Post Stage Analysis

Cavendish Makes it Five
Cavendish takes the stage win, Contador still in Yellow, Armstrong gains 4 seconds

Mark Cavendish won his fifth stage of this year’s Tour de France today in Aubenas. The Columbia-HTC rider made it over the final climb, much to the surprise of his rivals, and with the help of his consistently excellent lead-out team, beat Thor Hushovd of Cervélo TestTeam and Gerald Ciolek of Milram at the line. Cavendish took back 3 points in the Green Jersey competition, where Thor Hushovd still maintains a commanding lead. Alberto Contador, meanwhile, continues to lead the general classification while Andy Schleck sits second and Lance Armstrong is third. Armstrong picked 4 seconds over his rivals in today’s finale, when a small split opened up in the main field.

The Story

A group of ten escaped off the main field just after the first climb of the day, the Côte de Culin. By kilometer 26, the escape had swelled to 17 riders, and included Cadel Evans, now a long way out of the general classification race, Kim Kirchen, David Millar, Jaroslav Popovych, and Luis Leon Sanchez, among others. Sylvain Chavanel, Ruben Perez Moreno, and Daniele Bennati soon bridged across to make it an even twenty in the break. After 52 kilometers of racing, the escape had just over 2:00 over the main field. Quick Step had two riders in the break with Sylvain Chavanel and Carlos Barredo, while Caisse d’Épargne had three riders with David Arroyo, José Ivan Gutierrez, and Luis Leon Sanchez. Determined to set up their sprinter Oscar Freire, Rabobank worked determinedly on the front and never allowed the escape to ride much more than 3:00 up the road.

With just over 50 kilometers to race, José Luis Arrieta of AG2R-La Mondiale and Leonardo Duque of Cofidis attacked from the break in the effort to whittle down the numbers. Sylvain Chavanel and Luis Leon Sanchez joined the move and before long, five riders held 48 seconds over the group of 14 chasers. Cadel Evans missed the move, and worked hard on the chase, but could not make it back across. The main field overtook the chase group, and now five riders rode out in front. Jaroslav Popovych of Astana, David Millar of Garmin-Slipstream, José Luis Arrieta of AG2R-La Mondiale, José Ivan Gutierrez of Caisse d’Épargne, and Leonardo Duque of Cofidis comprised the break. With 45 kilometers to race, they held an advantage of 1:26 over the main field, where Rabobank continued to do the hard work of chasing.

As the break approached the final climb of the day, the 14 kilometer Col d’Escrinet, it held only a small gap over the fast-approaching main field. Leonardo Duque made a last desperate dash for freedom and held a ten second gap on the early slopes of the climb. With just over 30 kilometers to go, Duque’s day out ended, and the race had come back together. Juan Antonio Flecha of Rabobank continued to ride tempo on the front for former World Champion Oscar Freire. Lampre-Ngc and Cervélo TestTeam also sat near the front. Lampre-Ngc has had a quiet Tour and hoped to set up World Champion Alessandro Ballan.

With 25 kilometers to race, Laurent Lefèvre of Bbox Bouygues Télécom attacked from the main field. The French rider, who has animated his share of attacks in this Tour, built up a small gap over the main field, and 3 kilometers later, Lefèvre rode about 10 seconds ahead of the main field, still propelled by Rabobank. With 20 kilometers to race, Alessandro Ballan set off to bridge, and quickly caught Lefèvre. The two worked together smoothly, though Ballan clearly had the stronger legs. In the main field, meanwhile, Columbia began to move up and against all expectations, Mark Cavendish remained in the main field, despite the climb.

On the descent from the Col d’Escrinet, Ballan and Lefèvre continued to ride ahead of the main field with an advantage of about 12 seconds. Luis Leon Sanchez, known for his mad descending skills, attacked over the summit of the climb and began a steady effort to bridge to the two-up escape. With Cavendish safely over the climb, Columbia began to ride at the front of the main field and soon scooped up Sanchez. Rain made the curving descent a tricky business and splits began to open up in the Yellow Jersey group.

The descent finished, Columbia began to position at the front as they hit the flat run-in to the finish. With the catch imminent, Ballan jumped away from Lefèvre in a last-ditch effort to stay away. Crossing the bridge into Aubenas, the remains of the main field, now numbering not much more than 25 riders, strung out behind the Columbia. Under the red kite, Ballan’s escape ended, and Tony Martin began to ramp up a long lead-out for Mark Cavendish. Cavendish tucked in behind Martin. Thor Hushovd sat on the wheel of Cavendish, while Gerald Ciolek of Milram and Martijn Maaskant of Garmin-Slipstream followed the Norwegian.

At the line, none could challenge Mark Cavendish and the Columbia-HTC sprinter took his fifth stage win of this year’s Tour. He now holds the record for most career stage wins for a British rider. Cavendish took maximum points in the Green Jersey competition, but Thor Hushovd finished second, and Cavendish gained only 3 points over the Cervélo TestTeam sprinter.

“It wasn’t a stage for me,” said Cavendish after his win, referring to the climb in the final 20 kilometers. “Rabobank went full gas on the climb, and I just told my team to stay with me,” he explained. Cavendish thanked Tony Martin for his hard work in the finale. “Tony, he was dying, but he kept going. I gave everything, and it worked out perfect,” concluded the Columbia-HTC rider. A split opened up in the finale after the first 12 riders, and Lance Armstrong picked up 4 seconds over the other general classification favorites. With Mont Ventoux on the horizons, it’s unlikely that those 4 seconds will decide the race.

General Classification Update

Here is the current top ten:
Alberto Contador Astana
Andy Schleck Saxo Bank 4:11
Lance Armstrong Astana 5:21
Bradley Wiggins Garmin-Slipstream 5:36
Andreas Klöden Astana 5:38
Fränk Schleck Saxo Bank 5:59
Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas-Doimo 7:15
Christian Vandevelde Garmin-Slipstream 10:08
Christophe Le Mével Française des Jeux 12:37
Mikel Astarloza Euskaltel-Euskadi 12:38

Lance Armstrong took four seconds out of the other general classification favorites, today, when the bunch split on the run-in to the sprint. Otherwise, the general classification remains unchanged with Alberto Contador enjoying a commanding lead in the Yellow Jersey race. Andy Schleck sits second at 4:11, while Lance Armstrong is third at 5:21. Bradley Wiggins, Andreas Klöden, and Fränk are all within reach of Armstrong’s podium position.

Other classifications: With his sprint victory today, Mark Cavendish took back three points in the Points classification. Thor Hushovd finished second on the stage, and still holds a 25 point lead over the Columbia-HTC sprinter. The Points competition will all come down to the Champs Elysées, though Cavendish will need a bit a luck to win. The British sprinter will need to win the stage at the same time that Hushovd does not place in the final sprint, in order to take over the Green Jersey.

In the mountains classification, meanwhile, Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas-Doimo still leads Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel-Euskadi. Pellizotti holds a 41 point advantage, and should hold the Polka Dot jersey into Paris.

Andy Schleck leads Vincenzo Nibali in the White Jersey competition by 3:04. Astana still leads the team classification by 16:14 over Garmin-Slipstream, who overtook AG2R-La Mondiale after yesterday’s time trial.

Leonardo Duque of Cofidis won the most combative award for today’s stage.

Looking Ahead

Tomorrow brings the grand finale of the Tour, the ascent up the Géant de Provence, Mont Ventoux. Though Alberto Contador holds a secure lead in the overall classification, the rest of the top ten remains close on time. The gaps among Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, Andreas Klöden, and Fränk Schleck span not much more than 30 seconds, and we can expect a ferocious battle for the final podium position. The stage follows a hilly path to Mont Ventoux, but the real race will certainly begin when the main field hits Bédoin, which announces the start of the 22 kilometer final climb.

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

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Course Preview

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Terrain Type: Hilly, though not mountainous. Breakaway country.
GC Importance: The final climb could tempt a general classification rider into going on the attack, but most will want to save their legs for the fast-approaching show-down on Mont Ventoux.

The Climbs:
Côte de Culin 2.6 km, avg. 5.6 %, Catégorie 4
Côte de la forêt de Chambaran 3.1 km, avg. 6.4 %, Catégorie 4
Col de l'Escrinet 14.0 km, avg. 4.1 %, Catégorie 2

The Tour heads south into the Dauphiné region of France with this hilly stage. Watch for the iconic sunflower photos to show up after this stage, as the Tour heads into warm and sunlit Provence. The race begins in Bourgoin-Jaillieu, passes over three categorized climbs, and finishes in Aubenas. The final climb, the category 2 Col de l’Escrinet, summits 16 kilometers from the finish, and offers an opportunity for an escape to survive to the finish. This stage should end in a breakaway victory, though a determined, or desperate, general classification rider could have a go on the final climb.

Bourguin-Jaillieu last served as a start town in 1962. Jacques Anquetil won the stage, a 68 kilometer time trial from Bourguin-Jaillieu to Lyon. Raymond Poulidor finished five minutes slower than Anquetil, and Joseph Planckaert, who began the day in the Yellow Jersey, finished six minutes behind the winner. Anquetil also won the overall that year, his second of five Tour de France victories.

The Tour de France last visited Aubenas in 1966 for a road stage which departed from Montpellier. Johann de Roo won the stage that day, while Karl-Heinz Kunde wore the Yellow Jersey. Lucien Aimar eventually wore the Yellow Jersey into Paris that year, after joining a long breakaway early in the race. His team leader Jacques Anquetil decided to ride in Aimar’s support in part to deny his rival Raymond Poulidor a much-desired overall victory.

Profile Details

The stage begins climbing from the start in Bourgoin-Jallieu. The first climb of the day, the category 4 Côte de Culin summits at kilometer 6.5. The côte is only 2.6 kilometers in length, though the riders must climb to get to it. The average gradient is 5.6%, and the Côte de Culin could prove sufficiently difficult to propel an early breakaway up the road. A short descent follows this first climb. Then comes an uncategorized climb that summits around kilometer 15. If the Côte de Culin does not cause a split, this uncategorized climb may do the trick. From the summit of the uncategorized climb, the course descends and passes through La Côte Saint-Andre at kilometer 27.5.

Le Rivel will host the first intermediate sprint at kilometer 33. Then the climbing begins again, this time to the summit of the category 4 Côte de la forêt de Chambaran. This category 4 bump climbs 3.1 kilometers at an average gradient of 6.4%. The Côte summits at kilometer 40.5, and there remains 137.5 kilometers to race.

From the peak of the Côte de la forêt de Chambaran, the course descends briefly, then climbs to the summit of the Col de la Madeleine, which featured in the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré. This 493 meter peak should not be confused by the hors catégorie col of the same name in the Alps, and in this stage, it does not carry mountain points. From the summit of the Col de la Madeleine at kilometer 54.5, the course turns downhill for a lengthy descent of more than 20 kilometers before coming to rest at Romans-sur-Isère at kilometer 77.5. The gradient is gradual on this descent with an average of around 3%. At Romans-sur-Isère, the course flattens, and the next 64 kilometers cross mostly flat terrain. The stage passes through Montélier and Beaumont-lès-Valence as it heads deeper into Southern France. If we haven’t seen the sunflowers yet, we should see them here.

The final intermediate sprint of the day comes at kilometer 141 in Saint-Julien-en-Saint-Alban. Almost immediately after the sprint, the ascent to the final climb of the day begins. From Le Crouzet at kilometer 148, the Col de l'Escrinet climbs 14 kilometers. The average gradient is a relatively tame 4.1%, which earns the Col de l'Escrinet a category 2 rating.

The average gradient misleads, and the Col de l’Escrinet has some surprises on offer. The first six kilometers rise at a nearly flat 2%. Then the pitch steepens suddenly to 7.5%. This nasty bit lasts for about a kilometer. The remaining 7 kilometers to the summit have slightly easier gradients between 5% and 6%. A determined rider could make an attack stick in the second half of this climb, and we could see an escape go clear on the Col de l’Escrinet. Certainly, it will rule out a sprint finish.

From the summit of the final col, the course descends 13 kilometers. The final three kilometers in Aubenas are flat. The stage passes through Ucel before crossing into the Pont d’Aubenas sector of town. Though the final kilometers are flat, the finish comes close enough to the final climb for a determined break to survive.

Who To Watch

This stage offers the last opportunity for the breakaway artists. The bumpy terrain and three categorized climbs should hold the main field at bay, and allow a rider from the escape to celebrate victory. The general classification riders won’t want too ride especially hard, because they will have the limestone monster Mont Ventoux on their minds.

The final climb sits close enough to the finish to allow an escape to succeed, but it’s unlikely that a general classification rider will make the attempt. Of course, the attack no one expects is often the one that succeeds. Most likely, though, a breakaway of all-arounders will escape early in the stage, and from that small group, one lucky winner will enjoy the podium kisses.

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