The CSC team has always had the strength of numbers and while Carlos Sastre has had a relatively quiet Tour de France in 2008, he made his one attack count. The Spaniard surged ahead at the base of the final climb, rode his way into a commanding lead and ended up winning by over two minutes and taking the yellow jersey. His team-mate and former race leader was content to watch as a seventh rider raced into the overall lead but every other favorite was forced to pace himself to the summit minimizing the time lost to an inspired rider who claimed his second stage victory in the Tour de France and inherited the overall lead.
The Progress Report
The 210.5km 17th stage from Embrun to the celebrated summit of LâAlpe dâHuez began at 11.40am. There were 151 riders in the race. The itinerary included four climbs: one category-3 (the cote de Saint-Marguerite, at 31km), followed by three âHors Categorieâ challenges â the 2,645m Col du Galibier (featuring the âSouvenir Henri Desgrangeâ) at 79km, the 2,067m Col de la Croix de Fer at 156km and the final rise to the ski station of LâAlpe dâHuez at an altitude of 1,850m. The intermediate sprints were in Monetiers-les-Bains (at 57.5km) and Bourg dâOisans, just before the last climb (195km).
Four Establish Escape
The first attack of the stage stuck: Di Gregorio (FDJ), Velits (MRM) and Perez (EUS) jumped ahead at 3km and built a lead of 15â before being chased down by Schumacher (GST) at 15km. The peloton allowed the advantage to grow but CSC was diligent at the head of the bunch that trailed by 2â00â at 28km and 4â10â at 42km. The average for the first hour was 44.6km/h. At the base of the Galibier, the pelotonâs deficit was 5â45â. Schumacher claimed the âSouvenir Henri Desgrangeâ. The only attack in the peloton came from Txurruka, Augustyn, Wegmann, Voeckler and Kohl in the closing kilometer of the pass and the polka-dot jersey led this group to the line 4â45â behind Schumacher. The peloton was at 5â00â at the summit. Perez overshot a corner early on the descent but quickly remounted and set the tempo for the escapees on the descent.
Col de la Croix de Fer
Di Gregorio was dropped from the lead group on the descent of the col du Telegraph (around the 110km mark). At the base of the third climb, the Frenchman was 2â40â behind his former escape companions. The peloton went through the feedzone (119km) with a deficit of 6â50â and at the foot of the Col de la Croix de Fer it was at 7â20â â this was the maximum gain of the escapees. OâGrady led the bunch virtually from the moment the escapees established an advantage. Cancellara took over the pacesetting duties at the base of the third climb. Perez dropped from the lead group 20km from the top. Cancellara reduced the advantage of the escapees to 4â20â with 15km to climb. By then there were just 40 in the yellow jerseyâs peloton: Nibali, Popovych, Hincapie, and many others failed to match the pace of the TT world champion. Velits dropped Schumacher 6km from the summit.
Schumacher was caught 4.7km from the top of the Iron Cross climb.
The yellow jerseyâs group thinned down to 18 riders before the top including: Evans, Aerts, Sastre, Arvesen, Schleck, Schleck, Valverde, Arroyo, Siutsou, Froome, Fofonov, Efimkin, Goubert, Valjavec, Kohl, Menchov, Weening, Casar, Moncoutie and Vande Velde. At the top, Velits led by 1â10â. Soon after the summit, Pineau caught and attacked the yellow jerseyâs peloton and caught the stage leader 30km from the finish. The peloton was at 1â50â.
Sastre Dominant At LâAlpe dâHuez
The advantage of Pineau and Velits was just 1â10â at the start of the final climb. It was as though their escape never happened once the climb began. CSC had six rider in the lead of the peloton at the start of the final ascent. Cancellara peeled off and it was Game on for Carlos Sastre who bolted ahead, past the escapees and never to be seen again until he threw a victory salute and kissed his CSC jersey as he crossed the line, 2â03â ahead of his nearest rival. Menchov tried to follow the Spaniard but was dropped 12km from the line. Then an elite selection that contained: Frank and Andy Schleck, Evans, Kohl, Vande Velde, Valverde, Goubert, Efimkin, Valjavec and Vande Velde formed. Each of these riders would attack at one stage or another except for Evans who took control of the chase with 4km to go. He led the pursuit of Sastre and focused on minimizing his loss to the rider who began the stage in fourth, 49â behind his team-mate and ended it in the yellow jersey, 1â24â ahead of Frank Schleck.
During the hubbub of the post-race interviews, it was suggested to Andy Schleck that heâs a future winner of the Tour de France. That may be the case but the leader of the youth classification isnât prepared to talk up his chances while heâs busy working on another job.
âI felt really good but Iâm here to learn and itâs been a good Tour so far and I showed also some weakness which some others didnât and thatâs why Iâm so far down in the general classification now. But Iâm optimistic and Iâm really happy to finish third today here, on Alpe dâHuez. I mean, I think I showed something and nobody else could have followed Carlos today. He was incredibly strong and also really confident when he had to be. When he left us, nobody could really do anything.
âIâm not listening when people say Iâm a future winner of the Tour de France. Iâll stay with my feet on the ground. What everybody expects from me and what they say about meâŚ well, thatâs just talk but Iâm the one who has to do the work and Iâd like to come back here one day and try again. I know that it was a lot of work to do to be here and do what Iâve done this year.
âI will come back one year and try to reach the podium of the Tour. I think itâs possible; why not? But Iâm not going to say that Iâm going to win it one day.â
He lost the yellow jersey by following a team plan but Frank Schleck is content. Heâs aware that the job isnât completely finished for CSC-Saxo Bank but the team continues to lead the race even if he has dropped down the rankings to second overall.
âWe had planned that Carlos would attack at the beginning of the climb and that I should attack afterwards but he got away and he took it all the way to the line and deserves everything that heâs earned. Iâm not at all disappointed. Iâm happy that heâs taken the yellow jersey; thatâs the only way that we can win the Tour.
âI didnât get any orders on what to do. We are professionals and we are friends so I didnât need to be told how to ride. Things went exactly according to plan and it happened right from the start of the crucial phase. We were prepared to back up an attack from Carlos with one from me, then one from Andy until we made the other leaders tired.
âWeâve seen a beautiful stage today from CSC and Iâm proud of our boys.
âI donât want to talk about the time gaps we need over Cadel Evans; next thing Iâll be asked how many seconds I need to stay on the podiumâŚ come on, we had to play our tactics today and weâll consider what needs to be done next. One step at a time. For Cadel we hoped to try just a series of small attacks and see if he would show any weaknesses or if he would blow at one point. It would have been different. But he never blew so we had to play it this way.â
During the lead-up to the Tour de France, the CSC-Saxo Bank team insisted that it had one captain in a line-up of champions. Carlos Sastre was to be The Protected Rider and while success has come their way before in the 95th edition of the race, the victory by the team captain at the heralded summit of LâAlpe dâHuez provides enormous satisfaction for the winner and all else involved in a great combined effort.
âWe saw a great stage and a team work perfectly together. Without the support of Frank and Andy, this moment would not have been possible. I am happy for many things. To have riders close to me like the colleagues I have is very special; men like Fabian, Stuey, Nicki, Kurt, Vladdy, Jens Voigt and the Schleck brothers is, I think, something very special. For sure, itâs a nice moment for me and a time to enjoy for the whole team and this jersey and the white one worn by Andy are for the team. All of us are really happy today.
âI donât know about my gains and how it is for the time trial on Saturday. I want to enjoy the moment now and celebrate with my team-mates because they did a fantastic job. The best thing we can do is enjoy the yellow jersey, the white jersey and the stage victory because we have been working really hard for this.
âI was suffering a lot, man. That climb was hard! They say that when youâre suffering itâs hard to enjoy the moment but when you are gaining time on your rivals, thereâs a lot of satisfaction that comes from that. It helps you push as much as you can and try to go as fast as you can.
âIâm satisfied because the team has given me everything. Big riders like Fabian have sacrificed everything for us to afford our dream. The media has to talk about something and Iâm happy that Frank took the pressure off me before. I just hope that everyone appreciates what the CSC-Saxo Bank team has been able to do.
âThe victory celebration maybe cost me one second. This moment is something that happens once in your lifetime if youâre very, very lucky and I wanted to enjoy it at the time.â
After 3,001.5km of racing the top five of the general classification is:
1. Carlos Sastre (ESP) CSC
2. Frank Schleck (LUX) CSC - at 1’24"
3. Bernhard Kohl (AUT) GST - at 1’33"
4. Cadel Evans (AUS) SIL - at 1’34"
5. Denis Menchov (RUS) RAB - at 2’39"
The top 10 in the 17th stage is:
1. Carlos Sastre (ESP) CSC - 210.5km in 6h’07’58" (34.323km/h)
2. Samuel Sanchez (ESP) EUS - at 2’03"
3. Andy Schleck (LUX) CSC at 2’03"
4. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) GCE - at 2’13"
5. Frank Schleck (LUX) CSC - at 2’13"
6. Vladimir Efimkin (RUS) ALM - at 2’15"
7. Cadel Evans (AUS) SIL - at 2’15"
8. Denis Menchov (RUS) RAB - at 2’15"
9. Christian Vande Velde (USA) GAR - at 2’15"
10. Bernhard Kohl (AUT) GST - at 2’15"
The yellow jersey will go to Carlos Sastre after the 17th stage of the 2008 Tour de France. Frank Schleck finished about 2’15" behind his team-mate. He will surrender the lead of the stage to the Spanish CSC team leader.
Sanchez has been caught by Andy Schleck in the final kilometer of the stage. These two are going to battle it out for second place.
Carlos Sastre has won the 17th stage. He attacked in the first kilometer of the Alpe d’Huez climb. This is his second stage victory in the Tour de France (after his win at Ax-3 Domane in 2003). He will be the new leader of the Tour de France.