Tour de France: Andy Schleck seizes the Galibier stage with long distance attack
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tour de France: Andy Schleck seizes the Galibier stage with long distance attack

by Ben Atkins at 11:52 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France, Race Reports and Results
 
Leopard Trek rider attacks on penultimate climb; Contador cracks; Voeckler clings to yellow

andy schleckAndy Schleck (Leopard Trek) took the eighteenth stage of the Tour de France to the Col du Galibier in an old fashioned attack over the top of the Col d’Izoard, the penultimate climb of the day. The Luxembourg rider caught a breakaway group containing teammate Maxime Monfort, then dropped them as the long climb to the finish began. He managed to hold off a concerted chase from the race favourites, led by Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), to finish 2’07” clear of elder brother Fränk, who attacked in the final few hundred metres.

Evans finished in third, eight seconds behind Fränk Schleck, and three ahead of Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale). Yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) finished in fifth place, 2’21” behind Andy Schleck, and, in a flashback to the Tour of 2004, held on to the race lead by 15 seconds.

“Today is the best of my victories,” said Andy Schleck at the finish. “So far we have seen a race that’s been waiting for a decisive moment and I decided to take matters in to my hands and that’s why I started my attack from a long way out. I then managed to build a big advantage.

“It was a dream for me to win here.

“When I looked at the course when it was unveiled, I knew I wanted to win this one,” he added. “Now I’m ready for the yellow jersey. What I did today shows that I can take it.”

The Tour begins its Alpine centenary with the first of two Galibier climbs

The 200.5km between Pinerolo and the Col du Galibier was to be the first of two big stages in the Alps, crossing back into France via the Col d’Agnel, then scaling the Col d’Izoard to finish on father of the Tour Henri Desgrange’s favourite mountain pass. Because he held the Galibier above all others the ‘Souvenir Henri Desgrange’, the prize awarded to the rider over the Tour’s highest point, would be at the finish, even though the Agnel is 99 metres higher.

At 2645 metres up, it was to be the highest summit finish in the race’s history.

Having come under pressure on the previous two stages, losing valuable seconds to many of the race’s big favourites, yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) was expected to finally give up the race lead. This had been said on both summit finishes in the Pyrénées however, so there was still a possibility for the Frenchman to hold on.

The breakaway takes an hour but when it goes it really goes

After several attempts in the first hour, a break of sixteen riders got away shortly before the intermediate sprint in Verzuolo after 46.5km. The group was made up of Maxime Monfort and Joost Posthuma (both Leopard Trek), Ruben Perez and Pablo Urtasun (both Euskaltel-Euskadi), Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank), Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Cervélo), Maxim Iglinkskiy (Astana), Markel Irizar (RadioShack), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale), Dries Devenyns (Quick Step), Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun).

The Schleck brothers had managed to place two of their teammates in the group, to Cadel Evans one, while Alberto Contador’s Saxo Bank-SunGard team was not represented.

Since the breakaway took all of the points on the line, there were none left for the green jersey contenders in the peloton to fight for. This played into the hands of Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad), who led José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) by 35 points at the start of the day. The Spanish team had plans to try and get Cavendish eliminated, outside the time limit, though, so the Manxman would have been grateful to save his energy.

The sixteen-man group was pursued by Mickaël Delage (FDJ), Egor Silin (Katusha) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC Racing), who caught up as the climb to the Col d’Agnel began after 82km.

With the Europcar team following its usual policy of making as little effort as possible, since no one in the break was any threat to Voeckler’s lead, the nineteen-strong group had a lead of 9’10”.

Leopard Trek takes control

Posthuma took control of the break as it made its way up to the Col d’Agnel, while behind him his Leopard Trek teammates were battling for control of the peloton with Contador’s Saxo Bank team.

The group was inside the final 5km of the climb, the peloton was around 7km from summit, and the counterattacks began. After various attacks and counterattacks a seven-man chase group was formed with Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Andrey Zeits (Astana), Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), David Arroyo (Movistar), Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ), David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM). Rémy Di Gregorio (Astana) managed to join the group as they set off in pursuit of the leaders.

The pace set by Posthuma saw first Delaplace and Hondo dropped from the lead group, closely followed by Delage, and then Duque. Behind them, the peloton was also splintering under the pace that was now being set by Europcar once more.

As the summit of the Agnel approached Erviti, Irizar and Burghardt were also dropped by the leaders. Iglinskiy attacked over the top, and back into France, followed by Hoogerland, who had declared that he wanted to take back the polka-dot jersey that he held on the day after he was sent flying into the barbed wire fence.

Gesink’s group crossed the Col 4’56” behind, with the peloton at 5’35”; the group caught Iglinskiy as it re-formed on the first few kilometres of the descent.

Team Sky was leading the peloton in pursuit of Jeannesson, who was in the counterattack group, as he was threatening the white jersey held by Rigoberto Uran. This extra pace meant that through the feedzone and onto the bottom of the Col d’Izoard the gap to the peloton was down to 5’11”.

The Izoard sees Leopard Trek take control once more

Posthuma was setting the pace again as the climb to the Col d’Izoard began again and the breakaway group began shedding riders. The nineteen had been whittled down to Posthuma and Monfort, Urtasun, Iglinskiy, Erviti, Roche, Devenyns, Silin and Hoogerland.

Irizar was chasing back after a slow wheel change, and rejoined just as Erviti was dropped.

The pace of the peloton dropped slightly once Team Sky had chased down the counterattack, and Maxim Bouet (AG2R La Mondiale) put in a move of his own. The gap had dropped to 4’30” but Europcar were left to set the pace once more and it began to drift out again.

With Posthuma still driving the break up ahead, his Leopard Trek teammate Jens Voigt took over on the front of the peloton and increased the pace. With 61km to go, and 5km to climb to the top of the Izoard, the gap was back down to 4’30”; Stuart O’Grady was the next Leopard Trek rider to take over on the front with Andy Schleck in second wheel.

The increased pace caught and passed Bouet and, just as Posthuma dropped off the leading group, O’Grady pulled off the front of the peloton and Andy Schleck attacked. He quickly pulled out a lead of 45 seconds but the Luxemburger still had 5km of the Izoard to climb, followed by the descent and the 23km ascent of the Galibier.

Bookwalter was caught and took up position on the front of the peloton, but Schleck continued to build his lead.

Iglinskiy attacked the break with almost 3km to go to the top of the climb and set off for the summit alone. The gap was now less than four minutes between the Kazakh and the peloton, but Andy Schleck was now less than three minutes behind him.

Schleck quickly caught Posthuma and the Dutchman paced him for a few hundred metres, before he set off once more. The chase group ahead now consisted of just Monfort and Roche, with Devenyns and Silin behind them as Schleck scythed his way through the dropped riders on the Casse Déserte.

Daniel Navarro (Saxo Bank) took position on the front of the peloton, on Contador’s behalf, but Schleck was now almost two minutes clear. Roche dropped Monfort as the Belgian slowed to wait for his team leader, who was only a minute behind him.

Andy Schleck fearlessly hits the descent

Iglinskiy rode over the top of the Izoard alone, with Roche following at 1’15”. Monfort, Devenyns and Silin were at 1’18”, while Schleck crossed 1’49 behind. EH caught Monfort in the first kilometre of the descent and the two teammates set about working together as they flew down the twisting descent.

The peloton crossed the col 4’02” behind Iglinskiy, meaning that Schleck was 2’13” ahead and, since he started the day 2’36” behind, he was closing in on Voeckler’s yellow jersey.

The two Leopard Trek riders caught Silin and Devenyns, then Roche, but none would help with the work since they knew that Schleck needed time more than they did.

Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky) crashed on a bend; the Colombian was up quickly, but his white jersey was drifting away with Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) in the peloton ahead. He was paced back on by teammates Geraint Thomas and Xabier Zandio though.

Schleck’s lead reached 2’35” and was just one second from yellow. Bookwalter leading the peloton once more, as it hit the shallower valley road, but the gap continued to widen; Contador and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) were deep in conversation at the back of the long string of riders.

With 35km to go Iglinskiy led the Andy Schleck group by 1’20” and the peloton by four minutes, meaning that he was the yellow jersey on the road, but only just.

With only Monfort working in the group they had been making little progress on Iglinskiy, but then Devenyns came to the front to help and they began to close the gap. Chris Anker Sørensen was the next Saxo Bank-SunGard rider on the front of the peloton, but Schleck’s lead was now approaching three minutes; Bookwalter was also still working as Euskaltel-Euskadi began to help

Schleck’s group caught Iglinskiy with 30km to go as the gap came down to three minutes. They were now riding into a headwind on the wide road along the Vallée de la Guisane on the way towards the foot of the climb.

With 25km to go though it had gone back up to 3’14”.

The final climb begins and who’s going to chase?

As the steady drag to the Col du Lautaret, which made up all but 8km of the climb to the Galibier, began Schleck’s group led by 3’20”. Schleck and Monfort shared the work on the false flat of the first two kilometres and it rose to 3’30”; by the time they hit the 20km to go banner it had risen again to 3’51”

This proved to be Monfort’s limit and, with 18km to go, as the climb steepened, the Belgian cracked and Schleck was left to work alone. Silin was the next to go, as the gap remained static to the chasing peloton but, passing under 15km to go, it had dropped to three minutes.

Contador took over on the front with Evans and Fränk Schleck on his wheel, but then the pace dropped and Contador sent Daniel Navarro forward. The lead jumped up to 4’24” as they approached the final ten kilometres. Roche was the next to be dropped by the relentless pace being set by Schleck.

With the gap growing once more Evans attacked, but Pierre Rolland (Europcar) was straight on his wheel but the rest caught back up. Uran found himself dropped, along with a struggling Sanchez, but they were paced back on by Thomas once more.

The increased activity saw the gap come down to 3’56” at the 10km banner, but Schleck still comfortably held the virtual yellow jersey. With 7.8km Iglinskiy was dropped as Schleck took the turning off the main road, and onto the Galibier, alone.

With Evans still leading the chase the gap was down to 3’30” as the peloton hit the turning on to the Galibier, and Schleck was beginning to look tired.

Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans go mano a mano on the Galibier

Evans was looking for no help as he ground out his relentless pace. Voeckler was right on his wheel, but most of the rest of the group was beginning to get dropped. The first major casualty of the pace was Sanchez, but the other favourites clung on.

With 5km to go the gap was 3’15” and by 4km it had only dropped to 3’10” as Evans and Schleck were going man to man on the climb. The only riders left on the Australian’s wheel by now were Voeckler, Rolland, Basso, Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), Contador and Fränk Schleck as they caught and dropped Roche.

With 3km to go Schleck still had 3’08” and looked like he might be winning the battle against the former World champion. With 2.5km Contador was dropped by the pace; the defending champion tried to chase back on again but then cracked completely and watched the defence of his title disappear up the road.

Into the final kilometre the gap had dropped below three minutes and, as the road steepened on last time, Schleck almost seemed to stop. Evans too seemed to have reached his limit though, and so Rolland took over in what looked like a vain attempt to hold on to his captain’s yellow jersey.

Voeckler fights for yellow as it’s 2004 all over again

As they passed under the flamme rouge the group was just 2’35” back and Voeckler had his jersey back by a second. Schleck looked to have seriously cracked by now and almost collapsed over the line to take one of the modern eras most epic stage victories.

Voeckler attacked to save his jersey as Rolland and Cunego were dropped, but he too faded before he reached the finishing straight. Fränk Schleck, having had a free ride for the entire stage jumped away to take an easy second place, with Evans and Basso a few seconds behind him.

There was a scen of déjà vu as Voeckler took the line with an exhausted smile and his fist bunching the air. In an almost exact replica of the scene on Luz-Ardiden in 2004, the Frenchman realised that he’d held on to his jersey for one more day, just fifteen seconds ahead of Andy Schleck.

“This is a triumph that I fought for with all my strength,” said Voeckler. “I came across the line and I knew that Andy Schleck could have taken the yellow jersey, but I’ve kept it by just 15 seconds.”

Contador crossed the line in fifteenth place, some 3’50” back, his dreams of a third straight Tour over.

Rojas meanwhile, finished inside the time limit but Cavendish did not. Fortunately for the Manxman though, the eight-strong ‘autobus’ that he was part of was deemed to big to eliminate. They were all deducted twenty points though, which means Cavendish’s lead is now reduced to just fifteen.

Result stage 18
1. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
2. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek @ 2’07”
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team @ 2’15”
4. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale @ 2’18”
5. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar @ 2’21”
6. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar @ 2’27”
7. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD @ 2’33”
8. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Cofidis @ 3’22”
9. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Cervélo @ 3’25”
10. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Cervélo @ 3’25”

Standings after stage 18
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek @ 15s
3. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek @ 1’08”
4. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team @ 1’12”
5. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD @ 3’46”

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