Covering 193 kilometers, or 120 miles of pedaling in today’s 15th stage, the Tour revisited 2 cities in the southwest of France that it’s come through many times in the past, Limoux at the start and Montpellier at the finish. Montpellier near the Mediterranean shore holds fond memories for the 2 Robbies on Team RadioShack with each of them winning the last 2 times stages finished here. Robbie McEwen won the bunch sprint finish in 2005 (his 3rd stage in that race and his 12th overall), while riding for Team Lotto, and Robbie Hunter won in 2007 riding for Barloworld. Hunter put South Africa in the record books with that victory giving the country their first ever win in the Tour de France.
Good day for racing with temperatures from 21 to 23 (70 to 73 Fahrenheit), cloud cover, a little windy, but dry roads, over an undulating though mostly flat course. Only one category 4 climb on the day over the Cote de Villespassans (208 meters), which is not famous because it’s hardly there, particularly for these powerful riders who traversed it like you and I might a speed bump in our car. This mild climb ran on for 2.2 kilometers with an average grade of 4.6% to a high point of 208 meters, for those who might care. The only way this was not going to be won in a bunch sprint was if the peloton fell asleep and let a breakaway stay away. A 5-man break hoped for just that knowing full well that with a rest day tomorrow, the sprinters teams wouldn’t be conserving any energy in their effort to catch them.
The break group formed about a third of the way into the stage when the following riders decided to roll the dice:
Niki Terpstra (NED) Quickstep
Mickael Delage (FRA) FDJ
Anthony Delaplace (FRA) Saur- Sojasun
Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) Cofidis
Mikhail Ignatyev (RUS) Katusha
Is it just me, or has Delage been in about every break so far at this year’s Tour? What persistence.
HTC-Highroad put 5 to 6 men upfront all day keeping the break’s gap very manageable, wanting a sprint finish for their Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish. The other general classification contender’s teams were also seen close to the front keeping their main men safe; BMC for Cadel Evans, Leopard-Trek for the Schlecks, Liquigas-Cannondale for Ivan Basso, and Europcar for Thomas Voeckler to name a few, but all of them let HTC burn their thighs leading the pack almost all day.
The breakaway riders split up in desperation toward the end, but to no avail. They were caught at about 3.1 kilometers from the finish when Omega’s Philippe Gilbert tried to time trial his way to the line hoping to neutralize the speedier kicks of the true sprinters. The sprinter’s teams immediately hunted Gilbert down and he was toast within less than 700 meters. Then the real race began.
HTC-Highroad continues to hone its sprinting machine to an almost unbeatable juggernaut, and while they had to regroup around the failed Gilbert attempt, they snapped back in line and drove their man toward the finish like a metronome. The leadout man Mark Renshaw did another superb job of powering forward so that Cavendish could slingshot past leaving everyone else to fight for second. Garmin-Cervélo’s Tyler Farrar was 2nd – coming up very fast on Cavendish – and Lampre’s Alessandro Petacchi was 3rd.
With 28 riders already abandoned at this year’s event, a seventh of that from Team RadioShack alone, and just about everyone else suffering in one way or another from their efforts, the peloton was satisfied to just get through the day and let the sprinters have their moment. So there was no change on the leader board, or the various specialty jerseys, Voeckler is still wearing leader’s Yellow, Cavendish is even more convincing in sprinter’s Green, Vanendert keeps the climber’s Polka Dots, and Uran Uran has the young-rider’s White. Perhaps the only surprise in the standings thus far is Team RadioShack sitting in 8th place (out of 22 teams) in the Teams Competition with half a team!
People are starting to take Voeckler serious now due in part to comments by Lance Armstrong recently. Lance was quoted yesterday saying, “[Voeckler] wasn’t swinging off the back today, he was one of the strongest. The others weren’t assertive and/or aggressive enough to make a selection.” Ever the strategist, Lance went on to say, “He has a 2:06 on Evans. Final TT is 42 km. He’s French. It’s the Tour de France. He won’t lose 2:06 in the final time trial assuming he keeps them close on Alpe d’Huez. His teammate Pierre Rolland has been a rock star and has to continue to be. Lastly, the dude knows how to suffer. Will be fun to watch.”
And Finally: In a post-stage interview yesterday, a tired but good humored Levi Leipheimer voiced what everyone had pretty much thought after the grueling HC climb up the Plateau de Beille. He pointed out that he just didn’t see any point killing himself on a relatively meaningless stage saying he was, “…not going to fight for 15th.” He said after, “crashing 4 times” on earlier stages he, “…just didn’t have it on the final climb.” He went on to say that it’s, “..hard to recover while you’re in the Tour” but hinted that the Team RadioShack riders would still be on the lookout for breakaways and possible stage wins.
George Hurst, staff writer