2010 Tour de France – Stage 17 Wrap-Up

2010 Tour de France - Schleck and Contador in Stage 17

Fotoreporter Sirotti

In the end, today’s stage was perhaps a bit anti-climatic, as first Andy Schleck and then Alberto Contador proved unable to shake the other on the Tourmalet.  Clearly, these two are the cream of this year’s Tour de France crop—and considering how only 8 seconds separetes them, we’re on the verge of one of the closest Tour finishes in recent memory.

Perhaps what’s most promising though, is the fact that the gap between these two champions has narrowed since last year’s race.  Should Schleck prove able to improve his time trialing, it’s easy to see him finishing on the top step in Paris sooner rather than later—after all, he’s only 25.

As for Contador, today’s stage marked a new phase in his maturation.  First, he used his yellow jersey clout to slow the peloton early in the stage, giving third-place rider Samuel Sanchez a chance to regain the field following a nasty fall.  But the real “champion” gesture came later, when Contador—still without a stage victory in this year’s race—offered nothing more than ceremonial opposition to Andy Schleck in the sprint for today’s stage.  There are no “gifts” in the Tour de France, but Contador’s gesture speaks volumes about how much he’s learned in the course of this year’s race.  For a rider who is only 27 himself, it was sign that he’s truly entering his prime—physically and emotionally.

This is a rivalry that should captivate us for years to come.

Here’s what else we noticed:

2010 Tour de France - Rodriguez in Stage 17

Fotoreporter Sirotti

1. Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez crossed the line in third-place today, springing from a select chase group to cement his place in the top-10 overall.  While we might have expected more from Katusha as a team, we can’t blame Rodriguez—a stage win and a top-10 result in Paris is an outstanding performance.

2010 Tour de France - Hesjedal in Stage 17

Fotoreporter Sirotti

2. Fourth-place on the day went to Ryder Hesjedal, a result that propelled him into eighth on GC.  Unlike last year’s GC surprise from Garmin, Hesjedal has signed a contract extension through 2013, giving him more time to build on his success in an environment he knows and trusts.

3. Samuel Sanchez, Denis Menchov, and Jurgen Van den Broeck finished fifth, sixth, and ninth today, all within 16 seconds of one another.  This trio currently occupies third through fifth on GC, with Menchov positioned to jump over Sanchez for the last spot on the final podium.  Sanchez deserves credit simply for making it to the finish of today’s stage after a nasty fall left many of us thinking he would abandon.  Here’s hoping he recovers in time to give Menchov a run for his money in Saturday’s time trial.  As for Van den Broeck, another steady ride solidified his place in the top-5.  His closest challenger is Robert Gesink—more than a minute behind.  And we know how well he time trials.

2010 Tour de France - Horner in Stage 17

Fotoreporter Sirotti

4. Chris Horner was today’s biggest surprise, riding in with the main chase group to finish eighth on the day—he now sits tenth on GC.  His performance sparks two questions: what happened to “We’re riding for Levi” and why wasn’t the team riding for Horner all along?  Too bad Radio Shack wasn’t invited to the Vuelta, as it would have been nice to see what they could have done had they the time to prepare for a grand tour without Lance.

5. One has to wonder what Carlos Sastre was thinking today—well, he was thinking he was going to bridge to the breakaway and go on to win the stage.  But was his reasoning sound?  Sastre should have waited until the bottom—the very bottom—of the Tourmalet to make his move.  Maybe then he would have had the legs to get away and stay away.

6. On second thought he might have had a tough time doing that, as Schleck’s Saxo Bank teammates harnessed their inner Daniel Navarro’s at the base of the Tourmalet, breaking almost everyone’s legs on the first 5 kilometers of the Tour’s final ascent.  It was a stunning performance for a team that was beginning to look pretty ragged.  While their efforts weren’t enough to get Andy into yellow, Bjarne’s boys can rest easy tonight knowing they did everything they could have done.

As for tomorrow, a bone-flat stage is on tap—the traditional sprint finish in Bordeaux.  With several men still in contention for the green jersey, we should have an exciting day of racing, with everything up for grabs between the two intermediate sprints and the final dash for the line.  Can Thor do enough to retain his lead?  And will Cavendish show the world he can win without Renshaw?

Share your comments below.

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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8 Responses to 2010 Tour de France – Stage 17 Wrap-Up

  1. cthulhu says:

    5. Let’s admit it, if it would have been some rider from some second class team, e.g. Vacansoleil or even smaller we wouldn’t be discussing the stupidity of this move but his bravery going alone after the break and after he couldn’t actually make it to them still fighting on solo.
    And no, waiting until the Tourmalet where Schleck and Contador would go into close combat would be even less smart, Sastre is not as explosive as they are, he is when fit more like the last man standing type.
    But the setup was quite questionable. 1. Why send out a rider into no man’s land exhausting him before he even can help Sastre instead of attacking together, why not react earlier as the break was gaining time, keeping them on the short leash until the first 4.Cat or even the 1. Cat climb and then jump? The plan was sound in my opinion, because if sastre had made it to the break he would have been the only real climber and even a shot at the stage win with those 5 min they had at the bottom of the climb, but the execution was more than badly done.

    Also, I might add I have seen no raging about Sastre attacking as Contador tried to slow down the peloton to let the crash Sammy Sanchez rejoin yet, are we measuring with diferent standards?

    Anyway. tomorrow Petacchi day? I’d say he takes back green and we will have interesting fighting for the sprints on Sunday, but does he also takes the stage win..? Well, Rojas, McEwen and Ciolek have been always in the mix but without the luck and the end, would be nice seeing one of them taking a stage for a bit of diversity…What about the Garmin boys, with Farrar out of the picture will Dean and Hunter cooperate this time?

  2. cthulhu says:

    Oh, i missed my point two
    so here it is
    2. why not try to bridge the gap as it was still only 30 or 60sec?

    • Whit says:

      Great points as always Cthulhu! Yes, in a perfect world, Sastre should have just been paying attention when the initial move went and followed it then or soon after. He certainly left himself without many viable options. As for Sastre attacking while the pack was waiting, Sastre himself anticipated the criticism and made some pretty interesting remarks about it: http://velonews.competitor.com/2010/07/news/sastre-rails-against-%E2%80%98polite%E2%80%99-peloton-at-tour-de-france_130862.

      AS for the Vacansoleil comment, your’re exactly right, but that hardly absolves Sastre. For a rider with such talent and palmares, we can expect more than we can/do from a Joe-average pros on wild card teams. He can be expected to make better choices that will put him winning situations.

      And as for today, a Petacchi day would certainly be a welcome sight for the Italians at Lampre–especially after Cunego’s near-misses in the mountains. It might also take a bit of the press away from Petacchi’s investigation. Well, probably not, but it will help. And Garmin, remember that Hunter’s out of the race too now, so Dean’s largely operating on his own.

      As always, thanks for reading and sharing your ideas with the rest of us!

  3. Eatiusbirdius says:

    Some of the pictures on the Tourmalet actually show 4 RSH guys around Levi. He just didn’t have it today. Horner’s blog mentioned that Levi is sick and was something the whole team was passing around I guess.

    Enjoyed your post. Cheers!

  4. ml says:

    Good stuff. Though I don’t see how waiting for Levi while he’s having an off day and giving up the team prize shows a lack of support to Levi. He did have Paulihno with him. Also, as it does look like Chris was the top RS guy this year (which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise after winning the basque tour), he did gain a bunch of time on Tues being in the break which he wouldn’t have, if he was higher up in the GC. I’m hoping that Chris moves up a couple of more places after the TT. It does suck about the Veulta.

    • Whit says:

      Thanks ML and Eatusbirdius, perhaps I’m being a bit too hard RS. I’m quite disappointed with how they’ve handled themselves without LA in contention for the overall. It sounds like Levi might have sent the other up the road. But with so many strong riders, I can’t help but feel a more cohesive performance might have been possible.

      Thanks for the comments!

  5. cthulhu says:

    Hey Whit. Thanks for pointing out that hunter has already quit. Forgot that fact.
    Back to Sastre attacking, I neither see it as unfair nor did I see Contador’s attack as unfair. I just doubted that he didn’t noticed. What I just noticed nobody mentioned it while the other thing got discussed quite emotionally…

  6. Big Mikey says:

    Good analysis of AC and AS. AC, with the increased media exposure this year, seems to be (difficult as he mostly speaks Spanish) a genuinely good guy. Sitting up for Sanchez was a sporting act. AS is quite the talent, no question. With some improved TT skills, these two could be fighting for podiums for a long time.

    Horner finally took the opportunity to race for himself, and voila!. He’d never win a grand tour, but could potentially nab a top 5. Interesting that a lot of unfulfilled potential resides in the Radio Shack team; really leaves a bad taste in my mouth, from the botched stage win in the breakaway with LA and CH to Levi’s ride, to Kloden being MIA. Wonder how the Radio Shack sponsor group feels right now.

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