victory. The liveliest action of the day occurred after the finish, when Carlos Barredo attacked Rui Costa with his front wheel and a brief altercation ensued.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish

General classification: 1. Fabian Cancellara, 2. Geraint Thomas +0:20, 3. Cadel Evans +0:39

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 7: Tournus > Station des Rousses (165.5 km)

Sylvain Chavanel

Stage report

A surprisingly tough day in the Jura as the Tour warmed up for the Alps. Chavanel launched a well-timed solo break on the final climb to regain the yellow jersey. Behind him the GC started to take shape as the favourites finished en masse without exerting too much effort, dropping the likes of Cancellara and Thomas on the climbs.

Stage winner: Sylvain Chavanel

General classification: 1. Sylvain Chavanel, 2. Cadel Evans +1:25, 3. Ryder Hesjedal +1:32

Excitement factor: 3/5

Stage 8: Station des Rousses > Morzine-Avoriaz (189 km)

Andy Schleck

Stage report

On the first day in the Alps, Lance Armstrong was eliminated from the yellow jersey contenders after a series of unfortunate crashes. Andy Schleck launched an attack in the last kilometre of the final climb to the finish at Avoriaz, winning the stage and distancing Contador by ten seconds. Cadel Evans fractured a bone in his arm in an early crash, but finished up near the front and claimed the yellow jersey from Chavanel.

Stage winner: Andy Schleck

General classification: 1. Cadel Evans, 2. Andy Schleck +0:20, 3. Alberto Contador +1:01

Excitement factor: 4/5

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

Sandy Casar

Stage report

The peloton exploded into pieces on the Alpine monsters of the Colombière and then the Madeleine, with the latter claiming the scalp of the injured Evans. Schleck tested out Contador on the Madeleine, with the Spaniard responding each time. Sandy Casar won a seven-up sprint at the finish, having been part of the day’s escape group which had been caught with just a kilometre left.

Stage winner: Sandy Casar

General classification: 1. Andy Schleck, 2. Alberto Contador +0:41, 3. Samuel Sánchez +2:45

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 10: Chambéry > Gap (179 km)

Sérgio Paulinho

Stage report

A quiet day for the bulk of the peloton, as Sérgio Paulinho beat Vasil Kiryienka in the final sprint after the pair had ridden away from the rest of the day’s breakaway group in the closing kilometres.

Stage winner: Sérgio Paulinho

General classification: 1. Andy Schleck, 2. Alberto Contador +0:41, 3. Samuel Sánchez +2:45

Excitement factor: 1/5

Stage 11: Sisteron > Bourg-lès-Valence (184.5 km)

Mark Cavendish

Stage report

With the sprinters keen to reassert themselves after the Alps, the day’s breakaway never stood a chance. At the end of a furious downhill and tailwind-driven run-in, Cavendish won with a long sprint from around 375 metres out, but lost his lead-out man Mark Renshaw, who was ejected from the Tour after first head-butting Julian Dean and then cutting across Tyler Farrar‘s path.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish

General classification: 1. Andy Schleck, 2. Alberto Contador +0:41, 3. Samuel Sánchez +2:45

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 12: Bourg-de-Péage > Mende (210.5 km)

Joaquin Rodriguez

Stage report

A thrilling finish on the 10% climb of the Montée Laurent Jalabert saw repeated attacks in the closing kilometres as GC contenders and climbers alike launched waves of attacks. Joaquín Rodríguez and Contador distanced Schleck on the short, sharp climb, with the former claiming the stage, but the day’s gains were more psychological than meaningful on the clock, with Schleck limiting his losses to 10 seconds.

Stage winner: Joaquín Rodríguez

General classification: 1. Andy Schleck, 2. Alberto Contador +0:31, 3. Samuel Sánchez +2:45

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 13: Rodez > Revel (196 km)

Alexandre Vinokourov

Stage report

Alexandre Vinokourov shook off the disappointment of narrowly missing out on the previous day’s stage, launching a well-timed solo attack on the third-category climb in the closing kilometres to deny the sprinters a shot at victory. Cavendish laid waste to his rivals in claiming second place anyway.

Stage winner: Alexandre Vinokourov

General classification: 1. Andy Schleck, 2. Alberto Contador +0:31, 3. Samuel Sánchez +2:45

Excitement factor: 3/5

Stage 14: Revel > Ax 3 Domaines (184.5 km)

Christophe Riblon

Stage report

On the first of four days in the Pyrenees, Christophe Riblon was the last survivor of a nine-man break, completing the ascent of Ax 3 Domaines on his own to claim victory. Schleck and Contador played cat-and-mouse as they man-marked each other on the slopes of Ax 3, allowing Denis Menchov and Samuel Sánchez to make some small time gains.

Stage winner: Christophe Riblon

General classification: 1. Andy Schleck, 2. Alberto Contador +0:31, 3. Samuel Sánchez +2:31

Excitement factor: 3/5

Stage 15: Pamiers > Bagnères-de-Luchon (187.5 km)

Thomas Voeckler

Stage report

Thomas Voeckler broke free near the summit of the hors catégorie Port de Balès and safely negotiated the high-speed 21 km descent to win the centenary Pyrenees stage, but the big talking point was the should-he-shouldn’t-he move by Contador, who attacked when the yellow jersey dropped his chain and did not let up, leaving a furious Schleck to launch a vain pursuit on the terrifying descent. The Spaniard took the yellow jersey, but was roundly booed by the assembled crowd at Bagnères-de-Luchon, and subsequently made a public apology to Schleck on both YouTube and French TV. The result stood nonetheless, and the debate raged on.

Stage winner: Thomas Voeckler

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Andy Schleck +0:08, 3. Samuel Sánchez +2:00

Excitement factor: 5/5

Stage 16: Bagnères-de-Luchon > Pau (199.5 km)

Pierrick Fedrigo

Stage report

With the stage starting at the base of the Peyresourde, it was non-stop attack in the early stages, with Lance Armstrong establishing himself in the eventual break. The American attacked repeatedly on the climbs, but was unable to break free, and eventually had to settle for sixth place as Pierrick Fedrigo dominated the sprint finish.

Stage winner: Pierrick Fedrigo

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Andy Schleck +0:08, 3. Samuel Sánchez +2:00

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 17: Pau > Col du Tourmalet (174 km)

Andy Schleck

Stage report

Schleck and Contador battle to a stalemate on the Col du Tourmalet in a thrilling head-to-head tussle that ultimately failed to deliver a decisive result. Contador produced a masterclass in defensive riding to resist everything Schleck had to throw at him, then allowed the Luxembourger to take the line first. A disappointing end, but a thrilling stage nonetheless.

Stage winner: Andy Schleck (Anthony Charteau wins the King of the Mountains competition)

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Andy Schleck +0:08, 3. Samuel Sánchez +3:32

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 18: Salies-de-Béarn > Bordeaux (198 km)

Mark Cavendish

Stage report

A routine bunch sprint featuring a masterful display of the sprinter’s art from Mark Cavendish, as he jumped from wheel to wheel in the closing kilometre to record his fourth and most dominating win of this year’s Tour. Petacchi reclaimed the green jersey as a struggling Hushovd finished a lowly 14th.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Andy Schleck +0:08, 3. Samuel Sánchez +3:32

Excitement factor: 2/5

Stage 19: Bordeaux > Pauillac (52 km) – individual time trial

Fabian Cancellara

Stage report

Cancellara set an unbeatable benchmark early on, but all the focus was on the top two, as Schleck rode the time trial of his life to push Contador to the very limit in his defence of the yellow jersey. The Spaniard eventually went round the 52 km course just 31 seconds faster, when many had expected him to gain two minutes or more.

Stage winner: Fabian Cancellara

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Andy Schleck +0:39, 3. Denis Menchov +2:01

Excitement factor: 4/5

Stage 20: Longjumeau > Paris Champs-Élysées (102.5 km)

Mark Cavendish

Stage report

Mark Cavendish demolished the field with another tour de force of fast-twitch sprinting to take his fifth stage this year, but Alessandro Petacchi finished second to secure the green jersey.

Stage winner: Mark Cavendish (Alessandro Petacchi wins the points competition)

General classification: 1. Alberto Contador, 2. Andy Schleck +0:39, 3. Denis Menchov +2:01

Excitement factor: 3/5

See also my Tour de France review in numbers.

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