Today’s 108km stage 19 was billed as a mountain sprint. True to form, the first 14km saw some furious racing before a big breakaway went away. They didn’t last long, though, as Alberto Contador lit up the Telegraphe climb to set off an exciting day of racing. The speed and difficulty of the stage suggested a shake-up of the Green Jersey competition, and as predicted, the autobus finished outside of the time cut and thus was docked Sprint Points. Thus, Movistar’s JJ Rojas is within striking distance of the Points Competition Victory on the Champs Elysess. However, today was a mountain stage, and on the mountains, an incredible race unfolded. Here’s what we noticed:
When Contador attacked early on the Telegraphe and formed a group of him, Frank and Andy Schleck, Voeckler, and Evans formed, it was immediately obvious that it was a serious move. Contador’s resurgence changed the calculus of the GC contenders. His timeloss yesterday may have saved enough energy for the strong move today. On the Telegraphe he made everybody suffer, as Frank and then Voeckler were dropped. Meanwhile, Cadel Evans lost a minute due to a mechanical, and eventually lost another minute with an ineffective chase. It could have been a Tour-changer – another “chaingate,” as Evans lost a maximum of almost two minutes.
Alliances emerged as Euskaltel’s Inxausti and Movistar’s Rui Costa worked with Contador on the Telegraphe and Galibier. Behind, Evans found some cooperation on the Galibier, as Voeckler – after much chasing alone – finally dropped back to the peloton (he may have been better served dropping back ealrier), and Liquigas drove to support Basso, who had missed the move on the Telegraphe. Toward the top of the Galibier, after following a Samuel Sanchez move, Evans was only :30 behind Andy and Contador (who had been climbing with Rui Costa and Riblon, the only survivors from the breakaway). Sanchez bridged up on the descent, but the Evans group made contact with 24.4km to go, with the Voeckler group making contact coon afterward. More alliances emerged on the road. Trench teams rode together for the opposite ends – Europcar pushing for Voeckler, Cofidis for Tarramae’s spot on the White Jersey competition.
The White Jersey race heated up again – when Voeckler cracked (first on the Galibier, and then again, after reconnecting in time for the Alpe d’Huez), he sent Pierre Rolland up the road to continue his fight for the white jersey. Behind, Europcar showed incredible dedication to Thomas Voeckler – perhaps in return for Voeckler’s dedication to the team, staying on even in the late hours of Bernaudeau’s doomed-looking sponsorship search. Their performance this Tour should give them greater value to potential sponsors in upcoming years. Speaking of side competitions, Garmin-Cervelo placed Ryder Hesjedal, Tom Danielson, and Christian Vande Velde in the lead group before the Alpe d’Huez, and they climbed their way into solidifying Garmin-Cervelo’s likely win in the Team Competition.
On the Alpe d’Huez, chaotic racing set to immediately, but the big move was another Contador attack that quickly gained a minute over the Schleck/Evans group. Contador was going after saving his Tour – either with enough time to race on to the podium in the time trial, or with a stage win on the Alpe. Between Contador and the Schleck/Evans group, Samuel Sanchez joined with Pierre Rolland in pursuit of Contador, with Peter Velits and Thomas de Gendt chasing them. Contador’s attack was clearly dangerous, as his time trial threatens both Schlecks, and his climbing threatens Evans. It’s hard to bet against him safely in the time trial. This meant that everybody was racing for the Tour up the Alpe d’Huez – what could be more beautiful? The Schlecks who took up the pacemaking, needing to limit their losses with a Time Trial staring them in the face.
Ahead, Sanchez asked Rolland to work to catch Contador. Rolland said no, but when Sanchez made the catch, Rolland attacked, opened up a gap, and rode to an incredible French win on the Alpe d’Huez. Pierre Rolland is the standout young rider of this year’s Tour – shepherding Voeckler through ten days in the maillot jaune, winning the Young Rider’s Competition, and taking the first French Victory on top of Alpe d’Huez since Bernard Hinault in 1986. It’s an incredible Tour in anybody’s book, I think.
Behind, Evans attacked several times, dropping one or both Schlecks more than once. Nothing stuck and after sprinting to the finish, was credited with the same time as each Schleck. When was the last time anybody sprinted to the finish of Alpe d’Huez? Evans once again rode a gutsy, smart, and well-timed ride – today and yesterday he capably steadily fought back from significant defecits, which requires strength of the brain as well as strength of the legs.
Andy Schleck takes over the Yellow Jersey, and will wear it in a 42.5km time trial. Behind are Frank Schleck at :53, Cadel Evans at :57, and Thomas Voeckler at 2:10. If I were Cadel Evans, I’d like my odds, but the Tour de France is not yet won.