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Stage 7 Results

General Classification after Stage 7:

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Feillu wins first mountainous stagecyclingnews
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high-res victory salute
Contador asserts dominance as Feillu takes stage and Nocentini snatches jerseyvelonews
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Feillu wins, Contador leapfrogs Armstrongeurosport
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  Bruyneel: "We didn't have a real plan" (02:09) — eurosport
  Armstrong: "I didn't expect him [Contador] to go by the plan ... no surpise"velonews
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Pre Race Interviews: Lance, Levi and Johan — versus
Tour, Nocentini in giallo "Il premio più bello"
Armstrong unfazed by Contador
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Post Stage Analysis

Living A Dream
First year pro Brice Feillu wins stage, Nocentini in Yellow

Brice Feillu of Agritubel took his first ever Tour de France stage win high on the summit of Arcalís. The young French rider, in his first year as a professional, escaped with the early breakaway and survived to celebrate victory at the finish. Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R-La Mondiale, who also rode the break today, takes over the Yellow Jersey of race leader by a slim margin over Alberto Contador. The Spanish climber leapfrogged his team mate Lance Armstrong in the general classification and is now 2 seconds ahead of the American.

The Story

Three riders escaped at kilometer 8 and were soon joined by six more. By kilometer 20, the break included: Rinaldo Nocentini AG2R-La Mondiale, Jérôme Pineau Quick Step, José Ivan Gutierrez of Caisse d'Épargne, Alexandr Kuschynski of Liquigas-Doimo, Christophe Riblon AG2R-La Mondiale, Egoi Martinez Euskaltel-Euskadi, Johannes Fröhlinger Milram, Brice Feillu Agritubel, and Christophe Kern Cofidis. Rinaldo Nocentini began the day as the highest placed on the general classification at 3:13 behind Fabian Cancellara.

The main field proved content to let the break ride and with 65 kilometers to race, the break held an advantage of 11:29 over the main field. With Saxo Bank disinclined to defend Cancellara’s Yellow Jersey, Astana took control of the chase. In the break, Christophe Riblon took the points over the Port del Solsona and the Port del Comte. Gapped on the Porte del Comte, Cancellara put his mad descending skills on display and came back to the main field.

As the kilometers ticked down to the final climb of the day, the gap the breakaway fell as Astana rode on the front. The team did not seem to put a great deal of urgency into the chase, and the other teams proved content to sit on and let Astana determine the pace. Astana began the day with four riders in the top five, and the other teams saw no reason to assist in the chasing. For much of the stage, the team of Contador and Armstrong appeared to be in no particular hurry. With 25 kilometers to go, the gap to the break still stood at nearly ten minutes. Rinaldo Nocentini had become the race leader on the road, the virtual Yellow Jersey, and the stage winner looked likely to come from the breakaway.

As the bunch passed through Andorre-la-Veille, Astana began to step up the pace. All lined up on the front, the team bore a striking resemblance to the Blue Train of Armstrong’s seven year reign over the Tour. As Astana turned the screws, the gap to the break began to fall and many riders in the main field found the pace too hot for their liking. Garmin-Slipstream, Saxo Bank, and Liquigas-Doimo all sat near the front for their team captains, and the general classification favorites sat close to the tail of the Astana train.

With 23 kilometers to go, a random crash interrupted the proceedings. Mark Cavendish, Michael Rogers, and Levi Leipheimer were among the riders who smacked planet, but all three proved able to continue. Astana momentarily soft-pedaled on the front to allow Leipheimer to make his way back through the field with the help of Gregory Rast. The road rose steadily here in a slight, but leg-sapping gradient. With 15 kilometers to race, the gap to the break, who still rode together, stood at 7:44. The officials waived the rule banning feeds from the team cars inside 20 kilometers to go in light of the hot weather, and Brice Feillu dropped back for a bottle as the break neared the final climb.

As the break hit the early kilometers of the climb, Kuschynski found the steep gradients too much for his legs and dropped off. The climb to Arcalís starts out steeply with the opening kilometers hitting a gradient of 8%. Back in the main field, Haimar Zubeldia took over the pace-making for Astana, and gaps began to open in the ever-shrinking Yellow Jersey group.

With 6 kilometers to go, race leader Fabian Cancellara joined the casualties and slipped off the back. A team-mate dropped back to help him, and as Cancellara predicted at the end of yesterday’s stage, his time in Yellow had come to an end. The gap to the break, meanwhile, was dropping rapidly thanks to the hard work by Zubeldia, and with 6 kilometers to go, it stood at 5:25.

Up ahead, the riders in the breakaway began to play for the stage win. The first move came from Christophe Kern, but Brice Feillu proved quick to cover. Rinaldo Nocentini, still the virtual Yellow Jersey, made the next move from the break, and lingered up the road briefly. Sensing a rare chance for a stage win, the breakaway riders were not about to give this one away easily. With just over 5 kilometers to race, Brice Feillu took his chance from the break. The others could not follow, and soon the first year professional from Agritubel had opened up a solid gap over the remains of the breakaway. Within 3 kilometers, the young French rider had counted an advantage of 30 seconds over the chase.

Behind in the main field, Zubeldia continued to drive the pace for Astana, as more riders dropped off the back. It seemed that none of the favorites wanted to - or could - challenge the display of force from Astana, who still had four general classification riders in the front group. The high pace rendered attacks nearly impossible, while a stiff headwind offered an added disincentive.

Cadel Evans proved unintimidated by the Astana train, and the stubborn Australian attacked hard. There remained 4 kilometers to race, and for a time, the Silence-Lotto captain held a small gap. With Evans off the front, the group of favorites numbered around 15 riders. Inexorably, the gap to Evans shrank. Up ahead, Nocentini and Riblon continued to trade pulls in an effort to secure the Yellow Jersey for the Italian, while Brice Feillu rode toward his first ever stage win.

The favorites soon came back together. After a brief pause in the hostilities, Jurgen van den Broeck, team-mate to Evans at Silence-Lotto, put in a dig and gained a small gap. It proved short-lived. With one of his trademark accelerations, Alberto Contador bounded out of the group. The 2007 Tour winner has springs for legs, and few riders can match his acceleration. Andy Schleck tried to cover the Contador move, but could not make it across the gap to the flying Spanish rider. The French call a pedaling style like Contador’s en danseuse, summoning up the image of a light-footed dancer. And dance Contador did, out of the reach of the remaining race favorites.

Up ahead, Brice Feillu of Agritubel crossed the line alone and celebrated his first ever Tour de France victory. The young French rider has raced 54 days so far this season, in his first year as a professional. Number 55 proved to be his lucky day. The younger brother of sprinter Romain Feillu, Brice said after the stage that he loves the mountains. “It was a beautiful stage, and the greatest win of my career,” he said. “I love the climbs, I just tried to increase the pace through every corner,” he explained. Agritubel has decided to stop its sponsorship of the team at the end of this season. When asked what he imagines for the future, Feillu said he needs to find a new team and he hopes that this win will help. It’s hard to imagine how it would not. Christophe Kern of Cofidis finished just 5 seconds behind Feillu. In the gruppetto, meanwhile, Romain Feillu celebrated his brother’s victory.

Behind Feillu and Kern, Nocentini put in a desperate last effort to secure the race lead. The Italian from AG2R-La Mondiale finished 26 seconds behind Feillu. Then began the wait for the race favorites to reach the line. Thanks to his attack, Contador proved the first of the general classification favorites to finish. The Spanish rider finished 3:26 down on Feillu, missing the Yellow Jersey by 6 seconds. Contador’s Astana team-mate Lance Armstrong, who started the day ahead on time, finished the stage 3:47 down on the stage. Armstrong now sits third in the general classification at 8 seconds.

Rinaldo Nocentini will wear the Yellow Jersey tomorrow, a prize which he dedicated to his mom and sister. The Italian was surprised to take the jersey saying, “Contador was coming up fast, and I didn’t think I would get the jersey. It’s a beautiful thing, even for just one day.” The AG2R-La Mondiale rider is the first Italian to wear the Yellow Jersey since Alberto Elli in 2000. Nocentini also said that he still hopes to win a stage of this Tour de France. The Italian all-arounder is a familiar face in the breakaways, and may well someday get his wish. Vincent Lavenu, Nocentini’s team manager, called Nocentini as “super rider” and praised his enthusiasm. “For a long time, he has wanted to come to the Tour, but the space for foreign riders in a French team is limited. He has been patient,” explained Lavenu. “He will win again!”

General Classification Update

Here is the current top ten:
Rinaldo Nocentini AG2R-La Mondiale
Alberto Contador Astana :06
Lance Armstrong Astana :08
Levi Leipheimer Astana :39
Bradley Wiggins Garmin-Slipstream :46
Andreas Klöden Astana :54
Tony Martin Columbia-HTC 1:00
Christian Vandevelde Garmin-Slipstream 1:24
Andy Schleck Saxo Bank 1:49
Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Doimo 1:54

As expected the general classification reshuffled on this first mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France. The time gaps still remain close, though, despite Contador’s big show of force in the final kilometers. Nocentini leads the general classification, followed by Contador at 6 seconds and Lance Armstrong at 8 seconds. Astana still has four riders in the top ten with Levi Leipheimer in fourth at 39 seconds and Andreas Klöden in sixth at 54 seconds. Carlos Sastre noted the strength of Astana, saying after the stage, “Astana is really strong and controlled the race without problem.” For his own part, Sastre said he had a good ride on the climb. “I did not lose time to the other favorites, that is the most important part.”

The attack of Contador in the finale reopened the speculation about the team leadership at Astana. Was Contador’s move planned? It’s impossible to know for sure. Johann Bruyneel said after the stage, “We wanted to ride a sustained rhythm to prevent attacks from Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, and Carlos Sastre.” No doubt they also hoped to distance Fabian Cancellara, who started the day in the Yellow Jersey of the race leader. In these first two goals, they certainly succeeded. Cadel Evans attempted an attack, but could not resist the implacable pace of the Astana team. Evans said later, “The numbers at Astana and the wind prevented me from making a difference.”

For his part, Armstrong, who began the day second in the general classification on same time with Cancellara, would surely like to have worn Yellow at the end of today’s stage. “Not everything went according to our plan, but I am not really surprised by that,” Armstrong, whose face told the tale of his efforts on the climb, told the assembled journalists. Was it Nocentini’s success in staying away that didn’t go according to plan? Or, was it the cheeky escape by his Spanish team-mate Contador? It’s impossible to know for sure, but certainly the stage re-injected life into the speculation about the relationship between Armstrong and Contador and the tactics the team will follow over the next two weeks. Still, the road will likely decide the matter, and it would be easy to make too much of this bit of hijinx. Astana has established itself as the team to beat at this Tour de France, and the other favorites will have to think hard about how to break the team's hold on the race.

The surprise package of the day in the general classification is surely Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream who now sits fifth overall. Wiggins, a former pursuiter on the track, did an impressive ride to finish in the Armstrong group on today’s stage. Having abandoned the track after two Olympic gold medals, Wiggins has lost weight and turned his focus entirely to the road. So far, he is turning out the best general classification ride of his career to date. He has struggled with repeated mountain stages in the past, so it remains to be seen how well he can hold on to his current position. Still, an impressive day out for the British rider from Garmin-Slipstream. Christian Vandevelde, meanwhile, sits eighth at 1:54 and also finished in the group of favorites today. The American suffered a serious crash during the Giro d’Italia, but is steadily riding himself into good form at this Tour.

Looking further down the general classification, Tony Martin sits seventh and wears the White jersey of best young rider. Andy Schleck, meanwhile, is ninth at 1:49 and Vincenzo Nibali is tenth at 1:54.

Other General Classification riders: 13) Fränk Schleck of Saxo Bank @ 2:25, 14) Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas-Doimo, who had a rough day on the climb today, @ 2:40 15) Carlos Sastre of Cervélo TestTeam @ 2:52, 17) Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas-Doimo @ 3:03, 18) Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto @ 3:07, 23) Vladimir Karpets of Katusha @ 3:49, 24) Denis Menchov of Rabobank @ 5:02.

Other Classifications: With his stage win today, Brice Feillu takes over as leader of the mountains classification. He leads Christophe Riblon of AG2R-La Mondiale by 3 points. Tony Martin, meanwhile, keeps his lead in the Young Riders classification. Martin is 49 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck and 54 seconds ahead of Vincenzo Nibali. Nibali’s team-mate Roman Kreuziger had a rough day on the Arcalís climb and drops to fourth at 1:40. The standings in the Points classification remain unchanged today with Mark Cavendish still leading Thor Hushovd by one point. Gerald Ciolek is third. Astana leads the teams classification by 1:48 over AG2R-La Mondiale, who had two riders in today’s break. Columbia-HTC is third at 4:42. Christophe Riblon will wear the red numbers of most combative rider tomorrow.

Looking Ahead

It’s another mountain stage tomorrow, as the Tour passes over the Pyrénées and returns to France. The climbing begins immediately as the start is at the base of the Port d'Envalira, the first of three categorized climbs on the menu. The final climb, the Col d'Agnès, summits just over 45 kilometers from the finish, so it probably won’t prove decisive in the general classification battle. With Nocentini hanging on by just a few seconds over Contador, he will need a good ride tomorrow to stay in Yellow, but the long flat run-in should help his cause. Tomorrow’s stage winner will likely come from a break, though stranger things have happened at the Tour de France.

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

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The Climbs

Côte de Montserrat 4.1 km, avg. 3.8 %, catégorie 4
Port de Solsona 5.8 km, avg. 4.3 %, catégorie 3
Col de Serra-Seca 7.7 km, avg. 7.1 %, catégorie 1
Port del Comte 3.1 km, avg. 5.3 %, catégorie 3
Andorre Arcalis 10.6 km, avg. 7.1 %, catégorie HC

The Tour continues its Spanish excursion with this first mountain-top finish. The stage departs from the city of Barcelona and heads into the Pyrénées. Leaving Spain, the Tour heads into the independent principality of Andorre. The stage finishes at the ski resort in Arcalis. There are five categorized climbs on the route, though three of the five are not especially difficult. The final climb at Arcalis, rated hors catégorie, should provide an early indication of who has brought his climbing legs to this Tour de France.

The Tour last visited Arcalis in 1997 where it served as the finish for stage 10. That year, 23 year old Jan Ullrich of Deutsche Telekom attacked with 10 kilometers to go, and took the stage win ahead of Marco Pantani of Mercatone Uno and Richard Virenque of Festina. The two climbers finished together 1:08 behind the German. Ullrich’s team leader Bjarne Riis, who won the 2006 Tour and now manages team Saxo Bank, finished more than 3 minutes behind. Ullrich took the leader’s jersey Arcalis, and went on to win his first - and last - Tour de France.

More recently, in 2001, the Vuelta a España held a climbing time trial from Ordino to the ski station on Arcalis, for a total of 17 kilometers of climbing. Last year’s Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre finished second that day, 28 seconds behind his now-deceased brother-in-law José María Jimenez. Levi Leipheimer also raced that day, and finished fifth. Leipheimer went on to finish third overall in the 2001 Vuelta, his first big result in the grand tours.

Profile Details

The stage gets off to a bumpy start with a short climb and descent. Then, it’s ten kilometers of gradual uphill riding to the first categorized climb of the day, the Côte de Montserrat. The côte summits after 32 kilometers of racing, and lies in the city of Terrassa. Terrassa is the fourth largest city in Cataluña and its known history dates to Roman times. The Côte de Montserrat is rated a category 4 and lasts 4.1 kilometers. The average gradient is a kind 3.8%, and the côte should offer a nice warm-up for the bigger obstacles to come. No doubt an enterprising breakaway rider will be happy to take the points on offer at the summit.

From Terrassa, the stage continues northwest toward Cardona by way of Manresa. The course covers bumpy terrain here, and the riders face approximately 50 kilometers of false flat climbing to Cardona. A series of three categorized climbs comes just outside Cardona at around kilometer 90. The Tour has now entered the Spanish province of Lerida.

The Port de Solsona, the second categorized climb of the stage, lies just outside Solsona. The Port de Solsona lasts 5.8 kilometers and has an average gradient of 4.3%. It is rated a category 3, and relative to the climbs to come should not cause too much difficulty. From the summit, there remains 127 kilometers to race. The first intermediate sprint of the day comes immediately after the descent from the Port de Solsona at kilometer 105. Just to keep things interesting, there is a feed zone 500 meters later.

The terrain bumps along for approximately 15 kilometers. Then comes the next categorized climb of the day, the Col de Serra-Seca. At 7.7 kilometers and with an average gradient of 7.1%, the Col de Serra-Seca has a category 1 rating and should sting the legs. The main contenders for the general classification should not be bothered by this climb, but the teams without strong climbing squads will begin to feel the pressure here. We can expect the bunch to shrink on the slopes of the Col de Serra-Seca, and a team leader or two to wonder where everyone has gone.

From the summit of the col, there remains 97 kilometers of racing, so it is not the ideal spot for a grand escape. The smart riders will remain patient and wait for the final climb of the day in Arcalis. After a short descent, the bunch will climb the category three Port del Comte. The Port del Comte is short and sweet, just 3.1 kilometers, and has an average gradient of 5.3%. From the summit, the stage finish lies 87.5 kilometers in the distance.

From the Port de Comte, the course descends approximately 20 kilometers to Organyà. At Organyà, the course turns northeast and heads toward Andorre and the final climb of the day. It’s all uphill from here, as the course steadily gains in elevation and gradient. Passing through La Seu d’Urgell, the profile reaches 720 meters in elevation. Less than 20 kilometers later, the elevation rises to 977 meters in Andorre-la-Vieille. From Andorre-la-Vieille to the finish, less than 30 kilometers of racing remain, but they are all uphill kilometers.

The final climb of the day, Andorre Arcalis, begins 10.6 kilometers from the finish, though it follows 7 kilometers of steady climbing from Ordino. The 2001 Vuelta time trial used Ordino as its start. From Ordino to the start of the climb proper, the average gradient is approximately 3%.

The Andorre Arcalis is rated hors catégorie and has an average gradient of 7.1%. The maximum gradient comes in the first kilometer of the climb and reaches 8.7%. For the first four kilometers, the gradient hovers in the 7% range, then the climb relaxes to a more comfy 6.7%. The final kilometer is gentler still at 4%. It should be a small group at the finish here, and the stage winner may need a bit of speed to make the difference. The finish line perches at 2200 meters above sea level and is one of the highest stage finishes of the Tour de France.

Who to Watch

At 10 kilometers and a gradient of 7.1%, the Arcalis is not one of the harder climbs. It will be difficult for the pure climbers to gain an advantage here, especially because the stage comes so early in the Tour. We can expect the stronger teams like Astana and Saxo Bank to arrive at the final climb with much of their teams intact, which will likely make for a high pace on the lower slopes of the climb.

Riders who might try their chances at Arcalis include Carlos Sastre of Cervélo TestTeam, though Sastre is typically better in the final week of a grand tour than in the first. Still, there are not too many opportunities for the climbers to gain time before the finale on the Mont Ventoux, so Sastre may choose to alter his strategy and go on the attack early. The chance for a stage win at home in Spain might entice the 2008 Tour de France winner out of his usual caution.

Like Sastre, Andy Schleckrides better in the mountains than he does against the watch. Schleck will have the support of Chris Anker Sørensen and Fränk Schleck in the mountains, and a team dedicated to his Tour ambitions. Saxo Bank is known for their tactical maneuvering, and it’s hard to imagine them letting this stage pass them by. Look for Schleck and his Saxo Bank team to try something in Arcalis.

Likewise for 2007 Tour de France champion Alberto Contador. Contador will likely enjoy an early advantage thanks to Astana’s strong roster of time trialers and may not be under any pressure to go on the attack. Contador rode a quiet Critérium Dauphiné Libéré, but looked to have form to spare. He can count on strong support from Levi Leipheimer, who showed flashes of form in the Giro d’Italia, though ultimately fell short of a high general classification finish. If any lingering doubts about the team leadership at Astana remain, Contador might well use Arcalis to put them to rest. Though no slouch against the watch, Contador is at his best in the high mountains, and the mountain top finish at Arcalis offers him an opportunity to gain time on his rivals. Never a bad idea.

In notable contrast to Contador, Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto rode an attacking race at the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré in a doomed effort to wrest the lead from Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d’Épargne. Evans should ride well against the watch in Monaco and has a strong team for the team time trial in Montpellier. His aggression at the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré made for exciting racing, but he may choose a more conservative approach to the early stages of this Tour de France. At the same time, he must surely know that he will not have too many more chances to win the Tour de France. Better now than never.

Like Evans, Robert Gesink of Rabobank rode an attacking race in the mountain stages of the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré. Unlike Evans, Gesink will likely lose time in the opening time trial in Monaco, though his Rabobank team should ride a strong team time trial. Gesink has improved his time trial skills, but his climbing remains his great strength and Gesink’s general classification ambitions depend on a good ride in the mountain stages. The young Dutch rider is racing his first Tour de France this year, and it is likely a big ask to expect an attacking ride on the first mountain stage of the race. All the same, Gesink showed excellent form and a fearless style at the Dauphiné Libéré. Certainly, he is a rider to watch on this stage.

Franco Pellizotti comes to the Tour de France fresh off a third place finish at the Giro d’Italia. In recent press comments, the Liquigas-Doimo rider has said that he intends to ride for the general classification at the Tour de France. On form since May, Pellizotti may find the third week of the French grand tour tough going, and the Italian Giro riders have not had the best of luck in recent years at the Tour. Pellizotti is not stellar against the watch and will need to ride aggressively in the mountains if he is serious about a high finish in Paris. Where better place to begin his campaign than Arcalis?

For last year’s fourth place finisher Christian Vandevelde, this stage will be a big test of his form after his injuries in the Giro d’Italia. In the later stages of the Tour de Suisse, Vandevelde began to show hints of form, but to rebuild in the brief period between the Giro and the Tour is no easy task. We will get an indication of how well he has succeeded on this first mountain-top finish of the Tour. — Gavia

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