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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Previa Etapa 19: Bourgoin-Jallieu – Aubenas

Tipo de terreno: Media montaña, sin excesiva dureza. Terreno para fugas.

Importancia para la general: El último puerto podría tentar a alguno de los favoritos para atacar, pero la mayoría querrán ahorrar esfuerzos para la inminente subida al Mont Ventoux.

Cota de Culin 2.6 km, pend. media 5.6 %, Categoría 4
Cota de la forêt de Chambaran 3.1 km, pend. media 6.4 %, Categoría 4
Col de l'Escrinet 14.0 km, pend. media 4.1 %, Categoría 2

En esta etapa de media montaña el Tour toma dirección sur por la región de Dauphiné. Atentos a las famosas fotos de los girasoles, porque el Tour se dirige a la cálida y soleada Provenza. La etapa comienza en Bourgoin-Jaillieu, pasa por tres cotas puntuables y acaba en Aubenas. La última subida, el col de l’Escrinet, de segunda categoría, se corona a 16 kilómetros de meta y ofrece un terreno favorable para que una escapada llegue a buen puerto. Aunque ésta parece la situación más probable, no se descarta que un desesperado favorito tenga que atacar en la subida final.

Bourguin-Jaillieu hizo de inicio de etapa por última vez en 1962, en una contrarreloj de 68 kilómetros desde allí hasta Lyon que ganó Jacques Anquetil. Raymond Poulidor acabó a cinco minutos de Anquetil, y Joseph Planckaert, que arrancaba la jornada de líder, perdió seis minutos. Gracias a esto Anquetil ganó la general de este Tour, que suponía el segundo de los cinco que consiguió.

La última vez que el Tour visitó Aubenas fue en 1966 en una etapa en línea que salía de Montpellier. Johann de Roo ganó aquella etapa, mientras que Karl-Heinz Kunde se vistió de amarillo. El Tour de aquella edición lo acabaría ganando Lucien Aimar (después de meterse en una escapada al inicio de la carrera), lo que hizo que el líder de su equipo Jacques Anquetil acabara siendo gregario de Aimar para evitar la victoria de su gran rival Raymond Poulidor.

Detalles del perfil

La etapa comienza a subir nada más la salida de Bourgoin-Jallieu, porque el primer puerto del día, la cota de Culin, de 4ª categoría, se corona en el kilómetro 6,5. Sólo tiene 2,6 kilómetros de longitud, pero habrá que subirla. Con su pendiente media del 5,6%, la cota de Coulin parece lo bastante dura para propiciar una fuga. Después viene un corto descenso y una subida no puntuable alrededor del kilómetro 15, que puede provocar cortes si la de cuarta categoría no los ha hecho. Desde esta cima sin puntuación la carrera desciende y atraviesa La Côte Saint-Andre en el kilómetro 27,5.

La localidad de Le Rivel albergará el primer sprint intermedio del día, en el kilómetro 33. Luego volvemos a subir, para esta vez alcanzar la cota de la forêt de Chambaran, que tiene categoría 4, y 3,1 kilómetros al 6,4%. Su cima está en el kilómetro 40,5, donde quedarán 137,5 km de carrera.

Tras coronar la cota de la forêt de Chambaran, la carrera desciende brevemente para luego alcanzar el Col de la Madeleine, que ya apareció en la Dauphiné Libéré. Este pico de 493 metros no debe confundirse son el puerto del mismo nombre de categoría especial que está en los Alpes,  y no lleva puntos de montaña alguno. Desde su cima, en el kilómetro 54,5, hay un largo descenso de más de 20 km para llegar a Romans-sur-Isère, donde el terreno se hará llano durante los siguientes 64 kilómetros. La carrera atraviesa Montélier y Beaumont-lès-Valence, de camino al sur de Francia, por lo que, si todavía no hemos avistado los girasoles, ahora los vamos ver.

El último sprint intermedio del día está en el kilómetro 141, y casi inmediatamente después la ascensión al puerto final. Empezando en  Le Crouzet (km 148), el col de l’Escrinet son 14 kilómetros a un relativamente suave 4,1%, lo que le vale una 2ª categoría.

La pendiente media es muy engañosa, el col de l’Escrinet tiene algunas sorpresas para nosotros: los primeros 6 km son casi llanos (2%), pero luego el terreno se empina al 7,5%. Este terrible regalito dura un kilómetro, y los siete siguientes se mueven entre el 5 y el 6%. Un corredor decidido podría atacar en la segunda mitad de puerto y hacer hueco, eliminando cualquier posibilidad de llegada al sprint.

Desde la cima del puerto final descendemos 13 kilómetros hasta encontrar un final llano en Aubenas, pasando antes por Ucel. Aunque los kilómetros finales son llanos, la meta está suficientemente cerca para que una escapada sobreviva.

Corredores a seguir

Esta etapa supone la última oportunidad para los artistas de la escapada, pues el terreno irregular y las tres cotas puntuables ponen coto al pelotón y permiten que un fugado celebre la victoria. Los ciclistas que buscan la general no rodarán al máximo, porque tendrán en mente al temible Mont Ventoux.

La última subida está lo bastante cerca de meta para triunfe una fuga, pero no parece que alguno de los favoritos lo vaya a intentar. Claro que siempre el ataque bueno es el que nadie espera. De todas formas, una escapada de gente para todo se va a formar al principio, y de ahí debe salir el afortunado que pueda disfrutar del podio. — 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)<-->