2011 Tour de France – Stage 18 Wrap-Up

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Fotoreporter Sirotti

 

Stage 18, the Queen Stage of this year’s Tour de France, was a 6+-hour slugfest over 3 Hors Categorie climbs in the Alps–the Agnel, the Izoard, and finally, the monstrous Galibier.

1. Andy Schleck’s attacked on the Izoard with about 60km to go, gaining 2 minutes over the yellow jersey group by the top of the climb and extending it to 4:25 on the descent and the early slopes of the Galibier. Schleck’s move seemed to catch everyone off guard, as there was little to no effort to join or haul back the man who many seemed to have written off as an overall contender.

2. It’s a shame other men in the yellow jersey group didn’t find Andy’s “all or nothing” attack enticing, as men like Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego, and Tom Danielson all would have benefitted—and perhaps dragged themselves into podium contention—had they tried to follow the acceleration.

3. Andy’s attack confounded many. Was it too early? Would he lose his advantage on the descent? Was he going for the win or was he setting it up for Frank? But as confusing as it was, this was clearly a well-planned attack: Leopard-Trek had both Maxime Monfort and Joost Posthuma in the day’s big break, and Posthuma shelled the teammates of Andy’s rivals up the Izoard, while Monfort saved energy to work with Andy between the Izoard and the Galibier, maximizing Andy’s advantage before the headwind set in.

4. And perhaps most impressive—especially for someone so criticized for his lack of tactical nous in the days prior—was the timing of the move. Andy’s attack gave him an advantage before the head winds of the final 35 kilometers. No matter how hard they tried, these winds prevented the already-tired yellow jersey group from making any serious headway.

5. Might we see a similar move tomorrow, only with Frank going on the offensive? Andy will certainly be depleted following his efforts today (he barely made it across the line); an attack from Frank might crack the few remaining contenders while giving Andy a free ride to the finish. While perhaps putting Frank into yellow over Andy, such a move just might give Leopard Trek the first two spots on the podium in Paris—and significant buffers heading into Saturday’s time trial.

6. Behind Schleck, BMC’s Cadel Evans took the reigns with 10km to go, as the yellow jersey group stared at one another. Evans’ move looked risky at first, but despite the presence of Europcar’s Voeckler and Rolland and Liquigas’ Basso and Szmyd, it was the isolated Australian who brought the gap down from 4 minutes to less than 3 by the end of the stage. Clearly Evans is the man Leopard Trek needs to fear the most over the next two days.

7. In the final kilometer, the yellow jersey group splintered as Frank Schleck attacked to gain a few seconds on Cadel Evans. Behind, Voeckler’s face was a curtain of pain. He crossed the line with a fist-punch when he saw that he held the yellow jersey by :16. He all but collapsed after the finish, reminiscent of Stephen Roche’s incredible climb up La Plagne to keep his advantage in 1987. Expect Tommy V. to not go down without a fight tomorrow.

8. As for Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador, he just didn’t have it today. After a few failed turns out the front brought little results, the Spaniard was content to hang at the back of the yellow jersey, doing his best to keep pace before finally giving in. While many love to hate on Contador, he and Voeckler are really the only overall contenders in this year’s Tour to have a significant number of days thus far this season. At least he’ll have one less race to worry about being disqualified from once the WADA/UCI appeal is heard.

9. Italian’s Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego once again finished at the top of the day’s results. At this point, both looked destined for unexciting top-10 finishes. Close enough to the top to still be considered outside contenders, neither looks to be a favorite for tomorrow’s stage to Alpe d’Huez.

10. In addition to Tom Danielson’s 9th-place finish today ( a result that keeps him firmly inside the top-10 for now),Garmin-Cervelo’s Ryder Hesjedal and Christian Vande Velde finished 10th and 12th, putting the squad in the driver’s seat for the Tour’s 50,000 Euro team prize.

11. Moving to the green jersey competition, Movistar’s JJ Rojas expressed his team’s intentions to attack Mark Cavendish in the mountains, hoping to put him outside the time cut and Rojas into the green jersey. Today, they were successful—sorta. Rojas finished within the time cut, while many riders did not it including Cavendish, Sylvain Chavanel, Philippe Gilbert, Tyler Farrar and enough important names that the race jury decided to allow the riders to continue, but docking them points. As a result, Cavendish still holds green but by only 15 points over Rojas. Look for tomorrow’s intermediate sprint and Sunday’s final stage to keep this competition going right to the wire.

12. Sky’s Rigoberto Uran started the stage in the white jersey as the Tour’s Best Young Rider, and Sky mounted a strong defense of his position, covering him well in the mountains, and pacing him back on when he fell off the pace. Unfortunately, the Galibier was one climb too much for Colombian; Pierre Rolland—a more than deserving recipient—took over the lead in the competition.

13. Looking over the GC quickly, Cadel Evans is outside of the top-3 for the first time this Tour, but is in a strong place as the best time trialist among the top-4. The top ten is as follows:

    1. Thomas Voeckler

    2. Andy Schleck at :15

    3. Frank Schleck at 1:08

    4. Cadel Evans at 1:12

    5. Damiano Cunego 3:46

    6. Ivan Basso s.t.

    7. Alberto Contador at 4:44

    8. Samuel Sanchez at 5:20

    9. Tom Danielson at 7:08

    10. Jean-Christophe Perraud at 9:27

14. Tomorrow’s stage brings another ascent of the Galibier followed by Alpe d’Huez. The last chance for time to be gained and lost before Saturday’s time trial, expect to see Leopard Trek do it’s best to put Cadel Evans into difficulty—if they don’t burn themselves out in the process. As for the stage win, Sylvester Szmyd, Robert Gesink, and Alberto Contador are all men to watch, while Lotto’s Jelle Vanendert and Samuel Sanchez will do their best to hold off Andy Schleck for the polka dot jersey.

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7 Responses to 2011 Tour de France – Stage 18 Wrap-Up

  1. grolby says:

    Ok, if we imagine that Evans doesn't lose any more time to Andy Schleck tomorrow – and with the form he's on and how spent Andy is likely to be tomorrow, I don't believe he will – and can limit or prevent any losses to Frank's inevitable attack on the Alpe tomorrow, he is still very much in this race. Andy Schleck put in a massive, old-school move on the Izoard and made an incredible ride, but for my money, Evans' shouldering the burden of the chase all alone for something like 9k up to the summit of the Galibier is roughly on par. He singlehandedly saved Voeckler's yellow jersey, and was the only favorite with the will or the strength to prevent Andy Schleck from simply running away with the Tour. The race is pretty clearly down to the Schlecks and Evans for the win, with Tommy V still in as a wildcard for the podium (and I doubt that he'll finish any lower than 4th, maybe 5th). And Evans' chase showed how hungry he is. Yeah, he was my pick for the win when the Tour started, so I'm rooting pretty hard. It was nice to see Andy show some anger and panache today, though. If he wins this Tour, now he will have earned it, after a ride like that.

  2. Steve in Duluth says:

    Andy had the ride of his life, but Leopard's tactics won the race. I was wondering why Posthuma was working so hard in the break if they wanted him to help a Schleck later in the stage, but this was clearly the plan: keep Monfort rested and keep the break up ahead, so that when Andy bridges Monfort has a couple of minutes on the field.

    Andy gained roughly 2 minutes on the Izoard, and gave up almost 2 again on the Galibier; the 2:30 he gained on the descent and the false flat to the foot of the final climb behind Monfort while the peleton scrambled to chase was the crucial time (and rest) Andy needed to stay away. Monfort with the domestique performance of a lifetime. Brilliant race.

    This whole Tour is incredible.

  3. cthulhu says:

    to
    1. Really great move, but as I suspected, and confirmed in an interview with Fränk after the stage, it was a move to put pressure on the other riders and help Fränk to successfully launch an attack, but young Schleck got lucky and got clear and put on a great ride (with great help by his team mates) to take the stage and take back the leader role from Fränk.

    5. I would suspect this, because even though Andy has become a much better TTist, under a minute is too little imo to keep such a fit Evans off his back in the TT.

    8. I guess Contador's ambitions are over. Was it the crash, the Giro or even something else, we won't know? But with no chance even of a podium spot as consolation he sat up after he was dropped. That the riders who were dropped before him passed him on the final km only show that he didn't even try to limit his time loss.

    11. Valid tactic, might work again tomorrow, so that the final stage might not only be a show race, let's see.

    12. Tamramae lost time on Rolland on the Galibier, still saved enough to take over the white jersey.

    14. Don't forget, in their fight for yellow one of the Schleck brothers might take the polka dot jersey, since Alpe d'Huez is a mountaintop finish with the points doubled.

  4. Joe says:

    I'm going to pat myself on the back for predicting today's move in the "Stage 14 comments". Ok, now that you've looked, I didn't actually predict the move, but hoped it would happen. Never in a million years would I have thought it would come from a Schleck, Dang! Nice ride. Cadel was awesome though too, maintaining that steady grind, and reeled in the time gap to a much safer number.

    I don't see tomorrow being much of a show. In a perfect world Frank would go out and repeat what Andy did today (but would it really work?). More likely, they'll hit Alpe d'huez circa 2008 (60km/h) and launch one of the brothers (just like Sastre). Both Schlecks need more time, because neither are certain to gain a single second from Tommy V in the final TT, and while Andy's proven (once) that he can put in a decent ride, he can't rest the outcome of this years tour, on his uncharacteristically swift ITT from last year. Voeckler has never, had a reason to ride a fast TT, so no one knows just how fast he'll go, but with the country behind him, I'll bet he's capable of putting 20-30" into Andy, and maybe as much as full minute into Frankie.

    Since it's more fun to predict while the race is still uncertain, here are my picks.

    FINAL PODIUM
    ———————————–
    Cadel – Tour winner
    Andy – 23 "
    Voeckler – 30 "

  5. Matt Heppe says:

    I am so impressed by Voeckler. The man has guts. I just don't think he can do it again. I think he just went too deep into the well on too many occasions. I think he'll snap tomorrow.

    I think Frank will launch a big attack tomorrow while Andy sticks on Cadel's wheel, forcing Cadel to pull him up the mountain. Andy then attacks at the end and hopes to put some time into Cadel.

    I think Frank beats all the contenders tomorrow and maybe takes the stage. But will the Schlecks have enough time to stay ahead on the time trial? Dunno.

    Cadel put a ton of energy into chasing Andy up the mountain. I don't know that Andy will be much more tired than Cadel tomorrow.

  6. Jack says:

    At least Voeckler gives the French SOMETHING to cheer about. But then again they can cheer Alberto getting dropped to so there's that too.

    I actually thought Contador was giving them the ol' limp leg routing hanging out of the wind 10 guys or more back for the last hour and a half. It took seeing him when the road kicked up on the last climb that, "My god, he does NOT have anything. ANYTHING!" El Pistolero was firing blanks.

    This is the worst humiliation since? … I don't know.. how far do you have to go back to find someone who wins several in row, wins every grand tour that he's in for several years, comes in not injured, then can't even come close the podium.

    Does anyone think Evans will NOT win the Tour de France? And he's deserving. It's great to see a grinder win the tour. He's supposed to be to heavy to do this stuff! I always call him "the diesel". All about torque, not horsepower.

  7. Joe says:

    Personally I don't consider Alberto's performance a humiliation, he's the only GC contender to race the Giro, which was the hardest Giro in recent history. He's on a new team, which is semi-supportive. His DS is a douche (bjarne). He's hated by the public, and gets booed on every stage, crashed a half dozen times. Some how… in-spite of all this, he's managed to get himself a 5th place finish. I'd say that's pretty decent finish, albeit for a possibly doper (I'm not in the camp who think this guys always races and trains clean).

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