Once again the Tour de France has seen a sprint of the GC contenders. While the yellow jersey was picking himself up from the tarmac after crashing into the rear wheel of Kim Kirchen in the final sprint, Riccardo Ricco was lighting up the front of the stage with a blistering sprint ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Cadel Evans. The Italian reached the line first to claim his first stage win, the Spaniard finished second in the stage and the Australian shifted up to second overall. But Columbia can again celebrate a coup with their Luxembourg recruit become the fourth rider in 2008 to wear the yellow jersey.
The Progress Report
The sixth stage of the 2008 Tour de France, a 195.5km journey from Aigurande to Super Besse, began at 12.25pm. There were 176 riders in the race, with one of the crash victims of stage five, Aurelien Passeron (SDV) the overnight retiree. The itinerary included four categorized climbs two category-four ascents (the Cote de LâArmelle at 70km and the Cote de Crocq at 89km) and the first category-two rises in the 95th edition (the Col de la Croix-Morand at 158km and the climb to the finish). Although it was widely regarded as a mountain stage there were still three intermediate sprints in Chatelus-Malvaleix (23.5km), Cressat (44.5km) and La Bourboule (144km).
French Fugitives A Feature Again TodayâŚ
At the six kilometer Chavanel (COF) attacked and opened a gap on the peloton. This prompted a reaction from Vaugrenard (FDJ) and Bichot (AGR) who chased down the rider voted most aggressive in stage two and caught him at the 14km mark. Others attempted to bridge the gap â including Pate (TSL) and Augustyn (BAR) â but their efforts didnât last long. At the 26km mark, a truce of sorts was declared as the yellow jersey opted to answer natureâs call and by the 28km mark, the bunchâs deficit was 2â10â. This grew to 4â00â by the end of the first hour when the leading trio contested the second sprint after racing at an average of 44.5km/h. At the 50km mark, the three were ahead by 5â00â.
Gerolsteiner led the peloton for the early part of the stage and kept the escapees within a reasonable distance. The average speed for the 2nd hour was 37.6km/h. Chavanel led over the two small climbs and, by the cote de Crocq the peloton was 4â15â behind. Silence-Lotto moved up and road on the coat-tails of the yellow jerseyâs squad. At 95km, the peloton was 5â15â behind, this was the maximum gain before Gerolsteiner really picked up the pace. By the feedzone (111km), the bunchâs deficit was just 3â20â.
Col de la Croix-Morand
At the base of the first category-two climb of the 2008 Tour, the leading trio was 2â00â ahead of the peloton that was led by Gerolsteiner. The first attack came from Pauriol (C.A) but he was reeled in before the summit. There was a brief flurry with other riders â including Astarloza (EUS), De La Fuente (SDV). Vaugrenard was dropped and Chavanel did most of the work in the lead and crested the Croix-Morand climb in first. Voeckler (BTL) attacked the peloton in the final meters and claimed third place, 56â behind. The Caisse dâEpargne team which led the yellow jerseyâs peloton all the way up the ascent. With 20km to go, Chavanel quit his effort and waited for the peloton. Bichot insisted and had an advantage of 25â.
Setting Up The Finale
Botcharov attacked the peloton with 18km to go. He tried to catch Bichot but the Agritubel rider refused to wait and the Russian was caught after four kilometers. The Frenchman finally surrendered with 13km to go. What happened in the lead-up to the final ascent mattered little for it was only when Piepoli (SDV) and Vande Velde (TSL) attacked that the real action began. These two got as far as 18â ahead of the peloton that was controlled by Caisse dâEpargne all the way to the final kilometer. It prompted the lead group to split until only about 20 riders remained before the steepest part of the climb. Thatâs when Valverde, Ricco and Evans found themselves at the front of the pack. As they began to sprint, Schumacher suffered a fall 300m from the line after crashing into Kirchenâs rear wheel. No one else fell. Ricco bolted into the lead with 300m to go and led Valverde and Evans over the line. Kirchen finished the stage in fifth place and inherited the yellow jersey from the German. Sandwiched in between the former race leader and the former green jersey leader at the top of the general classification is Cadel Evans.
Once again Sylvain Chavanel animated the early part of a stage. The most aggressive rider of the second day this year, earned the most votes in that classification again in stage six but he also put himself in the polka-dot jersey.
âThe initial aim was to escape in the hope of fetching a stage victory. Then, en route, we quickly realized that the peloton would not let us get away with more than five minutes. At the start of the stage I was a two minutes from the overall lead and I could have been a threat for the general classification. I am beginning to be known in the peloton, they know what my skills are. So, of course, I didnât have a lot of scope.
âThis prompted a change in strategy and I decided to concentrate on the polka-dot jersey, which is another objective on this Tour. It was the only thing to do. I could lead over the first three summits, which allowed me to take the lead but it remains a decisive stage. Yet to come are the major cols of the Tour; thatâs where you win the climbing classification and thatâs where I will have to defend.â
The manager of the Columbia team has been at the podium protocol every day of this yearâs Tour. Now that Kim Kirchen is in the yellow jersey, Bob Stapleton has to figure out what tactical approach to take for the rest of the race.
âI think we have to look at our plans carefully right now. We had hoped for this but you cannot plan on it happening. You do everything you can to win and in this case we got a break and Kim was there to capitalize on it. The yellow jersey is too big a prize to ignore. We have to do what we can to hold onto it. The thing is, itâs very early in the race.
âWe brought a very mixed team. Weâve got the youngest line-up here at the Tour and itâs going to be a lot of work for them but theyâre super motivated and they work really well together. Iâm just really proud of the team work Iâve seen.
âItâs shown stage-by-stage that they really perform well together and are prepared to sacrifice themselves for each other.
âI think weâre going to have to be very careful with what goes on now. Weâve still got some chances for the young guys to do somethings. Weâll have to see how the race shapes up. Itâd be a tall order to keep that jersey but weâll see where the competition is at and see whatâs possible.â
At the base of the final climb, Leonardo Piepoli attacked with Christian Vande Velde. It was a move that that prompted Caisse dâEpargne to spend a lot of energy and, in turn, acted as a catalyst for Riccardo Ricco to race ahead to claim his first stage victory in the Tour de France.
âThis stage is one that I targeted. Clearly it is one that suits me and he was able to finish off thanks to the beautiful work done by Leonardo Piepoli. Also the team of Valverde put in a lot of effort and I was keen to take advantage of that. Itâs great! Iâm really pleased to be able to deliver a victory at the Tour for my team.
âNow one of my objectives is to help Piepoli also win a stage because he should receive equal credit as me for what happened here. I just want to take it day by day and not make any predictions for whatâs going to happen in the rest of the race. Now I can relax a little as a win helps take some pressure off.
âWith 300 meters to go I saw Valverde easing up and insist that someone else come through for a turn. That was the right moment to attack and so, off I wentâŚ as hard as I could.
âTo come to the Tour and win a stage was my main goal. Now that that has been achieved Iâm going to start thinking about a second one.â
Confessing that the profile of the sixth stage was made for him, Kim Kirchen had faith that he would be able to take over the lead of the Tour de France. An incident with the rider in the yellow jersey, Stefan Schumacher, hindered his sprint but the Columbia team rider has a golden reward for his fifth place in the stage to Super Besse.
âThe whole day I believed it was possible to take the yellow jersey. It was actually âMyâ finish; it suited me so well. I was feeling really, really good and I had tried everything. Now Iâm happy Iâve got it.
âIn the sprint I had to brake because it was all closed down the right side. In my sprint to the finish, there was a little gap open up between me and the first few guys and I couldnât close it. I had some good speed and a reasonable position. Iâm a little bit sorry that I couldnât win the stage but I have two jerseys right now and thatâs enough.
âI actually didnât know that Schumacher had fallen. I was just aware of what was happening to me. The whole week Iâve been so close to the yellow jersey and I think itâs a good thing to have it now.
âEvery day has been pretty hard. It was the same again today. Weâll see what happens tomorrow; we start with a climb and I hope thereâll be a breakaway again and we can control the race but in the Tour thereâs never any time to rest and itâs going to be hard again.â
Kim Kirchen is the new leader of the Tour de France. He is six seconds ahead of Cadel Evans and 16" ahead of the former race leader, Stefan Schumacher.
Riccardo Ricco has won his first stage of the Tour de France. The top 10 in the 195.5km stage to Super Besse is:
1. Riccardo Ricco (ITA) SDV
2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) GCE at 1"
3. Cadel Evans (AUS) SIL at 1"
4. Frank Schleck (LUX) CSC at 4"
5. Kim Kirchen (LUX) COL at 4"
6. Roman Kreuziger (CZE) LIQ at 7"
7. Moises Duenas Nevado (ESP) BAR at 7"
8. Carlos Sastre (ESP) CSC at 7"
9. Denis Menchov (RUS) RAB at 7"
10. Leonardo Piepoli (ITA) SDV at 7"
The television pictures reveal that Schumacher did in fact crash in the final kilometer. We wait to see who will wear the yellow jersey for stage seven.
Schumacher was held up just as Ricco hit the gas to go on a win the stage. It looked like Kirchen pulled his foot and this baulked the rider in the yellow jersey.
Ricco has outsprinted Valverde to win his first stage of the Tour de France.