Post Stage Analysis

Astarloza Takes First Ever Stage Win
Another day for the breakaway, while Contador continues as race leader
Serious crash for Jens Voigt on the final descent

Mikel Astarloza won today’s stage in Bourg-Saint-Maurice after a long day out in the breakaway. The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider attacked an eight rider group inside 3 kilometers to go, and survived to celebrate a solo victory. The main general classification favorites finished together today, despite the efforts of Saxo Bank to shake up the standings. Cadel Evans was the main exception and dropped out of the top ten after another rough day in the mountains. Franco Pellizotti, meanwhile, added to his lead in the Mountains Classification after animating the stage’s early breakaway. On the final technical descent, Jens Voigt suffered a heavy crash after hitting a large bump in the road, and was taken to hospital in Grenoble. Early reports say he has suffered a head injury, though the severity is not yet known.

The Story

Franco Pellizotti, the leader in the Mountains Classification, attacked early on the first climb of the day, the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. Vladimir Karpets of Katusha and Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel-Euskadi soon joined the Italian. The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider, who began the day second in the mountains competition, found the pace too high and dropped back from the leaders. A chase group, who had escaped the Astana-led bunch, picked up the Martinez and continued their way up the 24 kilometer Col. By the summit, the two leaders had an advantage of 2:00 minutes over the main field where Astana rode tempo. The sixteen rider chase group, meanwhile, dangled in between the Pellizotti-Karpets escape and the Yellow Jersey group.

As the leading duo reached the bottom of the long descent from the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, they held an advantage of just over 5 minutes over the main field. The chase group sat 1:46 behind the Pellizotti-Karpets group. The chase included sixteen riders: Mikel Astarloza, Sandy Casar, Peter Velits, Stéphane Goubert, Jurgen van den Broeck, José Angel Gomez Marchante, Nicolas Roche, Volodymyr Gustov, Yuri Trofimov, Laurent Lefèvre, Laurens Ten Dam, Jens Voigt, Rémi Pauriol, Igor Anton, Gorka Verdrugo, Pierrick Fédrigo, Nicolas Vogondy, Maxime Bouet, Amaël Moinard. Euskaltel-Euskadi and Bbox Bouygues Télécom each had three riders in the chase group, which offered both teams a nice advantage in the race for the stage victory. In the main field, the bunch strung out behind Astana. Garmin-Slipstream sat just behind Astana in defense of their third place rider Bradley Wiggins.

Passing through Sarre, the riders began the long climb up the valley to the final climb of the day, the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard. About ten kilometers later near the town of La Salle, the chase group succeeded in their pursuit of Pellizotti and Karpets. Now, eighteen riders sat at the front with a gap of 4:36 over the main field, still led by Astana. There remained 60 kilometers to race.

As they hit the final climb of the day, the break still rode over four minutes ahead of the main field. The 26.2 kilometer Col du Petit-Grand-Bernard winds up the side of the mountain in a tight series of switchbacks. The name misleads, as there is nothing small about this climb at all. Laurent Lefèvre made the first move from the break. Ever vigilant with his goal of scooping up mountains points, Pellizotti quickly joined Lefèvre. Pierrick Fédrigo also jumped across and giving the Bbox Bouygues a two-man advantage. Fédrigo began the day third in the mountains classification, and no doubt hoped to improve his position if possible. The threesome didn’t survive long, and soon the break came back together. The next move came from Jurgen van den Broeck, who clearly had good legs on this climb, and Pellizotti again followed. The group came back together again, and with 10 kilometers to race to the summit, fourteen riders remained in together at the front. The Bbox Bouygues Télécom riders continued to work hard to keep the pace high in the escape.

Behind, Astana led the Yellow Jersey group to the base of the climb, but soon Saxo Bank took over and began forcing the pace. The Saxo Bank tempo steadily diminished the numbers in the Yellow Jersey group as many riders found the pace too high. Tony Martin, who began the day in the top ten on the general classification, dropped off the back, as did Cadel Evans, who suffered another bad day in the mountains today. Carlos Sastre, as is his custom, also dropped back in the early kilometers of the climb. Sebastien Lang of Silence-Lotto put in a dig from the main field, but did not get far, as Chris Anker Sørensen drove hard for his Saxo Bank team-mates Andy and Fränk Schleck. With 41 kilometers to race, the Yellow Jersey group trailed the break by 3:28, but that gap was falling all the time as a result of the fast tempo by Saxo Bank.

Realizing their advantage was slipping away, Jurgen van den Broeck attacked from the break, bringing the ever-present Franco Pellizotti with him. The two worked together, and quickly built up a small advantage over the other breakaway riders. Mikel Astarloza, whose team had put three riders in the break earlier in the stage, set off alone to catch them. Amaël Moinard of Cofidis soon followed him. At the summit, Franco Pellizotti took the maximum points, followed closely by Astarloza, Moinard, and Van Den Broeck. A group of four chased from behind, including Sandy Casar, Pierrick Fédrigo, Stéphane Goubert, and Nicolas Roche.

Further down the mountain, the general classification battle ignited. Andy Schleck attacked hard off the front, a predictable move after the hard work from his team. Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Doimo, who is riding well this Tour de France, soon joined him. Alberto Contador rode easily across with Fränk Schleck and Bradley Wiggins right there with him. Lance Armstrong did not make the move, and Andy Shleck began driving hard on the front with help from Nibali. The Schleck move soon opened a gap of 30 seconds over Armstrong. Christian Vandevelde and Kim Kirchen also rode in the group with Armstrong. Dropping back from the break, Jens Voigt took over the tempo in the Schleck group. The Voigt tempo proved too much for Fränk Schleck and he momentarily dropped off the back. Armstrong, meanwhile, began to bridge up from behind, as the gradients relaxed.

With the summit of the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard in sight, Armstrong climbed back across to the group containing the other race favorites. Fränk Schleck followed on Armstrong’s wheel. Kim Kirchen, Christian Vandevelde, and Carlos Sastre also made the junction. The Yellow Jersey group passed over the summit 2:10 behind the four-up breakaway of Astarloza, Moinard, Van den Broeck, and Pellizotti. Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, Andy Schleck, Christophe Le Mével, Fränk Schleck, Kim Kirchen, Christian Vandevelde, David Zabriskie, and Carlos Sastre all made it over the climb in the Yellow Jersey group. Cadel Evans, meanwhile, trailed by more than 2:00, his general classification hopes surely gone.

On the descent, three groups raced to the finish. The four-up break including Pellizotti, Moinard, Astarloza, and Van Den Broeck, the chase including Casar, Fédrigo, Goubert, and Roche, and the Yellow Jersey group. The break still held 2:00 minutes over the main field, but that gap began to fall rapidly as David Zabriskie went to the front and began to drive hard on the Yellow Jersey group. The chase led by Roche, meanwhile, steadily gained on the leading four.

With 24 kilometers to go, Jens Voigt took a heavy fall after hitting a bump in the road. His rear wheel appeared to hit hard, knocking his bars out of his hands. The German hard-man was transported by helicopter to Grenoble. The race doctor reported that Voigt had suffered facial injuries and would undergo a complete scan. Saxo Bank team manger Bjarne Riis, meanwhile, said he had not seen the crash, but remained very worried about his rider. “It is too soon to evaluate the gravity of his injuries. I did not see the crash, I have only seen him after, and it was not good,” said Riis.

Up the road, the race for the stage win continued. The descent grew ever more technical as it approached the valley floor and tight switchbacks lined up one after the other. Inside 10 kilometers to go, the gap from the Yellow Jersey group to the break had fallen to 1:00. Inside 5 kilometers to go, the four-up chase caught the lead group and it was eight riders at the front. Amaël Moinard launched the first attack for the stage win, followed by Jurgen Van Den Broeck. Neither move succeeded and briefly, it was all back together. Knowing he could not win from a sprint, Mikel Astarloza attacked just inside 2 kilometers to go. Their legs fried from the hard hilly day of racing, none could respond to Astarloza’s attack. The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider raced solo toward the finish. Under the red kite, Mikel Astarloza held his advantage and celebrated the stage victory. Sandy Casar of Français des Jeux won the sprint for second ahead of Pierrick Fédrigo of Bbox Bouygues Télécom.

The Yellow Jersey group came in 59 seconds later, and Christophe Moreau took the sprint ahead of Alberto Contador. Most of the general classification favorites finished together in the Yellow Jersey group. Cadel Evans trailed by two minutes, while Tony Martin and Rinaldo Nocentini also dropped out of the top ten.

Today marked Mikel Astarloza’s second ever individual victory. Astarloza won the overall at the Tour Down Under in 2003. He also has a team time trial victory to his credit from the opening stage of the 2005 Vuelta Castilla y Leon. The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider has frequently joined the breaks in this Tour de France, but did not find success until today. “I still can’t believe it. I’m not a rider who wins a lot of stages like this,” Astarloza said after his big win. He is not known for his sprint speed, and in the finale, Astarloza explained, “I knew I didn’t have any options in the sprint, so I just went for it.” The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider dedicated his victory to his entire team, who put three riders in the early break. “I am very happy,” he concluded with a huge, stage-winner grin.

General Classification Update

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
Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Doimo 2:51
Christophe Le Mével Français des Jeux 3:09
Fränk Schleck Saxo Bank 3:25
Carlos Sastre Cervélo TestTeam 3:52
Christian Vandevelde Garmin-Slipstream 3:59

The top five positions in the general classification remain unchanged. Alberto Contador leads Lance Armstrong by 1:37 and Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream by 1:46. Tony Martin and Rinaldo Nocentini both dropped out of the top ten after today’s long mountain stage. Vincenzo Nibali moves up to sixth, while Christophe Le Mével moves up to seventh and Fränk Schleck is now eighth. Carlos Sastre and Christian Vandevelde now also move into the top ten after finishing with the Yellow Jersey group on today’s stage.

Cadel Evans suffered another jour sans, and has dropped to fourteenth in the general classification. Evans said after the stage that he wasn't certain about the cause of his problems and would consult the race doctor. Kim Kirchen of Columbia-HTC, meanwhile, moved up, and now sits thirteenth at 5:05. Kirchen has two previous top ten finishes in the Tour de France to his credit, though it may prove a step too far to make it into the top ten before this year’s race reaches Paris.

Other general classification riders: 11) Mikel Astarloza Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 3:48 12) Roman Kreuziger Liquigas-Doimo @ 4:40 13) Kim Kirchen Columbia-HTC @ 5:05 14) Rinaldo Nocentini AG2R-La Mondiale @ 5:26 16) Vladimir Karpets Katusha @ 5:56 17) Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto 7:23 34) Tony Martin Columbia-HTC 18:48.

Other classifications: After today’s long ride in the breakaway, Franco Pellizotti has solidified his lead in the Mountains classification. He now sits 58 points ahead of Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel-Euskadi and 62 points ahead of Pierrick Fédrigo of Bbox Bouygues Télécom. Tomorrow’s stage carries significant points in the Polka Dot jersey contest, so Pellizotti will have his work cut out for him to defend his lead.

In the Young Riders classification, Andy Schleck leads Vincenzo Nibali by 25 seconds. Schleck will want to gain more time on tomorrow’s mountain stage, because Nibali is no slouch against the watch. Roman Kreuziger is third at 2:14. After his bad day today, the early leader in this classification Tony Martin has dropped out of contention.

The standings in the Points classification remain unchanged today with Thor Hushovd of Cervélo TestTeam leading Mark Cavendish of Columbia-HTC by 18 points. Astana, meanwhile, leads the teams classification.

Franco Pellizotti again received the most combative award for today’s stage.

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow’s stage crosses five categorized climbs. It begins at the base of the Cormet de Roselend, an 18.1 kilometer ascent, then climbs the 15 kilometer Col des Saisies and the shorter 6 kilometer Côte d’Arâches. For the finale, the course takes a new route to the Col de la Colombière, by climbing the Col de Romme, a steep category 1 col along the way. The two steep final climbs come back to back with little recovery between them.

Though the stage descends to the finish, it seems likely that the succession of climbs will open up new gaps in the general classification. When asked about tomorrow’s stage, Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck grinned and said, “tomorrow is the big day.” No doubt we will see Saxo Bank on the attack tomorrow, though it remains to be seen whether they can break the hold of Astana on this race.

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

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Course Preview

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Terrain Type: Mountainous. Two major climbs and a fast, descending finish.
GC Importance: Yes. A big opportunity for a climber who can descend well. Not a good day for a jour sans, a bad day.

The Climbs:
Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard 24.4 km, avg. 6.2 %, Hors Catégorie
Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard 22.6 km, avg. 5.1 %, Catégorie 1

This mountainous stage sets off from Martigny in Switzerland, passes through Italy, and returns to France to finish in Bourg-Saint-Maurice. The stage climbs two cols, the beyond category Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard and the category 1 Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard. At 2469 meters, the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard is the highest peak in this year’s Tour de France. The majority of this stage is climbing, and it’s a fast 30 kilometer descent to the finish. The Tour organizers warn that “this superb Franco-Italo-Swiss stage will not tolerate any weakness.” Though a breakaway may survive to contest the stage win, the general classification favorites will need to bring their best legs for this stage.

This year marks the first visit of the Tour to the Swiss town of Martigny, which sits between Italy and France in the shadows of the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard and the Col de la Forclaz. The French-speaking town sits not far from the finish of the previous stage in Verbier, and continues this Tour’s theme of minimal transfers. Eat your heart out Giro d’Italia.

During the time of Julius Caesar, the area including Martigny became part of the Roman Empire. Indeed, Caesar crossed into Switzerland by way of Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. Many Roman artifacts remain in Martigny, including an amphitheater. Restored in 1978, the amphitheater plays host to cow fights in the fall. A traditional swiss event, cow fights match up two cows of the local Herens breed. With their horns blunted, the cows bump against one another until one cow decides that he has had enough and concedes the day. The fights can last up to 40 minutes, and the Martigny hosts the regional championship, in which the best cows from all over Valais convene to do battle.

The Tour last visited the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard 43 years ago for a stage between Ivréa and Chamonix. For the mathematically challenged, it was in 1966. In addition to the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, the stage included the Col de la Forclaz, and Col des Montets. Raymond Poulidor, who trailed Lucien Aimar by just over 5 minutes, attacked on the Col de la Forclaz, and only Julio Jimenez could follow. Jimenez won the stage, but Poulidor fell short of taking over the overall lead. Lucas Aimar finished 2:20 behind and kept the Yellow Jersey for another day. Jacques Anquetil withdrew during the following stage as a consequence of bronchitis likely contracted during the long descent from the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, and Aimar went on to celebrate the overall victory in Paris ahead of Jan Janssen and Raymond Poulidor.

Bourg-Saint-Maurice hosted the Tour most recently in 1996 for a time trial stage. Evgeni Berzin won the stage which ran from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Val d’Izère. Miguel Indurain, who had hoped to win his sixth Tour in 1996, managed only fifth that day. Indurain cracked during the previous stage on the final climb, the montée des Arcs. “When you squeeze your muscles like lemons, there always remains traces of it,” he explained after his ordinary ride against the watch. Bjarne Riis won the Tour that year, though his victory became the subject of controversy when he later confessed to using EPO during the race.

Profile Details

Heading out of Martigny, there aren’t too many options. It’s either up, or up. This stage begins climbing immediately on the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, which links Martigny with the Val d’Aoste in Italy. The first 40 kilometers of the stage are climbing, and the course gains 400 meters in elevation over the first 16 kilometers. Back of the envelope calculations put the average gradient at around 3% for these first 16 kilometers. The sprinters may not be looking for the laughing group just yet, but they will be soon enough.

From Orsières, it’s 24.4 kilometers at an average gradient of 6.2% to the summit of the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. The climbing gets serious quickly with the first kilometer pitching up to 7.2%. The next nine kilometers climb steadily at gradients in the 5.5% to 6% range. At kilometer 10, the climb goes steep again, and hits the climb’s maximum gradient of 9.7%. This steep section doesn’t last long, and as the riders pass through Bourg-Saint-Pierre, the climb becomes more pedalable. At Lac des Toules at kilometer 15, the road flattens for approximately four kilometers and rises at a more gentle 3.6%.

Then, it’s back into the steep stuff, as the climb pitches up at Bourg-Saint-Bernard at kilometer 19. The next 6.5 kilometers to the summit range from 7.3% to 9.7%. L’ouch. Near the summit, there stands at statue of Saint Bernard du Menthon. The Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard summits at 2469 meters above sea level and from the top of the climb, there remains 109 kilometers to race to the finish. Though it’s a long way to the finish from the summit of the Grand-Saint-Bernard, the length of the climb will likely whittle away at the field, and leave a much smaller group to contest the remainder of the stage. At least one team captain may wonder where his team-mates have gone.

At the summit, the Tour passes into Italy’s Val d’Aoste region, and it’s a long downhill run from the top of Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. Passing through Saint-Rhémy and Gignod, the stage descends approximately 35 kilometers. Then, the road turns upward again, and begins the long steady grind to the base of the Col du Petite-Saint-Bernard, known locally as the Piccolo Saint Bernard.

There are two intermediate sprints between the climbs. The first comes at kilometer 78.5 in the town of Sarre. The course rises steadily, but not rapidly. The next 28 kilometers gain 400 meters in elevation, an average gradient of approximately 2%. The second intermediate sprint is in Pré Saint-Didier at kilometer 106. Then it’s on to the final climb of the day.

The Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard climbs 22.6 kilometers at an average gradient of 5.1%. The climb is long, but never especially steep. The climbers will have to race it hard, if they want to force a selection. From Pré Saint-Didier, the first four kilometers climb at between 4.5% and 5%, then the next six kilometers stair-step between 4% and 2%.

Passing through La Thuile at kilometer 10, the road steepens as the kilometers count down to the summit. The next seven kilometers climb steadily at around 6%. This isn’t an especially difficult gradient, but the length of the climb should shrink the field. The maximum gradient of the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard is 7.1% and appears between kilometers 17 and 19. The pitch backs down for two kilometers, then it’s one more kilometer at 7%. Over the summit, the final half kilometer is mostly flat. The Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard summits at 2188 meters above sea level. If the climbers have not forced a selection here, they have missed an opportunity. The climb is not steep, but it is long enough to wear down anyone who is not on the best possible climbing form.

At the summit of the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard, the Tour passes back into France for 31 kilometers of descending to the finish in Bourg-Saint-Maurice. The roads are wide and smooth here, and the descent is not especially technical. Still, it will be a fast finish, as the course drops 1326 meters of elevation. The descending does not stop until the red kite. The final kilometer to the finish in Bourg-Saint-Maurice is flat.

Who to Watch

Much depends on the state of the general classification race. It’s possible that the general classification teams will let an early break stay away to the finish, but they will certainly race this stage, which may well doom the hopes of a would-be stage winner. The length of the climbs should whittle down the field, but the climbers will have ride hard to force a selection on the Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard. The final climb of the day is not especially steep, and it won’t do the work for them. Still, with the rest day coming up the following day, there is no reason to hold anything back. The long descent could allow the race to come back together, but it should be a small group at the finish. With its fast descending finish, this stage will reward a rider willing risk.  — Gavia

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