Today’s 13th stage, a short mountain course starting in Pau, climbing over the mighty 1,709 meter Col d’Aubisque and finishing in Lourdes, France, saw many of the general classification contenders taking a bit of a break over the 152.5-kilometer, or 95 mile trek. After such a grueling first 2 weeks it was well deserved, even though they still had to pedal nearly 4 hours to the finish. Team RadioShack lost Andreas Klöden on the day as he had to abandon early on in the stage due to severe back pain and his many other injuries. But other than that, there was no real drama for the rest of the team, or for the rest of the main contenders. That’s not to say there wasn’t some great racing, more about that in a moment.
The 5 riders left on the RadioShack squad didn’t get any TV time today, which for once was a very good thing. Levi Leipheimer, Haimar Zubeldia, Markel Irizar, Dmitriy Muravyev, and Sergio Paulinho stayed upright, out of trouble and were not involved in any drama worthy of the Tour’s cameras. With 4 out of these 5 nursing a variety of injuries because of the high number of crashes they’ve each been a part of, a recovery day was much in order. Neither Levi nor Haimar, the top 2 riders on the team, lost any time in their placements, finishing up in the main bunch of top contenders who basically spent the day marking each other and not letting any danger riders get much of a gap.
At almost the very start of the stage, Andreas was seen taking himself out of the race, pulling to the side of the road when he realized he could not possibly continue given how much he was suffering. Supporters in the team car stopped, helped him unclip his right foot out of the pedal and almost lifted him off the bike as Andreas was in such pain. One hopes he can recover quickly from such a battle he’s waged this year.
The great racing action on the day was provided by Garmin-Cervélo’s current world road race champion, Thor Hushovd. At the bottom of the off-category d’Aubisque Thor made an attack that could not have been read as anything but a signal that he intended to contest for the stage. For a sprinter of his size to attempt to gap his fellow break riders early, on such a difficult climb, would seem a fool’s errand for anyone but Thor who, with 9 stage victories to his credit is one of the most consistent riders at the Tour, having won a stage in each of his last 6 appearances.
After a pretty impressive climb over the mountain on the day’s final descent Thor dropped down the course like a stone, in a determined chase to catch FDJ’s Jeremy Roy who had soloed upfront for a long time. If it was anyone but Thor chasing him, one would have thought that Roy had a solid, confident lead going in to the final few kilometers of the stage. But it would prove not good enough to deny someone with Hushovd’s power and downhill bike handling skills. And to add insult to it all, Cofidis’ David Moncoutie also nipped Roy at the finish.
Not much change in the top 10 after today, except for another excellent ride by Belgium National Champion, Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert who took over 9th place in the standings after his hard ride today. Other than that, the standings look like this:
General Classification After Stage 13
1. VOECKLER, Thomas Europcar
2. SCHLECK, Frank Leopard-Trek 01’48”
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. GILBERT, Philippe Omega Pharma-Lotto 04’35”
10. DANIELSON, Tom Garmin-Cervélo 04’35”
No change for Team RadioShack’s top 2 riders with Haimar Zubeldia still in 15th place, 07’17” back, and Levi Leipheimer in 17th, 07’51” behind the leader.
Tomorrow should prove another dramatic stage to what, expect for the many crashes, has been a very exciting Tour so far. The 14th stage is only 169-kilometers long but traverses 6 categorized climbs: two cat-1s, two cat-2s, a cat-3, and then a grueling uphill finish to the Plateau de Beille, a 1,780 meter leg busting monster that once again will weed out the serious mountain climbers from the hill specialists. If Alberto Contador can do anything to get back into contention, tomorrow has to be in his cross hairs, but it looks like Cadel Evans, the Schleck brothers, Basso, Cunego, and Sanchez all showed up this year to deny him easy victory. I think after expending so much energy in the Giro, Contador’s in a bit of trouble.
By George Hurst, staff writer