To the uninitiated, when enthusiasts talk about how elite cyclists can suffer and push themselves through pain, it’s usually a good thing, a compliment. It often refers to a rider pedaling up a high mountain or a long time trial where the toughest mental competitors drive themselves beyond their physical red zone and can hold it there for long periods ignoring every signal their body is screaming at them to slow their pace before total, collapsing exhaustion. It’s a good thing for top endurance athletes to know the absolute upward limit of their pain threshold and be able to put themselves into that state. Unfortunately, none of what Team RadioShack is going through has been self-imposed nor has it anything to do with anaerobic effort, if only it were that predictable. It’s been the pavement.
Once again, the Shack’s best-placed rider Andreas Klöden hit the deck hard, during a turn on the descent of the first climb of today’s stage 12, the category one La Hourquette d’Ancizan. The conditions were damp and slick, but that didn’t really account for the many problems this turn caused for the racers. Several cyclists were seen losing grip in this exact same part of the course where there was fresh pavement. Sky’s Geraint Thomas was the first to lose control and almost rode off the mountain crashing just on the lip of the drop-off. Then the yellow jersey of Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler made an excellent recovery when his back wheel slid completely out. Right behind him was the carnage that swept up Andreas when several riders went down in a tangled heap.
When Klodi got back up to remount, he was bleeding from both sides, but far worse was the further damage done to his back injury that he’s been trying to recover from for days. He was wincing as he got back on his bike, and was in obvious pain for the rest of the day. Andreas was seen on race coverage getting bandaged up on his right elbow and left side from the medical car while trying to regain contact with the riders. True warrior that he is, he finished the stage in relatively good time…but as we know, relative can be an unforgiving term in this sport. While Klöden came in 44th on the stage, beating ¾’s of the Tour’s racers, he finished 08’26” behind eventual winner, Euskaltel’s Spanish Olympic Champion, Samuel Sanchez and now sits in 24th place on the overall general classification, a full 10’19” behind the race leader.
Starting the stage in 8th place and first among his team’s riders, this one untimely crash dropped him 16 places on the GC and puts him in 3rd place among RadioShack riders, behind Levi Leipheimer and Haimar Zubeldia. There’s no way to paint a happy picture concerning his hoped for overall placement this year. Winning the Tour of the Basque Country as well as the points jersey and coming in 2nd in Paris-Nice, this former Olympian medalist and National Road Race Champion came to this event in excellent condition. But the opening week’s crashes took their toll and today’s upended his podium aspirations. Let’s hope his back recovers and he can still contend a mountain stage while helping both Levi and Haimar in their efforts and also have a good individual time trial – where he’s been known to crank when healthy.
Levi came in 14th today on this difficult 211-kilometer or 131-mile first high mountain stage that featured 3 big climbs: the cat 1 La Hourquette d’Ancizan, the off-cat and famous Col du Tourmalet, and then finishing with the off-cat Luz-Ardiden. He is now RadioShack’s 2nd-placed rider sitting 07’51” behind yellow, with Haimar Zubeldia in 15th place, 07’17” back. Although just slipping off the back of some of the main contenders at the end of the stage, Levi was not displeased with his effort. In a post-race interview he said: “The stage was very tough, Leopard-Trek was strong and I missed a bit.” [But] “Normally I get better in the 3rd week, the first mountain is always tough, so this was good.” He went on to say that “crashes are deciding the race not the legs.” Truer words may never have been spoken!
As predicted, the overall general classification got scrambled with the first mountain test and now looks like this:
General Classification After Stage 12
1. VOECKLER, Thomas Europcar
2. SCHLECK, Frank Leopard-Trek 01’49:
3. EVANS, Cadel BMC 02’06”
4. SCHLECK, Andy Leopard-Trek 02’17”
5. BASSO, Ivan Liquigas-Cannondale 03’16”
6. CUNEGO, Damiano Lampre-ISD 03’22”
7. CONTADOR, Alberto Saxo Bank Sungard 04’00:
8. SANCHEZ, Samuel Euskaltel-Euskadi 04’11”
9. DANIELSON, Tom Garmin-Cervélo 04’35”
10. ROCHE, Nicolas AG2R La Mondiale 04’57”
Voeckler somehow channeled the yellow jersey’s otherworldly powers and hung on to first-place giving his country a Bastille Day gift in an effort that only the French can truly appreciate. HTC’s Cavendish still has the green points jersey and the climber’s jersey has now moved to Samuel Sanchez, but not without some heroic efforts by Vacansoleil’s Johnny Hoogerland who keeps getting more applause than the race leader each day as he continues on with 33 stitches in his rear flanks after a spectacular crash several days ago. Word has it that the barbed-wire wooden fence post he literally bashed out of the ground the other day is being auctioned off for charity. The youth jersey is now, somewhat surprisingly, on the shoulders of FDJ’s Arnold Jeannesson and the team classification is currently held by Leopard-Trek.
It’s still a long way to Paris, with loads of good racing yet to take place. The battered, bruised, but proud and talented RadioShack riders, all 6 of them, will still be showing up each day to race. Here’s hoping you’ll still be showing up too!
By George Hurst, staff writer