Post Stage Analysis

Spanish Climber Garate Wins on Wind-Blown Mont Ventoux
Alberto Contador wins the Yellow Jersey, Andy Schleck and Lance Armstrong finish on the podium

Juan Manuel Garate took the stage win atop the mythic Mont Ventoux today. The Spanish climber out-sprinted Tony Martin of Columbia-HTC after the two attacked from the early breakaway. Garate’s win gave his Rabobank team their first victory in this Tour de France after three weeks of frustration and near-misses.

Garate and Martin benefited from the tactical maneuverings among the general classification favorites, who remained locked together. Alberto Contador defended his Yellow Jersey and tomorrow will celebrate his second ever Tour de France victory. Andy Schleck, this year’s Best Young Rider, finished second in the overall classification, while returning Lance Armstrong takes the final step on the podium. Armstrong has now equalled the record of Raymond Poulidor for most visits to the Tour’s final podium. With his fourth place, Bradley Wiggins, meanwhile, equals the highest ever Tour finish by a British rider. Robert Millar placed fourth in 1984.

The Story

A breakaway of sixteen riders escaped early in the stage and the general classification teams proved content to let them ride. With 50 kilometers to race, the break held an advantage of 9:10 over the main field. The group included: Tony Martin of Columbia-HTC, Juan Manuel Garate of Rabobank, José Ivan Guttierez of Caisse d’Épargne, Maxime Bouet of Agritubel, Ruben Perez Moreno of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Joost Postuma of Rabobank, Hayden Roulston of Cervélo TestTeam, Christophe Riblon of AG2R-La Mondiale, Alexandre Kuschynski of Liquigas-Doimo, Mickaël Delage of Silence-Lotto, Daniele Righi of Lampre-Ngc, Anthony Geslin of Français des Jeux, William Bonnet of Bbox Bouygues, Albert Timmer of Skil Shimano, Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis, and Cyril Lemoine of Skil-Shimano. Behind, Astana and Saxo Bank set a desultory pace on the main field as they passed fields of Lavender blooming under the bright Southern sun of Provence.

As they approached the Col des Abeilles, Saxo Bank began to turn the screws on the front of the main field in an effort to shrink the gap to the break and toughen up the race for the general classification favorites. Up the winding climb cut into sandstone cliffs, Saxo Bank strung out the main field and the numbers began to dwindle. The gap began to fall and over the top of the Col, the break rode 7:52 ahead of the Yellow Jersey group. As they descended the Col des Abeilles, Astana took over the pace-making. There remained just over 30 kilometers to race.

With 25 kilometers to go, the race passed under tree-lined roads. On the front of the main field, Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady turned the screws for Saxo Bank and soon split the Yellow Jersey group. A gap soon opened up and only about 15 riders, including all the general classification favorites, made the split. As they rode into a crosswind, Astana came to the front and intensified the pace. Saxo Bank, Astana, and Garmin-Slipstream fought a desperate positioning battle with the final climb of the Tour fast approaching. Vincenzo Nibali, Roman Kreuziger, Jürgen Van Den Broeck, and Franco Pellizotti also remained in this very small Yellow Jersey group.

Up ahead, the breakaway riders passed through Bédoin and began to climb the lower slopes of the Ventoux. The break had just under five minutes in hand, but the fast pace behind them looked certain to doom their chances. Juan Manuel Garate, Tony Martin, and Christophe Riblon soon attacked from the break and quickly built up an advantage of around 35 seconds over the splintering breakaway. With 15 kilometers to race, the three lead riders held 3:23 in hand over the hard-charging Yellow Jersey group.

As they hit the tree-covered lower slopes of the climb, Saxo Bank set a fast tempo with Niki Sørensen and Chris Anker Sørensen driving hard for Andy and Fränk Schleck. Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, and Andreas Klöden sat just behind them. A steady crosswind blew over their right shoulders at 19 km/hr. The first attack came from Fränk Schleck. Determined to defend his podium position, Armstrong proved quick to follow. Then, it was Andy Schleck’s turn, and soon Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador held a small gap over other race favorites. Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali, meanwhile, sat at the back of the group. Armstrong tried to go across to Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, but did not make it. Andreas Klöden, meanwhile, went out the back of the group. There remained 10 kilometers to race, and the lead two riders, Garate and Martin, held an advantage of 2:13.

Realizing that Fränk Schleck could not make it across without Armstrong, Andy Schleck soft-pedalled and came back to the group with Alberto Contador. The pace slackened, and Klöden came back to the group. Andy Schleck attacked again, taking Contador with him. Fränk Schleck, meanwhile, tried to force the pace behind, in the hope of cracking Armstrong. Vincenzo Nibali bridged across to the Contador and Andy Schleck group, while Bradley Wiggins took a turn on the front of the chase group.

With 8 kilometers to race, the road turned into the wind and the riders now faced a 25 km/hr headwind. Contador, Andy Schleck, and Vincenzo Nibali rode 20 seconds up the road from Armstrong, Fränk Schleck, Wiggins, and Klöden, and Klöden began to set tempo. Pellizotti, meanwhile, rode back up to the Armstrong group, and set off in search of the two race leaders, Garate and Martin, who still rode nearly 2:00 up the road.

The general classification race stalemated. Fränk Schleck could not shake Armstrong or Wiggins, and Andy Schleck could not shake Alberto Contador. Facing a heavy headwind and still hoping to help his brother ascend to the podium, Andy Schleck dropped back and began riding a hard tempo on the Yellow Jersey group. The group included Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, Fränk Schleck, Vincenzo Nibali, and Roman Kreuziger, who had ridden up from behind. Andreas Klöden had again dropped off the back. Franco Pellizotti still remained suspended between Yellow Jersey group and the two leaders on the road, Garate and Martin.

In sight of the red kite, Garate attacked Martin, but Martin proved determined and clawed his way back to the Rabobank rider. Martin had taken some hard pulls in the headwind on the climb, and had begun to pay for his efforts. Into the steep final corner, Garate attacked through the inside as Martin went wide. Juan Manuel Garate took the stage victory just ahead of Tony Martin.

Back down the mountain, Andy Schleck continued to drive the pace on the Yellow Jersey group. Bradley Wiggins began to struggle and soon dropped off the back. Vincenzo Nibali also found Schleck’s pace too much and in the final kilometer, he dangled just off the back of the Yellow Jersey group. As they rode into the final steep corner, Andy Schleck hit the sprint hard. Contador followed, while both Armstrong and Fränk Schleck dropped back slightly. Andy Schleck won the sprint ahead of Contador, followed by Armstrong 2 seconds later and Fränk Schleck 2 seconds behind the American. In a desperate effort, Bradley Wiggins crossed the line 20 seconds behind Fränk Schleck and successfully defended his fourth place in the general classification.

Today marked the first ever Tour stage victory for Juan Manuel Garate. Garate won a mountain stage at the Giro d’Italia, when he went to the finish on the Passo San Pelligrino with Jens Voigt. Voigt, who sat on the break in defense of his team-mate’s general classification lead, declined to sprint after Garate did the majority of work on the climb. Garate has also won a stage in the Vuelta a España, and now has stage wins in all three grand tours to his credit. The former Spanish National Champion said after the stage that he had dreamed of winning the stage, though in his dream, he went to the line with Alberto Contador. “What an incredible day,” exclaimed the grinning stage winner. “Alberto wins the Tour, and I win Ventoux. I gave everything I had, though at the beginning of the climb, I didn’t think we’d make it to the finish,” he said. “I’m dedicating the win to my team and to my mother,” he concluded, and blew his mother a kiss.

For his part, Alberto Contador called Ventoux a “very special” climb. “The legs were great today,” he confided, and he said he was very happy to secure his second ever Tour de France victory. The Spanish grand tour specialist also confirmed that he would not ride with Armstrong’s new RadioShack team next year. With the Tour now over, Contador will evaluate the possibilities. He is hoping to find “a team that is 100% with me in order to return to this race and win it.”

General Classification Update

Here is the (nearly) final general classification:
Alberto Contador Astana
Andy Schleck Saxo Bank 4:11
Lance Armstrong Astana 5:24
Bradley Wiggins Garmin-Slipstream 6:01
Fränk Schleck Saxo Bank 6:04
Andreas Klöden Astana 6:42
Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Doimo 7:35
Christian Vandevelde Garmin-Slipstream 12:04
Roman Kreuziger Liquigas-Doimo 14:16
Christophe Le Mével Français des Jeux 14:25

Alberto Contador wins his second Tour de France with his successful defense of the race lead today. Andy Schleck remains in second, as he proved unable to shake his Spanish rival. Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins both held on to their positions in the general classification, while Fränk Schleck overtook Andreas Klöden. Schleck now sits fifth. Vincenzo Nibali celebrates his first ever visit to the top ten with a seventh place finish behind Andreas Klöden. Nibali's Liquigas-Doimo team-mate Roman Kreuziger, meanwhile, climbed up into the top ten, while Christian Vandevelde finishes in the top ten for the second year in a row, after overcoming the effects of a heavy crash in the Giro d'Italia. Christophe Le Mével of Français des Jeux survived to hang on to his tenth place position. Le Mével, who said he feared the Ventoux stage, also is the highest placed French rider in this year's race.

Other classifications: In addition to his second place in the general classification, Andy Schleck takes home the White Jersey of Best Young Rider. Vincenzo Nibali, who finished with the Yellow Jersey group today, finished second in the Young Riders competition at 3:24 down on Schleck. Nibali’s team-mate finished third at 10:05.

Franco Pellizotti, who made a late bid for a stage win today on Ventoux, wins the Mountains Classification ahead of Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel-Euskadi. Martinez put up a strong fight by joining the breakaways and sprinting against Pellizotti, but he could not overtake the Italian. Pellizotti finished on the podium at the Giro d’Italia this season and adds the Mountains prize from the Tour to his season’s results.

The Points Competition remained unchanged today. Thor Hushovd still leads Mark Cavendish by 25 points. Hushovd should hold the Green Jersey through to the finish, though he will have to ride well in the final sprint on the Champs Élysées to do so. Gerald Ciolek of Milram, meanwhile, is third.

In the teams competition, Astana leads Garmin-Slipstream by 22:35 and Saxo Bank by 28:34.

Tony Martin won the award for most combative rider today.

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow, the Tour rides into Paris for the final stage of the race. The stage begins as a parade and ends with a mad sprint to the line on the Champs Élysées. The sprinters prize this Paris stage, and there will be a fierce battle in the final kilometer. No one has succeeded in beating Mark Cavendish in a straight-up sprint in this Tour, but there’s always a first time for everything. Watch for Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire, Tyler Farrar, and Daniele Bennati to put in their best efforts to overtake the British sprinter. Hushovd will also need to place high in order to defend his Green Jersey of points leader. So far, he has had no problems with that task, but the Points competition could remain in play tomorrow, if Hushovd falters.

To read more about tomorrow’s Paris stage, please turn the page.

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Course Preview

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Terrain Type: Mountainous, finishes on the limestone legend Mont Ventoux.
GC Importance: Decisive. Designed as the grand finale of this year’s Tour, this stage will decide the general classification.

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The Climbs:
Côte de Citelle 5.2 km, avg. 3.9 %, Catégorie 3
Col d'Ey, 6.7 km, avg. 4.8 %, Catégorie 3
Col de Fontaube, 4.7 km, avg. 4.2 %, Catégorie 4
Col des Abeilles, 7.7 km, avg. 4 %, Catégorie 3
Mont Ventoux, 21.1 km, avg. 7.6 %, Hors Catégorie

The race organizers have built a course that builds inexorably toward this grand finale on Mont Ventoux. The stage comes just one day before the traditional parade stage through Paris, and the massive climb should open up gaps in the general classification. Will it pop or will it fizzle? We’ll see soon enough.

Montélimar, which sits on the outskirts of Provence, last hosted the Tour de France in 2006 when it hosted both a finish and a départ. Jens Voigt won stage 13 from a lengthy breakaway, which in an unusual twist decided the general classification. Oscar Pereiro won the Yellow Jersey that day. Though Pereiro lost the race lead to Floyd Landis later in the Tour, Landis tested positive and Pereiro became the official winner of the 2006 Tour, making stage 13 the decisive stage of the race. The following day, Pierrick Fédrigo won the stage between Montélimar and Gap. The Frenchman out-sprinted Salvatore Commesso for the win.

The Tour de France visited Mont Ventoux for the first time during the 1951 Tour de France. That first stage did not finish on the climb, nicknamed the Géant de Provence, and the favorites passed over the summit close on time. At the finish in Avignon, Louis Bobet won the stage by 50 seconds ahead of Pierre Barbotin and 56 seconds over Gino Bartali. Hugo Koblet successfully defended his lead in the overall classification and wore the Yellow Jersey in Paris for his first and only Tour de France victory.

Mont Ventoux hosted the finish for the first time in 1958 when it provided the stage for a climbing time trial. Charly Gaul won that day, and held an average speed of 20.765 km/hr from Bédoin to the finish line at 1909 meters. Federico Bahamontès, the Eagle of Toledo, finished second, 31 seconds slower than Gaul. Raphaël Geminiani wore the Yellow Jersey of race leader, a prize he later conceded to Gaul, who won the Tour’s general classification that year. It was the climber from Luxemburg's only Tour win.

The most recent stage finish on Mont Ventoux came in 2002. Richard Virenque took the win from an early breakaway. Lance Armstrong finished third that day, 2:20 behind the French climber. Though Armstrong added to his lead in the general classification and won the overall in 2002, victory on the iconic climb eluded him. Armstrong never did win a stage on Mont Ventoux. The American raced a Tour stage on Mont Ventoux one other time in his careeer in 2000. That year in a controversial move, Armstrong gifted the stage win to his breakaway companion, Italian climber Marco Pantani. Bernard Hinault, never one to hold back his opinions, reprimanded the American, famously saying, “no gifts.”

Profile Details

This year's edition of the Ventoux stage takes a hilly route to the Géant. It sets out from Montélimar and begins a gradual ascent to the first climb of the day, the category 3 Côte de Citelle. The Côte climbs 5.2 kilometers at a relatively easy gradient and summits at kilometer 14. It offers a nice warm-up and may send the early breakaway on its merry way.

A brief descent follows this early climb and the stage crosses bumpy terrain as it passes through Salles-sous-Bois, Montbrison-sur-Lez, and Rousset-les-Vignes. The first intermediate sprint takes place in Les Pilles at kilometer 48. From Les Pilles, the course climbs gradually to the second categorized climb of the day. A picturesque climb on narrow roads, the Col d’Ey carries at category 3 rating. It lasts 6.7 kilometers and climbs at a steady gradient of 4.8%. The narrow road wraps around the hill and offers a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside cultivated with Lavender and vineyards.

After descending the Col d’Ey, the stage climbs again almost immediately. After passing through Eygarliers, the riders will climb the Col de Fontaube, a category 4 col. The Col de Fontaube climbs 4.7 kilometers at an average gradient of 4.2%. This is not an especially difficult ascent and none of the favorites will have any difficulty here. The Col de Fontaube summits at kilometer 87.

The next 30 kilometers cover rolling terrain. The stage passes through Aurel at kilometer 105 before climbing the fourth climb of the day. The Col des Abeilles lasts 7.7 kilometers and has an average gradient of 4%. Though some riders may be feeling the effects of the repeated climbing, the Col des Abeilles is nothing to fear. The organizers have given the climb a category 3 rating as a consequence of its length more than its pitch, which is not especially difficult. From the summit of the Col des Abeilles, there remains 45.5 kilometers to race, including 21.1 kilometers of hors catégorie goodness.

The road descends for the next 17 kilometers to the second intermediate sprint at Mormoiron at kilometer 138.5. The road begins to climb just after the sprint, and 5.5 kilometers later, the riders will reach Bédoin. This town signals the start of the final climb of the day, Mont Ventoux.

The unrelenting gradient, the length, and the exposed terrain make Mont Ventoux one of the more difficult climbs in cycling. From Bédoin, the Mont Ventoux gains 1622 meters and requires 22.7 kilometers of uninterrupted climbing. The average gradient is 7.6%, but nearly half the climb ascends at gradients between 9% and 10%. Though lower slopes ascend under a pine forest canopy, the majority of the climb passes through exposed open terrain as the road snakes through white limestone scree to the summit. Wind is a frequent visitor to Mont Ventoux. The Mistral winds, a dry wind out of the north, blow through the Provence region and can hit speeds exceeding 100 km/hr. When they occur, the high winds exponentially increase the difficulty of this climb.

The first five kilometers of Mont Ventoux are a bit of a teaser and climb at relatively relaxed 4%. The niceties end at kilometer 7 just past the village of Les Bruns. Though road continues to pass under tree cover, the pitch steepens to 9.4%. The gradient remains in the 9% to 10% range for much of the climb. At kilometer 10 near La Cisterna, the road climbs at 10%.

At kilometer 16, the climb passes Chalet Reeynard at 1405 meters above sea level. The mountainside covered in loose limestone drops steeply from the road and offers a commanding view of the Provence countryside. At Chalet Reeynard, the gradients relax slightly and between kilometers 17 and 18, the road climbs at 5.4%. The relief doesn’t last long, if relief it is, and soon it’s back to the grind. The final two kilometers pitch up steeply, and around the final switchback, the road walls up menacingly. The final two kilometers climb between 9% and 10%. Certainly, this is a finish for the pure climbers.

Who To Watch

This stage will likely decide the Tour and the climbers hoping to place high in the general classification will certainly go on the attack. Though no slouch against the watch, Alberto Contador shines in the high mountains and it’s hard to imagine that he will pass up the chance to win here. But will he have a free hand? Armstrong will also certainly want this stage win, if he can get it. The rivalry between the two team-mates may erupt into full-on battle on Ventoux.

But they will hardly have the roads to themselves. Carlos Sastre, who won two mountain stages in the Giro d’Italia and has won on the Alpe d’Huez in France, is another rider who will ride hard for this stage win, if not for the Yellow Jersey. Andy and Fränk Schleck will need this climb after the Annecy time trial, and should both ride well here. Though not a pure climber, Cadel Evans rode an attacking race when the recent Critérium Dauphiné Libéré visited Mont Ventoux. He did not manage to shake the other general classification favorites and Alejandro Valverde ran away with the leader’s jersey. Evans will climb the classification in Annecy, but could also improve his position here.

Much depends on who has the legs left to do battle after the hard week of racing in the Alps. The race organizers will be hoping that time gaps among the general classification favorites still remain close when the riders reach Bédoin and Mont Ventoux provides the grand finale they envisioned. Certainly, the climb is difficult enough to overturn the classification coming so deep in the third week of the Tour de France. Will it decide the Yellow Jersey? We’ll see soon enough.

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