Post Stage Analysis

Breakaway Winner: Fédigo Wins in Briançon
Valverde still in yellow, Astarloza climbs to fourth

GC leader Alejandro Valverde admiring the view from Col d'Izoard during a beautiful day in the Alps
9 Big Photos from Stage 6sirotti

June 12 update: French rider Pierrick Fédigo launched a perfectly timed attack today to win the stage at Briançon. The Bbox Bouyges rider was part of an early break that escaped after 17 kilometers of racing, and absent a general classification threat, survived to the finish. Alejandro Valverde retained the yellow jersey of race leader today, and the top three in the general classification remain locked together in a close battle for the overall victory.

The Story

Today's short stage between Gap and Briançon was made to order for the attackers. Fourteen riders escaped at kilometer 17, with visions of stage victory dancing in their heads. Or, perhaps it was the sports director's voice yelling in their ear. The break included: Pierrick Fédrigo Bbox Bouygues, Juan Manuel Garate of Rabobank, Gorka Verdugo of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Benoît Vaugrenard of Française des Jeux, Bingen Fernandez of Cofidis, Jürgen Van de Walle of Quick Step, Svein Tuft of Garmin-Slipstream, Mauro Santambrogio of Lampre-Ngc, Gert Steegmans of Katusha, Lars Bak of Saxo Bank, Alberto Fernandez of Fuji-Servetto, Aleksandr Kuschynski of Liquigas-Doimo, Stéphane Goubert of AG2R-La Mondiale, and Markus Zberg of BMC Racing. Lars Bak of Saxo Bank was the highest placed in the general classification, more than 9 minutes behind Valverde. Certainly, the yellow jersey group would allow the group to ride, as none of the riders threatened to overturn the general classification.

At the base of the Col d'Izoard, the break held an advantage of just over 5 minutes and climber Juan Manuel Garate of Rabobank led the group of fourteen onto the lower slopes of the climb. As the break hit the climb, sprinter Gert Steegmans attacked. Kid you not. Steegmans held a gap of about 100 meters, when Markus Zberg of BMC Racing bridged across. With 8 kilometers to ride to the summit of the Col d'Izoard, Zberg easily passed Steegmans, and soon Jürgen van de Walle of Quick Step joined him. Van de Walle steadily distanced Zberg, while behind, Stéphane Goubert of AG2R-La Mondiale, Gorka Verdugo of Euskaltel-Euskadi, and Juan Manuel Garate of Rabobank set off in pursuit. Verdugo could not hold the pace and dropped back.

With 4 kilometers to the summit of the Col d'Izoard, four riders sat at the front: Jürgen van de Walle, Stéphane Goubert, Juan Manuel Garate, and Peirrick Fédigo. Lars Bak of Saxo Bank lingered just behind them. Passing through the Désert Casse, the four riders still had close to 5 minutes over the yellow jersey group.

In the meantime, Mikel Astarloza made his move to escape the yellow jersey group. Astarloza began the day 8th in the general classification, 2:44 behind race leader Alejandro Valverde. Astarloza also still had team mate Gorka Verdugo up the road to assist in his escape. The yellow jersey group appeared unperturbed by Astarloza's attack, content to save their legs for tomorrow's high mountains. Astarloza steadily built up his advantage over the course of the Col d'Izoard.

On the descent, Lars Bak of Saxo Bank made it back across to the breakaway, after losing ground on the climb. Astarloza met up with his team-mate Verdugo, and continued to gain ground on the yellow jersey group, who took the descent gingerly with Caisse d'Épargne on the front.

With 6 kilometers to race, Juan Manuel Garate of Rabobank made a play for the stage victory and attacked from the break, which now contained five riders. His escape proved short-lived, and with less than 4 kilometers to race, the break recaptured Garate. Jürgen van de Walle of Quick Step countered, and soon held a small gap over the rest of the breakaway. In the meantime, Astarloza continued to ride between the break and yellow jersey group, conserving his advantage over the other general classification riders.

As the break passed through the walls of the Briançon citadel, Pierrick Fédigo of Bbox Bouygues set off in pursuit of Jürgen van de Walle. The Bbox Bouygues rider soon made the catch and his momentum carried him past van de Walle. The Belgian, who has yet to celebrate victory in his career, dug deep to get back on terms, but could not make it. Behind, Stéphane Goubet of AG2R-La Mondiale, who also has no wins in his career, chased. It was too late. The experienced Pierrick Fédigo had timed his move to perfection and won the stage.

As Fédigo celebrated victory, the yellow jersey group hit the final kilometer. Caisse D'Épargne rode hard on the front for Alejandro Valverde. As they approached the walls of the citadel, Alberto Contador decided to stretch his legs and put in a little dig. Evans and Valverde proved quick to join him and the top three in the general classification opened a small gap over the others in the top ten. At the line, Valverde, Evans, and Contador crossed together. Behind followed Gesink, Nibali, and Millar, who lost about 10 seconds to the leading three.

Today marked Pierrick Fédigo's first stage win at the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré. Earlier this season, the Bbox Bouygues rider won a stage of the Quatre Jours de Dunkerque. He also won a Tour de France stage in 2006 and last year won the French classic GP Ouest France in Plouay. In a post-stage interview, Fédigo said he'd spend Mont Ventoux in the grupetto. "I was not super on the previous days, not really in the rhythm," he explained. "I wanted to attack to see what would happen on this very short stage. Along the way, it went better and better. But I did not know how it would turn out," he recounted. In the final kilometer, Fédigo bridged across to Van de Walle, which Goubert could not do. "I remained concentrated on my objective," he said of the close finish in which he timed his effort to perfection. Looking ahead, Fédigo expects a big stage tomorrow, but is not worried that he will pay overly for today's success. "When you win, you always recover better," he concluded.

Here is the current general classification:

1. Alejandro Valverde Caisse d'Épargne
2. Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto :16
3. Alberto Contador Astana 1:04
4. Mikel Astarloza Euskaltel Euskadi 1:49
5. David Millar Garmin-Slipstream 1:52
6. Robert Gesink Rabobank 2:41
7. Haimar Zubeldia Astana 2:42
8. Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Doimo 2:43
9. Sylvester Szmyd Liquigas-Doimo 3:50
10. Jacob Fuglsang Saxo Bank 3:56

The general classification remained largely unchanged today, as the favorites rested their legs ahead of tomorrow's big climbing stage. Only Mikel Astarloza bettered his position significantly, thanks to his attack on the Col d'Izoard. The Euskaltel Euskadi rider now sits fourth at 1:49 behind race leader Alejandro Valverde.

At the finish, Valverde, Evans, and Contador crossed the line together. The gaps remain unchanged among them, as the race heads into its final mountain top finish tomorrow partway up the Col de Madeleine. Behind the leading three, small splits opened up, and the time gaps have changed incrementally. By the end of tomorrow, those changes will likely seem insignificant.

After his long day out, Pierrick Fédigo takes over the lead in the mountains classification, a nice souvenir to go with his stage win. Sylvester Szmyd of Liquigas-Doimo trails by 5 points. Cadel Evans remains the leader in the points classification with 82. Alberto Contador is second with 56 points.

Tomorrow's stage covers 157 kilometers between Briançon and Saint-François-Longchamp. The course includes three major climbs: Col du Galibier, Col de la Croix-de-Fer, and the Col de la Madeleine. The finish at Saint-François-Longchamp lies about 7 kilometers from the summit of the Col de la Madeleine.

This stage should open up splits among the general classification riders and alter the standings. Evans will need to attack, if he wants to overtake Valverde. Contador still maintains that he is not interested in the general classification, but that could all change tomorrow. Riders like Robert Gesink and Jacob Fuglsang, meanwhile, will likely go on the attack, just as they did on Mont Ventoux. This finish should suit Gesink to perfection and he is plainly on good form. Look for a big battle on the final climb among the general classification riders, who largely rested their legs today. — Gavia

For more details on tomorrow's stage, please turn the page.

Course Preview

Stage 6: Gap — Briançon 106 km

This stage departs from Gap and heads Northeast into the high Alps. Gap sits in a glacial valley in the shadow of the Alps and along the Luye river. The Col d’Izoard is the main climb of the day. From the summit at 2360 meters above sea level, there follows a fast, sinuous descent whose roads are relatively wide and well-paved. It is an uphill finish today, with a climb into the old town of Briançon. Briançon is near the border with Italy, and the Sestrière climb used in the 2009 Giro d’Italia is not far from the finish of this stage.

The course passes through the town of Embrun, and then approaches the first categorized climb of the day. The Côte de Châteaubroux-les-Alpes is rated a category 4 and summits at 1010 meters. The côte gains 80 meters in 3 kilometers and has an average gradient of approximately 3%, according to my back of the envelope calculations. From the summit of the côte, there remains 62.5 kilometers to go, and less than 10 kilometers to the main climb of the day.

Passing through Guillestre, the course begins to climb gradually to the base of the Col d’Izoard. The road rises approximately 500 meters over the next 17.5 kilometers. The final climb of the day begins just outside Armeux.

The Col d’Izoard arrives after approximately 70 kilometers of racing. With its limestone cap, Mont Ventoux resembles a moonscape. The Col d’Izoard could be mistaken for a movie-set version of Mars. The upper slopes of the climb are exposed and the road passes unique rock formations, known as the Casse Déserte, or the “broken desert.” The rock spires are a consequence of the mixed mineral content of the Izoard, causing the surface to erode at different rates. Tall spires of slower eroding rock stand on steep scree-covered slopes. The Tour de France has visited the Izoard 32 times, and a monument to Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet stands in the Casse Déserte. The climb is rated hors catégorie.

The Col d’Izoard climbs 1095 meters over 16 kilometers, and has an average gradient of 6.8%. The average is somewhat misleading, because between kilometers 1 and 3, the gradient lingers right around 3%. The remainder of the climb is considerably steeper and pitches in the 8-10% range predominate. The maximum gradient is 10%. There are actually two sections at 10%, at kilometer 7 and kilometer 9. The final two kilometers are a more gentle 6%. As is typical of the Cols in the Alpes, the gradients are not extreme. But certainly, the race will break up on the slopes of the Izoard. From the summit, there remains 20 kilometers to race.

It’s a fast descent on good roads to Briançon. The course drops 1150 meters over 18 kilometers, an average gradient of 6%. Upon reaching Briançon, the course begins to climb again. The final 1.5 kilometers of the stage are uphill, through narrow, cobbled streets. The finishing climb gains 135 meters in 1.5 kilometers. The average gradient is approximately 9%, though the actual finish in the Place du Champ de Mars in Briançon is nearly flat.

The Dauphiné last used this stage finish in 2006, and Ludovic Turpin of AG2R-Prevoyance won the stage ahead of Iban Mayo of Euskatel-Euskadi. Head over to Cyclingnews, if you’d like to relive that bit of cycling history. On that occasion, the race shattered, and the field finished in singles.

Much depends on the state of the general classification after the climb up Mont Ventoux. I would expect a less well-known name to take out this stage, perhaps from an early break, though he won’t likely finish too far ahead of the favorites. The general classification riders can not allow breakaway riders to run out the clock too far in these short stage races. The descent is fast and the roads are wide, which can make it easy for a rider distanced on the climb to make it back to the bunch. The general classification riders will likely stick together, though the final climb to the Place du Champs de Mars may open up a few splits.

Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->