Sunday, July 19, 2009

TDF Stage 15 - 3 Catégorie Threes, A Two, Finishing On A One

Riders on a breakaway hoping not to be caught by the Peloton. Image Credit: Getty via Universal Sports

TDF Stage 15 - 3 Catégorie Threes, A Two, Finishing On A One

The Tour visits Switzerland during this stage for the second mountain-top finish of this year’s race. Setting out from Pontarlier, the course travels east passing by Lac de Neuchâtel and climbs six categorized climbs. The finishing climb to the ski resort town at Verbier, which has a category 1 rating, makes it’s début at the Tour de France this year. This stage suits the climbers and offers one of their main chances to chase yellow. Time gaps should open up by the finish, though the main contenders will likely remain close on time in Verbier.

Stage 15 Profile - Image Credit: Universal Sports

The Climbs:
Côte du Rafour 3.7 km, avg. 5.1 %, Catégorie 3
Col des Étroits 1.5 km, avg. 5 %, Catégorie 3
Côte de La Carrière 6.3 km, avg. 4.4 %, Catégorie 3
Côte de Prévonloup 4.5 km, avg. 4.7 %, Catégorie 3
Col des Mosses 13.8 km, avg. 4 %, Catégorie 2
Verbier 8.8 km, avg. 7.5 %, Catégorie 1

The riders have only spent about 10-12km in France today as the race attacks the Alps in Switzerland and we pick up the UPDATES today just before the final climb. The odds on favorite strategy that will play out is that Team Astana will look to support their best chances at gaining time with teammates Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong. Saxo Bank's Andy Schleck figures to also gain time on the final climb to this Stage 15 finish.

The best Lance Armstrong can do at 37 competing against guys about ten years his junior is to just be there, close, at the top of the mountian. Tomorrow is a day of rest and the tour's grandest event ... at least for Lance Armstrong, is still to come in the form of the individual Time Trial competition on Stage 18 - Thursday, July 23, 2009.

Right now at 100km to the finish, Team Astana is setting the pace of the Peloton.

Team Astana riding together in an effort to control the pace and give Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong a chance at being in a position to win the Tour de France. Image Credit: Reuters via Universal Sports

This excerpted and edited from VeloNews(VN), CyclingNews(CN), VERSUS(VS), and various sources -

(VS) - Stage 15 - Pontarlier to Verbier, 207km (129 miles)

A funny thing happened on the way to Pontarlier during the 2001 Tour. Fourteen riders broke away and took a considerable lead over the pack, which did not seem to care. Erik Dekker crossed the finish line with a 35-minute advance and O’Grady won the Yellow Jersey. A strict application of the rules led to the whole pack’s disqualification – eight days into the race!

A new stop-over town on the Tour de France, the Swiss ski resort has already played host to a number of decisive stages on the Tour de Suisse. The final climb, more than 9 kilometres long, provides the possibility for riders in top form to forge gaps, or at least triggers head on confrontation. For the record, in the last mountain finish in Switzerland on the Tour de France, in 1984, Laurent Fignon outclassed all opposition by winning, in yellow, at Crans-Montana, his third alpine stage of the year.

he second half of the Tour selection arrives with the entrance to the Swiss Alps. The race is far from over and this stage will be the last penultimate mountain top finish before the riders conquer Mt. Ventoux.

Starting in Verbier, for the first time, the riders will make sure nothing happens like what occurred in the 2001 Tour that finished here. A group of fourteen riders went up the road and instead of the peloton chasing they let them finish a full 35 minutes in front. This allowed Eric Dekker to take the win while Stuart O’Grady pulled on the yellow jersey.

A break will surely form on the first climb right out of the starting gate on the Cote de Rafou but the peloton might wait to respond until they reach the 13.8km Col des Mosses. After passing through Martigny the riders will start the tough 7% grade for 8.8km up to the ski resort in Verbier. For the riders that rode the 2008 Tour de Switzerland they will be familiar with the climb and perhaps Kim Kirchen can carry over his victory from the Swiss race to win this Tour stage.

The riders fighting for the overall will have to have good legs and the finish here will be a good indication of what to expect when we reach the Ventoux summit. The following day is a rest day as the riders will have to prepare to tackle more mountains once the race continues.

Stage 15 - Pontarlier to Verbier, 207km (129 miles) - Image Credit VERSUS

News Flashes (VS)
15:02:21 - Leaders On Col des Mosses
The leading 10 are on the slopes of the Col des Mosses. This is 13.8km long with an average gradient of four percent. The summit is at the 135km mark. It is a cat-2 ascent that rises to an altitude of 1,445m.

15:03:20 - Four Ascention Of Col des Mosses In Tour
The Col des Mosses has been part of the Tour's itinerary on three previous occasions. The first time was in 1949 when Jean Robic led over the summit. In 1997, first place went to Stephane Heulot and in 2000 the Italian Massimiliano Lelli led over the 1,445m high pass.

15:06:48 - Advantage Grows Again
At 122km the peloton is still being led by Astana riders. It is 4'10" behind Van den Broeck, Cancellara, Hesjedal, Astarloza, Gutierrez, Moncoutie, Moinard, Fedrigo, Spilak and Flecha.

15:09:31 - Average Speed For Third Hour
The average speed for the third hour is 38.0km/h. The average for the first three hours combined is 41.5km/h.

15:10:45 - Euskaltel Has Never Led The Tour...
At the moment, Mikel Astarloza is the virtual leader of the Tour. He was 3'02" behind Nocentini at the start of the stage. The rider who finished ninth overall in 2007 is now part of the escape group that's 4'40" ahead of the peloton (at 125km). No rider from his Euskaltel-Euskadi team has ever worn the yellow jersey before...

15:14:50 - Leaders 5km From Col des Mosses Summit
The 10 escapees are 5km from the top of the fifth climb with an advantage of 4'30".

15:19:00 - Lead Drops To 4'05"
With the peloton 5km from the top of the Col des Mosses, it is 4'05" behind Van den Broeck, Cancellara, Hesjedal, Astarloza, Gutierrez, Moncoutie, Moinard, Fedrigo, Spilak and Flecha. The maximum gain of the escape so far today was 4'40" at the 125km mark.

15:30:37 - Leaders At Summit
The escapees have reached the top of the Col des Mosses. We await confirmation of the places of riders before posting the results.

15:31:25 - Result Of Col des Mosses
The points of the fifth climb in stage 15 (at 135km) were won by:
1. Pierrick Fedrigo (BBO) 10pts
2. Mikel Astarloza (EUS) 9pts
3. Jurgen van den Broeck (SIL) 8pts
4. David Moncoutie (COF) 7pts
5. Amael Moinard (COF) 6pts
6. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (GCE) 5pts

15:33:09 - Peloton At Summit
The peloton has raced over the top of the Col des Mosses, 3'25" behind the 10 escapees. There were no attacks - either from the lead group or peloton - on this ascent.

15:34:01 - Liquigas Send Riders Forward
There are three riders from the Liquigas team now at the head of the peloton as it begins the descent of the col des Mosses.

15:39:50 - Comments From Cofifis
“For now, the Astana team is maintaining a reasonable gap and its riders are careful to protect themselves from the challenge by Astarloza,” said the directeur sportif of the Cofidis team, Francis Van Londersele when contacted by recently. “We also that the race will be very fast in the valley leading to the final climb. Hopefully the leaders can resist the chase by the peloton. If Moinard and Moncoutie are still at the front at the base of the Verbier climb, we will try to take advantage of the situation. In this case Amael can be a very useful ally for David.”

15:41:35 - Cancellara Caught
The brief stint in the lead by Cancellara is now over. He has been caught by the nine other escapees.

(CN) 3.
15:51 CEST - Liquigas is still helping Astana in the pace making as they drive through some Swiss vineyards.
15:57 CEST - There is still a light back wind down in the valley. This will help the break, but it might still be caught before the finish as it failed to build up a sufficient advantage due to the presence of Astarloza, 18th on general classification at 3.02 minutes of the leader, AG2R's Rinaldo Nocentini.
16:00 CEST - Armstrong is back with his teammates at the front of the peloton. He took some time out earlier on the Col des Mosses and hid inside the bunch, letting his fellow Astana riders do their job alone.

Current situation:

- Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Silence), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Amael Moinard, David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank)
- Peloton at 4.08

CPelkey: With 38km remaining, the Astana team has moved to the front of the peloton. The gap is back down to 3:38.
CPelkey: The Ag2r team has done little of the chase work so far. This may well be Nocentini's last day in yellow. He's on his eighth day in the race lead, but no one is predicting that he'll hold it on this last climb. He and his team have done terrific work this past week. I have to say, though, he's been the quietest race leader we've had in years. He makes few statements to the press, makes no brash predictions and doesn't mouth off. He just rides. Chapeau.
CPelkey: Neal Rogers was at the start this morning and asked Lance Armstrong about the riders he'll be watching on this final climb today.

"The two Schleck brothers, Carlos Sastre and Cadel Evans, all the people we’ve thought since the beginning. They’re behind because of the TTT, but they are still a threat."
CPelkey: With 31km to go - and about 22km to go before the climb officially starts - the gap is now down to 3:15.
CPelkey: Neal ROgers also spoke with Mark Cavendish about the Hincapie jersey issue. Some have suggested that his team's effort to lead out Cavendish for the field sprint contributed to the loss of those critical five seconds:

"We knew we had George at 5 seconds, so we were trying to make the sprint as slow as possible, we wanted to leave it as late as possible. Obviously if someone goes, I have to go. If someone goes left or if someone goes right, I have to go. That’s what we were watching for yesterday. Either Thor thinks so highly of himself that he thinks we were doing that sprint to try and mess him up, or if he thinks so highly of our team that he thinks the only way to beat our team is to get us disqualified. It’s one or the other. That’s happened now, and what happened to me is the least of the problems with what happened yesterday. For a guy like George to lose the jersey like that, that’s the worst thing, and the tragedy of the woman who died yesterday, in horrific circumstances, that overshadows anything that happened."
CPelkey: Liquigas and Astana are setting tempo in the main field. With 28km to go, the gap is now down to 3:10.

Our leaders are approaching the day's second sprint mark - in Martigny (26.5km to go)
CPelkey: Cavendish said he was obviously bothered by the relegation:

"I take it as a compliment the only way they can beat us is like that. I’ve never, ever had anyone grab me after a stage, let alone put in a complaint. I’ve always been a correct in a sprint, I’ve always been a correct rider, and it’s upsetting that someone would think I’d ride deliberately like that. I’ve never been malice, I’ve never been unjust, and I lost a lot of respect for Thor yesterday — a lot of respect."

Asked if Hushovd has the green jersey locked up: “Absolutely not, no. I just have to concentrate on Paris now. I want to win on the Champs-Elysees, and I’ll do that.”
CPelkey: The peloton - under the power of Liquigas and Astana - has reached the sprint mark 3:02 behind the break.
CPelkey: Speaking of yesterday's yellow jersey argument - which will be moot by tonight - Bradley Wiggins spoke with Neal Rogers at the start this morning.

"I didn’t have my radio in last 20km, didn’t hear what was going on, but apparently Matt White told the boys to start riding tempo so we could stay near the front because we were getting bushwhacked a bit and we didn’t want to take any splits in the final few Ks. I don’t think anyone realized who was taking the jersey, or who was in the jersey, or was trying to stop someone from taking the jersey. I don’t quite understand what is going on. we’ve got two guys in the top 10 of the Tour de France going into the final week, and we were just defending those positions."
CPelkey: Spilak, the guy who was only allowed to continue because of a judges' ruling on his missing the time cut, is taking a dig off the front of the break, with 21km to go.
CPelkey: We're going to focus on today rather than yesterday from here on out, but we have one last word from Wiggins on yesterday's kerfuffle:

Asked if it was unfair to accuse Garmin of intentionally chasing down Hincapie, Wiggins said:

"Perhaps, yeah. You know how people are. You’ve got people saying about 9-11, that the Americans did it to themselves, so if people are going to say things like that, of course they’re going to say that we tried to keep George from taking yellow. But we don’t rise to the games anyone else plays. We just concentrate on our own race at the moment."

CPelkey: Spilak is now 50 seconds ahead of the break. The peloton is at 2:28.
CPelkey: 15km to go, Spilak has a minute on the chase. The peloton is about another minute behind the remnants of the break.
CPelkey: With Spilak on the base of the climb, he has 41 seconds on Astarloa. The chase group is at 1:10. The peloton is coming up fast. Saxo Bank is driving at the front right now.
CPelkey: The peloton's pace is such that Spilak is just 1:22 up the road.
CPelkey: Garmin as at the front.... Wiggins and Vande Velde are in good position.

Saxo Bank is driving now. Voigt is hammering at the front of the peloton.
CPelkey: The peloton is stretched off in single file.

Pellizotti has popped, so he's out of contention for KOM points.
CPelkey: Voigt is done. He's peeled off. He did his job on the opening 1500 meters of the climb
CPelkey: The remnants of the break are being swept up. Spilak is only about half-a-minute up the road.
CPelkey: Cancellara is caught and is doing his part to keep the pace high.
CPelkey: Hesjedal is doing the same.
CPelkey: Oh man, the peloton has really shrunk.

Hincapie is fading off the back.

So is Sastre?
CPelkey: Okay, the break is all gone.
CPelkey: Cancellara is still driving hard at the front of the peloton.
CPelkey: Armstrong and Contador are moving up to the front of the group
CPelkey: Frank Schleck is riding off the front. He has Contador on his wheel... and Armstrong is on his wheel.
CPelkey: The race is down to five guys.
CPelkey: Contador goes!
CPelkey: Contador is flying up the climb. Andy Schleck is chasing.

Armstrong is not chasing. He is with Frank Schleck and Bradley Wiggins.
(CN) 1.
16:57 CEST - Fränk Schleck tries something, marked by Contador. Armstrong jst behind.
16:57 CEST - Yes! Contador attacks! Andy Schleck tries to follow. The race is finally on!
16:58 CEST - Armstrong does not respond. he looks around at Fränk Schleck, Wiggins, etc. to chase.
17:00 CEST - Evans is there, too, but doesn't look like he can do any chasing. Andy Schleck is still between the Armstrong group and Contador.
17:01 CEST (4km remaining from 207.5km) - Nocentini has already lost more than a minute. Sastre tries to come back to the Armstrong group.
17:03 CEST - Contador is likely to take the stage if he doesn't explode.

Klöden sets the pace in the Armstrong group, which also includesKreuziger and Nibali (Liquigas) riders.
CPelkey: Frank Schleck is working his way up to his brother.

Contador is just flying up the climb. He's 2.6km from the top.
CPelkey: Huge crowds out there today. Beautiful weather and they are getting a helluva show.
CPelkey: Contador has 35 seconds over Andy Schleck
CPelkey: Cadel Evans is trying to up the pace in the Armstrong group. Armstrong is at the front of the group and Evans may want to set a faster tempo... but he's not doing it.
CPelkey: Contador is now less than 2km from the top.

CPelkey: Huge crowds out there today. Beautiful weather and they are getting a helluva show.
CPelkey: Contador has 35 seconds over Andy Schleck

Cadel Evans is trying to up the pace in the Armstrong group. Armstrong is at the front of the group and Evans may want to set a faster tempo... but he's not doing it.

Contador is now less than 2km from the top.

CPelkey: Nibali and WIggins have joined Frank Schleck.
CPelkey: Contador is 1.7km from the top. Andy Schleck is at 40 seconds.
CPelkey: Sastre has attacked out of the Armstrong group. He's leaving Armstrong Kloden and Evans... He's bridging to Wiggins, Nibali and Frank Schleck.
CPelkey: Contador is now 1.25km from the top.
CPelkey: Andy Schleck is more than 40 seconds back.

Armstrong is now at 1:12
CPelkey: Sastre has passed the Frank Schleck group He is third on the road.

Contador is on the final kilometer.
CPelkey: Contador has this stage - and mybe this Tour - won.
CPelkey: Sastre is closing in on Andy Schleck.
CPelkey: Contador is in the final 600 meters
CPelkey: Contador is flying toward the finish.
CPelkey: Alberto Contador - winner of the 2007 Tour de France - has won the stage. Pow... the pistol comes out.
CPelkey: Andy Schleck is actually in second, finishing at 42 seconds
CPelkey: Sastre has been grabbed back. Nibali gets third. Frank Schleck fourth
CPelkey: Evans at 1:25
CPelkey: Armstrong at 1:35.
CPelkey: Whewwwww.... what a ride.
CPelkey: Kreuziger is in at 2:06
CPelkey: Tony Martin a 2:14. It looks like Andy Schleck will be in white.
CPelkey: Vande Velde has finished with Nocentini ... at 2:35 or so
CPelkey: Wiggins, by the way, finished with Frank Schleck. Sorry to have not mentioned that one.
CPelkey: It looks like the GC picture has been changed. Obviously Contador is in yellow, but Armstrong is in second according to our usually bad math.
CPelkey: Preliminary results:
# 1. Alberto Contador Astana, 207.5km in 5:03:58
# 2. Andy Schleck Team Saxo Bank, at 0:43
# 3. Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas at 01:03
# 4. Frank Schleck Team Saxo Bank at 01:06
# 5. Bradley Wiggins Garmin - Slipstream at 01:06
# 6. Carlos Sastre Cervelo Test Team at 01:06
# 7. Cadel Evans Silence - Lotto at 01:26
# 8. Andréas Kloden Astana at 01:29
# 9. Lance Armstrong Astana at 01:35
# 10. Kim Kirchen Team Columbia - Htc at 01:55
# 11. Roman Kreuziger Liquigas at 02:06
# 12. Tony Martin Team Columbia - Htc at 02:13
# 13. Vladimir Karpets Team Katusha at 02:13
# 14. Maxime Monfort Team Columbia - Htc at 02:23
# 15. Christophe Le Mevel Francaise Des Jeux at 02:32
# 16. Igor Anton Euskaltel - Euskadi at 02:33
# 17. Broeck Jurgen Van Den Silence - Lotto at 02:33
# 18. Peter Velits Team Milram at 02:36
# 19. Rinaldo Nocentini Ag2r La Mondiale at 02:36
# 20. Jose Angel Gomez Marchante Cervelo Test Team at 02:36
# 21. Mikel Astarloza Euskaltel - Euskadi at 02:41
# 22. Christian Vande Velde Garmin - Slipstream at 02:41
# 23. Sandy Casar Francaise Des Jeux at 02:41
# 24. Matthew Lloyd Silence - Lotto at 02:52
# 25. Brice Feillu Agritubel at 03:14
# 26. Christophe Kern Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne at 03:14
# 27. Stephane Goubert Ag2r La Mondiale at 03:14
# 28. Luis-leon Sanchez Caisse D’epargne at 03:17
# 29. Pierre Rolland Bbox Bouygues Telecom at 03:24
# 30. Maxime Bouet Agritubel at 03:36
# 31. Amets Txurruka Euskaltel - Euskadi at 03:43
# 32. Alexandre Botcharov Team Katusha at 03:43
# 33. Volodymir Gustov Cervelo Test Team at 03:43
# 34. Yury Trofimov Bbox Bouygues Telecom at 03:43
# 35. Hubert Dupont Ag2r La Mondiale at 03:54
CPelkey: Preliminary GC:
# 1. Alberto Contador Astana, 63:17:56
# 2. Lance Armstrong Astana, at 1:37
# 3. Bradley Wiggins Garmin - Slipstream at 01:46
# 4. Andréas KlÖden Astana at 02:17
# 5. Andy Schleck Team Saxo Bank at 02:26
# 6. Rinaldo Nocentini Ag2r La Mondiale at 02:30
# 7. Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas at 02:51
# 8. Tony Martin Team Columbia - Htc at 03:07
# 9. Christophe Le Mevel Francaise Des Jeux at 03:09
# 10. Frank Schleck Team Saxo Bank at 03:25
# 11. Carlos Sastre Cervelo Test Team at 03:52
# 12. Christian Vande Velde Garmin - Slipstream at 03:59
# 13. George Hincapie Team Columbia - Htc at 04:05
# 14. Cadel Evans Silence - Lotto at 04:27
# 15. Maxime Monfort Team Columbia - Htc at 04:38
# 16. Roman Kreuziger Liquigas at 04:40
# 17. Kim Kirchen Team Columbia - Htc at 05:05
# 18. Luis-leon Sanchez Caisse D’epargne at 05:27
# 19. Mikel Astarloza Euskaltel - Euskadi at 05:37
# 20. Vladimir Karpets Team Katusha at 05:56

So, Team Astana proves its status as the team and the riders to beat - Alberto Contador is first in the General Classification, Lance Armstrong is second, at 37 years old, only 1 minute and 37 seconds behind.

Tomorrow is a well earned day off from the competition of the Tour de France. We begin Stage 16 - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - 159 km - Martigny(CH) → Bourg-Saint-Maurice.

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