Oscar Freire has been in the lead of the points classification for several days but he complained after finishing fifth in stage 13 that he wasnât in the best shape. With the winner of four stages, Mark Cavendish put out of the sprinting equation because of a climb inside the final 10km, it was time for the Spaniard to prove that heâs riding into form. Freire outsprinted Colombian quick, Leonardo Duque and veteran Erik Zabel to claim his first victory in the 2008 Tour. The top order of the general classification remains the same but not after Bernhard Kohl â fourth overall after 13 stages â made a move at the top of the Col de LâOrne. âThat was a bit of a worry,â said Cadel Evans, âso I had to follow but he didnât gain any time by the finish. Tomorrow the challenges to my yellow jersey will begin.â
The Progress Report
The 194.5km 14th stage of the 2008 Tour de France, from Nimes to Digne-les-Bains, began at 12.22pm. There were 158 riders in the race with no overnight retirees. The temperature at the start was hot with the temperature in the air 30 degrees Celsius and 42 degrees at road level. There was virtually no breeze at the start and blue skies and bright sunshine were the feature of the day. There were two intermediate sprints â the first in Saint-Remy-de-Provence (at 37km), the second in Oraison (145km) â and two categorized climbs on an undulating course. The ascents were both ranked category-four: the cote de Maine (at 128.5km) and the col de LâOrme (9.5km from the finish).
Fastest Start So Far This Year
At the 5km mark, Stijn Devolder (QST) attacked and prompted the first escape of the day. He was followed by 20 others: OâGrady (CSC), Oroz and Txurruka (EUS), Garcia-Acosta and Gutierrez (GCE), Eisel (COL), Quinziato (LIQ), Bono (LAM), Bonnet (C.A), (ALM), Haussler (GST), Gonzalo Ramirez and Lelay (AGR), Tankink (RAB), Sprick and Voeckler (BTL), Velo (MRM), Casar and Sebastian Chavanel (FDJ), Frischkorn (GAR). They reached a maximum gain of 1â00â at the 30km mark. After Devolder won the first intermediate sprint the front group started attacking each other and at 41km four succeeded in breaking free. Devolder and 16 others returned to the peloton but then started lighting up the action again.
Cofidis and Silence-Lotto chased until the 50km mark when Devolderâs group was caught. Then Quickstep insisted on chasing down the escape. The average for the first hour was the fastest so far this year: 52.5km/h. At 60km with Casar, Tankink, Gutierrez and Bonnet had a lead of 30â but then a truce was called and all the counter-attacks ceased. At the 64km mark, the advantage blew out to three minutes. Jalabert (AGR) abandoned in the feedzone.
Keeping the Escape Honest
The maximum gain of the quartet was 6â50â at the 85km mark. The sprint teams them came to the front of the peloton: first Liquigas, followed by Columbia and Milram. The average speed for the second hour was 45.2km/h. At the 95km mark, the advantage dropped to 5â05â. When the advantage dropped to three minutes (at the 105km mark), the peloton appeared content to keep things that way. Thatâs roughly how it stayed although there were times when the gains dropped lower because of the strong tailwind. The average for the third hour was 42.5km/h. The lead dropped steadily: 2â35â at 142km, 1â25â at 151kmâŚ Liguigas, Bouygues and Milram were responsible for the chase.
Gutierrezâs Bid Falls ShortâŚ
With 28km to go, Gutierrez attacked. Bonnet was the first to crack. With 23km to go, the Spaniard led Casar and Tankink by 20â, Bonnet by 35â and the peloton was at 1â05â. Bonnet was caught 23km from the line, Casar and Tankink swallowed up just before the 20km to go banner when Gutierrez led by 45â. At 10km he was caught.
Chavanel Tries Again: But Freire Claims Victory!
Kreuziger (LIQ) led Kohl (GST) and Andy Schleck (CSC) over the final summit. Cavendish was dropped with about one kilometer to climb on the Col de LâOrne. Valverde and Evans were near the front but on the descent it was Sylvain Chavanel (COF) who insisted on trying his luck again. He never gained much more than a 100m advantage; he led from about 7km to go and was caught just before the 2km to go banner. The Milram and Columbia teams dominated the head of the peloton and despite attacks from an Euskaltel rider who led Valverde in second-wheel under the âFlamme Rougeâ a bunch sprint ensued.
Feillu was the first to really open up his sprint (with 500m to go) but he was swallowed up when Schumacher hit his turbo button. Zabel then tried his luck but he couldnât hold off the charge by the green jersey hit the front in the final 100m and Freire finally got the stage win he so desired.
Cadel Evans finished 28th in the stage and will keep the yellow jersey for the 15th stage.
Heâs the best young rider in the Tour de France after 14 stages but Vincenzo Nibali had greater ambitions before starting the race for the first time. Yellow may have eluded him thus far but heâs keen to keep the white jersey all the way to Paris.
âI was here with the ambition to take the yellow jersey but now that I have the white one, I absolutely want to hold onto it until the finish in Paris. I know I have good legs for the climbs and thatâs the sort of terrain that I prefer. This is the reason I believe that I can hold onto the lead in the youth classification through the mountains. I hope that one day my strength in the mountains will give me the yellow jersey at the Tour de France or the âmaglia rosaâ in the Giro dâItalia.â
The one second advantage Cadel Evans has had over Frank Schleck since stage 10 remains the same after four more days of racing. The general classification is expected to get a shake up at Prata Nevoso tomorrow and although there were no changes in stage 14, it was a difficult day with animated racing.
âOver the last climb I just wanted to be safe because I saw Bernhard Kohl having a go and I had to keep an eye on him because heâs still ranked fourth in the general classification. My team had to do a lot of work at the start of todayâs stage and Iâd just rather let them stay rested and be there tomorrow. Today was a good little test for me as well.
âIâm hoping Iâm a little more rested than my rivals but I donât think anyone is really too fresh at this point of the Tour. It was very fast today. Iâm not sure of the average speed but I expect it was the fastest so far this year and it wasnât done on favorable roads â it wasnât a fast surface â so I think a lot of people had a harder day than they expected.
âThere were some moves by Caisse dâEpargne at the end but Iâm beginning to understand the tactics of each team. You soon learn the way that your competitors race and I saw that Valverde was up there at the finish. Iâve been racing against him for a few years now and I was expecting him to have a go in the sprint actually. There were other things to take into consideration too but I covered all the dangerous moves when I had to and kept things under control.
âAs for tomorrow: Iâve done the climbs before and the one at the finish is quiet harsh. On paper it looks reasonably difficult but I think we may arrive in a larger group than what many are expecting; Iâd say thereâll be 20 or 30 riders at the finish, maybe a few more depending on how the race is played out. It depends on if someone tries to make a real selection.
âWhat can I expect from CSC? Lots of attacks: from the left and right, from one climb to the other.â
In green without a win after 13 stages, Oscar Freire expressed his frustration yesterday but a climb near the end of a long, hot and fast stage from Nimes to Digne-les-Bains eliminated the fastest man in the field and the Spaniard relished the chance to prove his sprinting prowess.
âToday was a different sprint. Everybody was tired and also there was no [Mark] Cavendish in the final so it was a very good chance to win a race. In the last kilometer I was in a good position but the speed wasnât all that quick but I didnât want to get surprised by somebody. We started the sprint just 250 meters before the finish and it was a little close but in the last 100 meters I believed I had it won. I did a good sprint.
âThe green jersey competition is so complicated. It would be strange to be challenging for it and not to win a stage. Yesterday I said how frustrated I was becoming but thereâs a sense of relief now. Okay, you donât have to win a stage to win the points category but it is better.
âToday I got a little bit of space to move and Iâm pleased that my legs could carry me to the line. The Tour is very long and the last week is very important when you start thinking about the green jersey so thereâs still a lot of work to do. Weâve had four or five sprints and Cavendish was always the strongest; there was nothing I could do against him and now, without him there, it was much better. The sprinters were very tired in the final and it was my chance today.â
Cadel Evans finished 28th in the sprint and will retain the overall lead after 14 stages of the 2008 Tour de France.
The top 10 after a very exciting finale in the 14th stage is:
1. Oscar Freire (ESP) RAB - 4h16’08" (46.102km/h)
2. Leonardo Duque (COL) COF
3. Erik Zabel (GER) MRM
4. Julian Dean (NZL) TSL
5. Steven De Jongh (NED) QST
6. Alessandro Ballan (ITA) LAM
7. Ruben Perez (ESP) EUS
8. Jerome Pineau (FRA) BTL
9. Matteo Tosatto (ITA) QT
10. Tor Hushovd (NOR) C.A)
Freire has given Rabobank its first stage win in the 2008 Tour. He celebrated in green by beating Duque and Zabel to the line in Digne-les-Bains.
Oscar Freire has finally picked up the stage win he wanted so much. Not bad at all for a guy who insists he wasn’t in the peak condition only yesterday.
Burghardt is leading Zabel in the last kilometer of the 14th stage. We’ll wait for the sprint and post the winner in a matter of moments.