Post Stage Analysis

Contador Rides Away to Stage Win and Yellow Jersey
Contador calls today "a liberation," Armstrong trails by over a minute

Alberto Contador rode away from the field today on the final climb to Verbier. The Spanish climber, who won the 2007 Tour de France, won the stage and took over the race lead. His team-mate American Lance Armstrong suffered on the climb, but still holds second in the general classification. Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream now sits third 1:46 behind Alberto Contador. As expected, this mountain stage reshuffled the hierarchy in this Tour de France. Tomorrow’s a rest day, then it’s back into the mountains.

The Story

It all came down to the final climb today, though a series of breakaway attempts animated the early kilometers of the stage. Over the first two climbs of the day, Franco Pellizotti and Egoi Martinez continued their battle in the mountains classification. Pellizotti got the better of Martinez in both exchanges and has now added to his lead. Astana, meanwhile, kept tight control over the race, and never allowed the assorted escapes to gain much road.

Just past kilometer 50, Ryder Hesjdahl of Garmin-Slipstream attacked from a twelve rider escape which was then dangling just 25 seconds ahead of the Astana-driven field. Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank, David Moncoutié of Cofidis, Jurgen van den Broeck of Silence-Lotto, Mikel Astarloza of Euskaltel-Euskadi, José Ivan Gutierrez of Caisse d'Épargne, Amaël Moinard of Cofidis, Simon Spilak of Lampre-Ngc, and Pierrick Fédrigo of Bbox Bouygues chased after the Canadian. Over the summit of the Côte de Prévonloup, the group came together. With the vigorous encouragement of his team manager, Juan Antonio Flecha of Rabobank soon bridged across to the group and the nine steadily rode away from the main field. On the Col des Mosses with 70 kilometers to race, the break held an advantage of 4:05 over the main field. Astana continued to do the majority of the chasing, as Astarloza became the virtual Yellow Jersey.

Through the long valley on the road to the final climb to Verbier, Astana continued to work on the front and the gap to the break began to diminish steadily. With 20 kilometers to go and the gap shrinking all the time, Simon Spilak of Lampre-Ngc attacked the break and set off alone. Behind, Liquigas-Doimo went to the front to protect the mountains lead of Franco Pellizotti and to set up their general classification hopes Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger. With breakaway rider Pierrick Fédrigo sitting third in the mountains classification, Liquigas wanted to be certain that the escape did not survive to the finish.

Inside 10 kilometers to go, Mikel Astarloza, Jurgen van den Broeck, Fabian Cancellara, Ryder Hesjdahl, and Pierrick Fédrigo chased Spilak, who remained alone out in front. The chase had only one minute gap over the fast-closing main field, while Spilak rode 40 seconds ahead of the chase. Plainly, it would be all back together on the final climb.

As Spilak made the left-hand turn onto the climb, Saxo Bank came to the front and David Millar brought his Garmin-Slipstream team-mates Bradley Wiggins and Christian Vandevelde into position near the front. As the main field caught the break, Cancellara went to the front and put in a hard effort for his Saxo Bank team. Saxo Bank clearly had ideas for this stage and as they began the climb, the Danish team rode a hard tempo on the front. Riders began to slip backwards, including last year’s Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre, who often does not shine during the first big accelerations of a mountain stage. Indeed, the Spanish climber steadily rode his way back into the general classification battle later in the climb. Yellow Jersey Rinaldo Nocentini also dropped off the pace, and said a fond adio to the race lead he has held for the last week.

The first attack came from Fränk Schleck and Alberto Contador proved quick to jump on to the wheel of the rider from Luxemburg. Armstrong then brought the rest of the group up to the two leaders. Vincenzo Nibali, Roman Kreuziger, Andreas Klöden, Bradley Wiggins, Christian Vandevelde, and Andy Schleck were among the riders who remained in this elite group, as the race already began to break apart.

As the group came back together, Alberto Contador saw his opportunity and took it. With his trademark acceleration, the Spanish climber attacked hard out of the favorites group. The gap opened up immediately and no could follow. In a replay of the finish on Arcalís, Andy Schleck soon set off in pursuit of Contador, but could not close the gap.

Behind, Andreas Klöden began setting tempo with Armstrong on his wheel. Fränk Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans, and Vincenzo Nibali also sat in the group, benefitting from the pace-making from Klöden. With approximately 5 kilometers to go, Contador, his earpiece wafting in the breeze, held a 22 second advantage over Andy Schleck and a 44 second advantage over the chase group led by his team-mate Andreas Klöden. Carlos Sastre, meanwhile, steadily climbed his way back toward the chase group, while Vandevelde dropped back.

With 3 kilometers to race, Bradley Wiggins, the pursuit champion turned stage racer, attacked from the chase group. Fränk Schleck countered, and went on alone. Klöden continued to work for Armstrong with Vincenzo Nibali sitting on. Nibali then scooted away and joined Wiggins. Fränk Schleck, Bradley Wiggins, and Vincenzo Nibali soon joined forces, and rode away from the Armstrong-Klöden group. Cadel Evans also began to ride away from the Armstrong group, though he could not reach the chase group. The Australian later said he was on a bad day. From behind, meanwhile, Carlos Sastre climbed up to the Armstrong group and continued on alone. Just short of the finish, Sastre caught the threesome of Wiggins, Schleck, and Nibali.

Up ahead, Alberto Contador crossed the line alone and made his trademark gun-fire victory salute. Andy Schleck followed 43 seconds later. With just under 1 kilometer to race, Vincenzo Nibali sprinted free of the Wiggins group and took third on the stage, while Wiggins, Fränk Schleck, and Sastre crossed together at 1:06 behind Contador. Evans finished 20 seconds later. Then came Armstrong and Klöden together. In the final meters, Klöden opened a small gap over Armstrong and finished ahead of the American by 6 seconds. Rinaldo Nocentini, meanwhile, who began the day in the Yellow Jersey, finished 19th, 2:36 behind Contador. Though he conceded the race lead, Nocentini rode well enough to remain in the top ten in the general classification.

After the stage, Contador said that he had not intended to attack so early in the climb. “Looking at the situation, I decided to attack. I am very happy about the gap I opened up on my rivals,” he said. The fast pace at the bottom of the climb set by Saxo Bank suited the Spanish climber well. “I wanted to have a fast pace at the start of the climb,” he explained. Of his team’s leadership situation, Contador commented, “I think that the differences now in the Astana team are pretty big, and I think the team now needs to back me.” “Yes, he was my idol,” said Contador of team-mate Lance Armstrong. “But I don’t put a lot of importance on dropping him. He’s just like any other rival,” concluded the new race leader. Contador last received the Yellow Jersey when Michael Rasmussen was ejected from the race. “I am very happy to win the jersey on the road and in a different manner than the last time,” Contador said today.

Perhaps more surprising than Contador’s big attack today was the ride of Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream. The two-time Olympic gold medalist in the pursuit climbed with an elite group today on this slopes of Verbier and showed for the first time that he might be able to hold a high general classification position all the way to Paris. The transition from the pursuit is not unprecedented. Bradley McGee made a similar transition and placed in the top ten at the Giro d’Italia, before injury derailed his career. After the stage today, Wiggins said, “I rode fearlessly.” From the car, his sports director Matt White told him to “keep pushing,” and Wiggins has ridden into third place in the general classification. “The signs are good for a podium place in Paris,” Wiggins concluded and he dedicated his efforts to his wife and family.

General Classification

Here is the current top ten:
Alberto Contador Astana
Lance Armstrong Astana 1:37
Bradley Wiggins Garmin-Slipstream 1:46
Andreas Klöden Astana 2:17
Andy Schleck Saxo Bank 2:26
Rinaldo Nocentini AG2R-La Mondiale 2:30
Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Doimo 2:51
Tony Martin Columbia-HTC 3:07
Christophe Le Mével Français des Jeux 3:09
Fränk Schleck Saxo Bank 3:25

As just about everyone expected, the general classification reshuffled on this second mountain stage of the Tour. Alberto Contador grabbed hold of the race today and gave it a hard shake. The 2007 Tour winner now leads the general classification after his big ride on the slopes of Verbier. His team-mate Lance Armstrong now sits second at 1:37. Armstrong admitted that he “suffered” on the climb today, and that he could not follow the tempo of his team-mate Alberto Contador. The American conceded that Contador is the “best rider in the Tour,” and said he would not attack him. Andreas Klöden is currently fourth at 2:17, adding to the Astana mix. It remains to be seen how well the Astana team can unite in support of Contador’s efforts.

After his big ride today on the road to Verbier, Bradley Wiggins moves up to third, and is hoping to hold a podium position all the way to Paris. He will face a big challenge from the Schleck brothers. Andy Schleck sits fifth at 2:26, while Fränk Schleck is tenth at 3:25. The Schleck brothers have a strong and unified team behind them, and no doubt have more cards to play in the coming days in the mountains.

Rinaldo Nocentini, meanwhile, ended his long stretch in the Yellow Jersey, but climbed well enough to stay in the top ten. The Italian from AG2R-La Mondiale is now sixth at 2:30. The young Italian from Liquigas-Doimo Vincenzo Nibali had a good day out today, and currently sits seventh at 2:51. Though he lost the White Jersey to Andy Schleck, Tony Martin remains in the top ten, eighth at 3:07. Christophe Le Mével who rode into the top ten during yesterday’s breakaway climbed well enough to hold ninth at 3:09, while Fränk Schleck moves up to tenth.

Carlos Sastre did not likely have the day he might have liked, but climbed back to the general classification riders by the finale. Last year’s Tour winner now sits eleventh at 3:52. After the race, he said he was content with his ride, but also admitted that Contador is on another level. Christian Vandevelde had a rough day on the climb and dropped to twelfth at 3:59. The American has pledged his support to the podium ambitions of his team-mate Bradley Wiggins. Cadel Evans also had a rough day, and sits fourteenth at 4:27.

Other general classification riders: 11) Carlos Sastre Cervélo TestTeam @ 3:52 12) Christian Vandevelde Garmin-Slipstream @ 3:59 14) Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto @ 4:27 15) Maxime Monfort Columbia-HTC @ 4:38 16) Roman Kreuziger Liquigas-Doimo @ 4:40.

Other classifications: Franco Pellizotti now leads the mountains classification by 8 points ahead of Egoi Martinez. The two riders continued their battle for the points today, with Pellizotti inching further ahead. Pierrick Fédrigo of Bbox Bouygues is third, and trails the leading two by more than 30 points. Watch for Pellizotti and Martinez to continue their rivalry when the mountains start again on Tuesday.

The White Jersey of best young rider changed hands today, and Andy Schleck now leads Vincenzo Nibali. Tony Martin rode well on today’s final climb and ends the day third in the Young Riders classification.

The Points classification remains unchanged today with Thor Hushovd leading Mark Cavendish by 18 points. The relegation of Cavendish in yesterday’s sprint has dimmed the British sprinters hopes of winning back the Green Jersey from his Norwegian rival.

Simon Spilak of Lampre-Ngc wins the combativity prize for today’s stage. Spilak spent the day in the break and attacked solo just before the final climb of the day.

Looking Ahead

Rest day tomorrow. Then, more mountains!

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Previa Etapa 15: Pontarlier– Verbier

Tipo de terreno: Montañoso ¡Final en alto!

Importancia para la general: Los favoritos se disputarán la etapa de hoy, si bien quizás no haya grandes diferencias de tiempo. La subida final no es excesivamente dura, pero no es un día para que las piernas fallen.

Cota du Rafour 3.7 km, pend. media 5.1 %, Categoría 3
Col des Étroits 1.5 km, pend. media  5 %, Categoría 3
Cota de La Carrière 6.3 km, pend. media  4.4 %, Categoría 3
Cota de Prévonloup 4.5 km, pend. media  4.7 %, Categoría 3
Col des Mosses 13.8 km, pend. media  4 %, Categoría 2
Verbier 8.8 km, pend. media  7.5 %, Categoría 1

El Tour visita Suiza en esta decimoquinta etapa, que supone el segundo final en alto de la edición de este año. Partiendo de Pontarlier, la carrera se dirige al este pasando por el Lago Neuchâtel, y tiene seis puertos puntuables. La ascensión final a Verbier, de 1ª categoría, supone su debut en el Tour de Francia. Es una etapa ideal para escaladores, proporcionando una de las mejores oportunidades para hacerse con el maillot amarillo. Las diferencias de tiempo deberían ser establecidas en la subida final, aunque los principales favoritos seguramente llegarán a Verbier bastante próximos entre sí.

Situada a unos 20 kilómetros de la frontera suiza, Pontarlier fue designada recientemente una de las 25 ciudades más bonitas de Francia. Como nunca he estado allí, tengo que creérmelo. En el siglo XIX Pontarlier era conocida como la capital de la absenta, la bebida favorita de artistas como Charles Baudelaire, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, and Oscar Wilde. Este licor fue muy popular en Francia hasta su prohibición en 1915, y muchas de las viejas destilerías aún duran. Portarlier también fue la cuna de los pioneros de la aviación en los primeros años del siglo veinte.

Pontarlier ha albergado al Tour de Francia en seis ocasiones. La más reciente en 2001, en una etapa con salida allí y llegada en Aix-les-Bains. Serguei Ivanov ganó la etapa y Stuart O’Grady vistió el maillot de líder. 

Verbier es conocida por los deportes de invierno, emplazada como está en los Alpes suizos. El resort mira al suroeste y disfruta de días soleados durante el invierno. Los esquiadores empezaron a interesarse por Verbier en los años 20 y, antes de que existieran los telesillas mecánicos, ascendían a pie las rampas de la montaña. Hoy en día todo es moderno y hay incontables telesillas y más de 400 kilómetros de pistas en la zona. Ya en verano, la reina es la mountain bike.

Aunque Verbier nunca ha recibido al Tour de Francia, la Vuelta a Suiza 2008 incluía un final de etapa en esta localidad. Kim Kirchen ganó aquella etapa por delante de Andreas Klöden y Roman Kreuziger, manteniendo el maillot de líder, que cedería a Kreuziger al final de la ronda suiza.

Detalles del perfil

Esta etapa empieza y acaba con subidas, lo que, si lo piensas, resulta bonito. La primera ascensión del día empieza cerca de la salida en Pontarlier y es de 3ª categoría. Es la cota de Refour, que dura 3,7 kilómetros y tiene una pendiente media del 5,1%. Es relativamente fácil, pero debería ser suficiente para crear una escapada. La cota se corona en el km 8, alcanzando una altura de 1084 metros por encima del nivel del mar.

Sólo tres kilómetros después viene la cima de la segunda cota de 3ª del día, cuando el Tour ya ha cruzado la frontera suiza. El col des Étroits son 1,5 km a una pendiente media del 5%. Si la escapada no se ha formado en la cota anterior, esta segunda subida ayudará a los posibles atacantes.

Tras coronar el col des Étroits en el kilómetro 18,5, la carrera desciende 17 kilómetros hacia Yverdon-les-Bains, para allí subir un repecho y empezar a escalar la cota de La Carrière.  Esta subida de 3ª categoría dura seis km, con una pendiente media del 4,4%. Dos kilómetros después de su cima encontramos el primer sprint intermedio del día, en Thierrens (km 56,5), y a 150 de meta todavía. Esto es sólo el comienzo.

Después del sprint en Thierrens la carrera baja, para encontrarse son otra subida, la cota de Prévonloup, también de 3ª categoría. Parece que está de moda poner cotas de tercera. Ésta dura 4,5 kilómetros y tiene una pendiente del 4,7%. La cota de Prévolonup se corona en el km 74, y es seguida por un tramo de terreno irregular. La carrera pasa por Èpagny, en el kilómetro 99,5, y allí empieza un ascenso hacia la base del siguiente puerto.

Justo después de la localidad de Les Moulins, los ciclistas subirán el puerto de segunda col des Mosses, que es más largo que los anteriores, son 13,8 kilómetros. La pendiente no es especialmente dura, no más de un suave 4%. Este puerto es un buen calentamiento para la subida final, pero no parece decisivo. Un aspirante a la general ambicioso que tenga buen equipo podría intentar un movimiento en el col des Mosses, sabiendo que todavía queda mucho para la meta (son 70 km desde su cima).

La carretera desciende, pasando por Aigle, y alcanza su punto más bajo en Bex. Desde allí (km 161), todo es subida hasta el final. El segundo y último sprint intermedio llega en el kilómetro 181, en la cuidad de Martigny. A las afueras de Martigny, los corredores subirán de forma constante hacia Villete-le-Châble, donde arranca la última ascensión de la jornada. Esperamos ver a los grandes equipos trabajar duro camino de Villette-le-Châble.

La subida a Verbier corona a 1468 metros de altura. Tiene categoría 1, y no es tan extenuante como suelen ser los finales en alto de montaña, no es el Blockhaus o el Alpe d’Huez. Sin embargo la constante pendiente debería cobrarse sus víctimas. Una subida ligeramente más fácil anima a que haya un ritmo duro, con los equipos de los favoritos dándolo todo para forzar una selección.

La ascensión a Verbier se extiende durante 8,8 kilómetros, y presenta una pendiente media del 7,5%. La carretera es ancha y tiene buen firme y curvas cómodas. Si miramos tras ella veremos Villete-le-Châble hundirse en la distancia conforme vamos ganando altura., así como vistas panorámicas del valle y las montañas circundantes. Hay pocos puntos obvios para atacar en esta subida, porque la pendiente es bastante uniforme. El ritmo debería ser rápido, los favoritos volarán por las curvas hacia la cima en Verbier.

Corredores a seguir

Los contendientes a la victoria final están llamados a pelear la etapa de hoy, porque es uno de los únicamente tres finales en alto de este Tour. Esperamos se forme una escapada en la cota de Rafours o en el col des Étroits y, considerando que estamos en la tercera semana, los equipos que buscan la general pueden dejarla ir. La etapa viene bien a un escalador como David Moncoutié, que ganó una etapa en la Dauphiné Libéré viniendo de una larga escapada y ya tiene en su haber dos victorias parciales en el Tour. Ciclistas como Igor Anton, del Euskaltel-Euskadi, Rigoberto Uran, del Caisse d’Épargne, Christophe Moreau, del Agritubel, o Yury Trophimov, del Bbox-Bouygues también podrían ganar la etapa fugados.

Dependerá mucho de cómo se desarrollan las batallas de la general, por supuesto. Un hábil y ambicioso ciclista que aspire a una buena clasificación podría moverse en el col de Mosses, pero distan 70 kilómetros de su cima a meta. Las suaves pendientes del último puerto deberían favorecer a corredores con un buen equipo detrás que pueda marcar un ritmo alto: Saxo Bank, Astana y Rabobank tendrán preferencia por esta etapa. Atentos a sus movimientos en el grupo del líder cuando la carretera se ponga cuesta arriba en Villette-le-Châble. Debería haber diferencias de tiempo en la línea de meta, pero pequeñas. Esta etapa no va a decidir el Tour; sin embargo, podría ayudar a uno de los escaladores a tomar ventaja antes del final en el Mont Ventoux. — Gavia, translated by Juan Bonilla

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