Andy Schleck is the best young rider in the race, his brother Frank was the best rider in the 17th stage. It was a thrilling finale to a climbing stage that was dominated by a sprinter for the first two-thirds of the journey from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Le Grand Bornand‚Ä¶ and then the GC guys came out to play. Over the fourth and fifth climbs there were attacks from the defending Tour champion, Sastre, but he would later suffer for his efforts. Instead, the stars of the show were his former team-mates Frank and Andy Schleck. They put themselves in a winning position by following attacks by the yellow jersey and then setting a furious pace all the way to the finish where Frank beat the yellow jersey.
The Progress Report
Arguably the toughest stage of the 2009 Tour de France ‚Äď the 169.5km journey from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Le Grand Bornand began at 12.25pm. There were 161 riders at the sign on. Jens Voigt (SAX) had to abandon his 12th Tour de France because of a fall on the descent of the final climb in stage 16. On the menu were five mountain passes, four of them ranked category-one. The climbs were: Cormet de Roseland (cat-1, at 18km), Col des Saissies (cat-1, 56km), Cote de Ar√Ęches (cat-2, 111.5km), Col de Romme (cat-1, 140.5km) and the Col de la Colombi√®re (cat-1, 154.5km). The two sprints were in Praz-sur-Arly (75.5km) and Cluses (126km). It was a stage that the President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy opted to attend; he joined the race director Christian Prudhomme in the car for the day.
Gerdemann (MRM), who was the last winner of a stage to Le Grand Bornand (in 2007) tried a move in the first kilometer but the first successful attack came from Chavanel (QST) at 5km. He was joined by nine others - van den Broeck (SIL), Menchov (RAB), Zabriskie (GRM), Pellizotti (LIQ), Casar (FDJ), Uran (GCE), Perez Moreno (EUS), Pauriol (COF), Chavanel (QST) and Lequatre (AGR) at 8km. Cadel Evans had a slow start to the stage and was dropped momentarily on the first climb.
The leaders were joined by Arrieta (ALM) and Verdugo (EUS) at 10km. Bruseghin (LAM), Monfort (THR) and Rolland (BBO) counter attacked on the climb. Hushovd (CTT) and Voeckler (BBO) attacked the peloton in the last 300m of the climb. It was wet and windy at the top but the roads dried out on the way to Beaufort (38km). Dessel (ALM) was the first rider to quit the 17th stage.
Hushovd Into The Lead
On the first descent, Hushovd caught the front group and raced into the lead of the stage. With 10km to climb on the Col des Saissies the 20 were 1‚Äô45‚ÄĚ behind Hushovd and the peloton was at 5‚Äô55‚ÄĚ. Then Saxo Bank arrived at the front of the bunch. At the top, Hushovd led Pellizotti, Kern and Martinez by 45‚ÄĚ, Txurruka, Menchov and the other escapees by 55‚ÄĚ. The peloton was over the top 5‚Äô05‚ÄĚ behind the green jersey.
Hushovd collected the six points for first at Praz-sur-Arly and led the escapees by 1‚Äô30‚ÄĚ and the peloton by 5‚Äô30‚ÄĚ at the 75.5km mark.
Menchov and Txurruka crashed around 85km. The Spaniard was caught by the peloton at 92km and the Russian fell again just as he was about to rejoin the counter-attacking group that was 1‚Äô45‚ÄĚ behind Hushovd. At the top of the third climb, the counter-attack was at 1‚Äô10‚ÄĚ and the peloton (led exclusively by Astana) was at 3‚Äô10‚ÄĚ. Kenny van Hummel (SKS) crashed and had to abandon the race.
The chase group of 20 riders were 1‚Äô10‚ÄĚ behind at the second intermediate sprint. The peloton was at 3‚Äô10‚ÄĚ.
Real Race On The ‚ÄėRomme‚Äô
Barredo caught Hushovd with 38km to go and the counter-attackers were at 20‚ÄĚ; while the peloton was at 1‚Äô55‚ÄĚ as they began the Romme climb. Sastre attacked with 8km to climb but failed to gain much of a lead. A. Schleck was the next to attack (with 5km to climb) and he opened up a good lead but could not drop Contador. Eventually Frank Schleck jumped ahead of the elite group of about 11 riders, dropped Sastre and soon caught up with his brother. Kloden was also able to follow. Contador, Kloden, Schleck and Schleck caught the last of the escapees (Van Den Broeck) with 4.5km to climb. At the top the four stage leaders were 1‚Äô05‚ÄĚ ahead of Nibali, Wiggins, Vande Velde and Armstrong.
Frank Schleck Wins After Frantic Race Up Col de la Colombiere
Sastre punctured between the fourth and fifth climbs he would suffer big losses in the 17th stage (one year on from his victory at Alpe d‚ÄôHuez). The front quartet became three when Contador attacked the Schleck brothers but the only casualty was Kloden who was caught by Armstrong and Nibali just before the ‚Äėflamme rouge‚Äô. Armstrong attacked a group containing Wiggins, Nibali and Vande Velde; this caused losses for the Garmin team but he could not catch the leading trio who contested the sprint for stage honors. Contador followed the brothers to the line but did not come around Frank at the finish. It was the elder brother‚Äôs second stage win (after Alpe d‚ÄôHuez in 2006). Alberto finished second in the stage and retains the yellow jersey. Andy and Frank are now ranked third overall while Armstrong ‚Äď who finished fifth ‚Äď is now ranked fourth on GC.
He finished second in the stage and Alberto Contador now has a larger lead in the overall rankings. But the rider in second has changed: instead of his team-mate, Lance Armstrong, he‚Äôs got Andy and Frank Schleck looming near the yellow jersey‚Ä¶
‚ÄúMy plan was to do the same thing as in Verbier: attack and still have an advantage over my rivals. But the Schleck brothers were very good and I found myself at the front of the race along with them. My team had planned to attack again with Kl√∂den on the last climb but when I accelerated, he could not follow. That‚Äôs why I slowed down and tried to wait but he just failed to return.
‚ÄúThen the Schleck brothers asked me to collaborate with them to try and widen the gap but my team-mates were behind and I didn‚Äôt want them to lose too much time.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt contest the sprint [for the stage win] because I wanted to stay well protected behind them‚Ä¶ and I was already thinking of preserving myself for the time trial tomorrow.‚ÄĚ
He had a lead of 18 points in the race for the green jersey but Thor Hushovd decided to try and collect a few more‚Ä¶ that was one of the reasons for a long attack but the other was ‚Äúto have fun‚ÄĚ.
‚ÄúLike I‚Äôve been saying for the last few days, I feel really good and I‚Äôm comfortable on the climbs. And today everything just felt perfect. I attacked over the first climb, did a good descent and then had an amazing day in the front. I think this is the best day I‚Äôve ever had on the bike.
‚ÄúMaybe I was making a statement but at least I‚Äôve got more points in case something happens in the coming days and I win the jersey just 10 points, at least I can say that I built a sufficient buffer on this stage to Le Grand Bornand. That‚Äôs not the issue. That wasn‚Äôt the only reason to attack. I wanted to have fun up there, get some points along the way and be prepared for the Champs-Elys√©es. I did that and it was an amazing day for me.‚ÄĚ
There is a history of siblings riding the Tour de France but after the 17th stage, the Schleck brothers are ranked second and third overall. Frank took the stage win but Andy is 59 seconds ahead of his older brother in the general classification. They achieved this by working as a pair in a bout against Alberto Contador.
‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt have so many chances on this Tour but the ones that we have, we take. Yesterday after the stage, I was really down because of the crash of Jens (Voigt) but hopefully we could cheer him up a little with what we did in the stage today. Everything worked out as we planned it.
‚ÄúNow we have the time trial, so everybody will be on his own. Then we go up Mont Ventoux and it‚Äôs true that Contador is really strong‚Ä¶ but we saw today that we were able to isolate him and on the Ventoux we might see the same thing. We‚Äôll wait and see but a win there would be fantastic.
‚ÄúThere comes a time when we all get a little bit tired. It could be the same for Contador. I would never say that he‚Äôs insecure but perhaps he‚Äôs a little bit nervous; he has ridden now with two Schlecks around him and ‚Äď bang, bang! From the left and right we attacked him‚Ä¶ but it was also a good operation by him today.‚ÄĚ
The Saxo Bank team has a habit of putting a rider in the early escape and then getting him to drop behind if the GC guys need support. In stage 17, there was a change of plan and Frank Schleck was the main benefactor: the stage winner is now ranked third overall while is brother is one place ahead of him in the general classification.
‚ÄúI didn‚Äôt have a great day yesterday but it was okay. But last night I was talking to Andy and I said, ‚ÄėTomorrow it‚Äôs all on: balls to the wall!‚Äô We wanted to make the race happen and that‚Äôs what we did so it‚Äôs pretty satisfying. This morning at the team meeting we talked about how to handle the stage and we agreed, ‚ÄėRight, we‚Äôre not going to put anyone out there in an escape... we‚Äôll just take the responsibility, make the race hard and just try to tire out the other guys. That‚Äôs just what we did.
‚ÄúAndy and I showed character and we showed that we could stick to the plan. We attacked ‚Äď oh, I don‚Äôt know how many times‚Ä¶ but we had to attack as often as we could. In the end I went up to Andy and we finally were at the front of the race: the two ‚ÄėSchleckies‚Äô and the Astana guys.
‚ÄúAttacking on the final climbs and the pacing beforehand is what made it hard. It was a mix of both. We could have waited until the last climb but that would not have been enough; we could have only taken about 30 seconds‚Ä¶ and Andy and I needed more if we want to finish on the podium. We had to attack early.‚ÄĚ
There has been a reshuffle of the top order of the battle for the yellow jersey. The new top five is:
1. Alberto Contador
2. Andy Schleck - at 2’26"
3. Frank Schleck - at 3’25"
4. Lance Armstrong - at 3’55"
5. Andreas Kloden - at 4’44"
He’s won at Alpe d’Huez and now Frank Schleck has celebrated another stage victory in the Tour de France. The top six in the 17th stage is:
1. Frank Schleck (LUX) SAX - 169.5km in 4h53’54" (34.603km/h)
2. Alberto Contador (ESP) AST at same time
3. Andy Schleck (LUX) SAX at same time
4. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) LIQ at 2’18"
5. Lance Armstrong (USA) AST at 2’18"
6. Andreas Kloden (GER) AST at 2’27"
Armstrong and Nibali have caught Kloden just before the ’Flamme Rouge’... they are racing for fourth place in the stage but more important is the time differences for the "GC Guys...".
Frank Schleck has won his second stage of the Tour de France. He beat Contador to the line in Grand Bornand.
Of the three in the lead, Andy is the only one not to have previously won a stage of the Tour. Contador has won two and Frank one... they are now less than 1km from the finish...