Mark CAVENDISHÂ©Â A.S.O.
The Tour de France was almost in the shadows of Mont Ventoux but that didnât mean that there was any rest for the peloton on the eve of the anticipated showdown on the penultimate stage. The first hour was fast, the second hour even faster and the third faster still (48.7km/h). The stage featured an escape with 19 riders including Cadel Evans and Kim Kirchen but this was never given any room to breathe: Rabobank and Milram insisted on chasing them down and they finally got their wish before the final climb. There was a last-minute attempt to hold off the bunch by the world champion Alessandro Ballan and Laurent Lefevre but they could do nothing once the sprinters caught whiff of a victory. In the end, it was the sprint maestro Mark Cavendish who won, becoming the first rider since Lance Armstrong in 2004 to win five stages in one Tour de France. The Texan was the best of the GC riders, finished 12th â four seconds ahead of the next group.
The Progress Report
The itinerary for the 178km âtransitionalâ stage from Bourgoin âJallieu to Aubenas â included three categorized ascents, the cat-4 cote de Culin (6.5km), cat-4 cote de la forĂȘt de Chambaran (40.5km) and the cat-2 col de lâEscrinet (162km). There were 158 riders at the sign on and the official start was at 12.54pm. The intermediate sprints were in Le Rival (33km) and Saint-Julien-en-Saint-Alban (141km).
Evans Into An Escape
There were early attacks but it wasnât until the 9km mark that any real advantage was gained. By the 15km mark, 20 men were in the lead of the stage. They included seven former stage winners. The group was composed of Evans (SIL), Popovych (AST), Millar (GRM), Perez Moreno (EUS), Kirchen (THR), Arrieta, Riblon and Roche (ALM), Bennati (LIQ), Arroyo, Gutierrez and Sanchez (GCE), Duque (COF), Spilak (LAM), Chavanel and Barredo (QST), Trussov and Vandenbergh (KAT), Lequatre (AGR) and Hivert (SKS). At 27km they were 1â20â ahead but Milram, Bbox and Rabobank led the chase until the end of the first hour. The average speed was 44.7km/h. Then Astana moved to the front of the bunch and by 47km the advantage of the 20 escapees was 1â50â. Rabobank had five riders at the front of the bunch for 50km and the maximum gain of 2â50â at the 85km mark. The average for the second hour was 48.6km/h.
Duque Breaks Up Lead Group
At the 110km mark, Duque attacked the lead group. He was chased down by Millar, Popovych, Arrieta and Gutierrez and, despite a frantic pursuit by the others, the quintet forged ahead and led by 50â at the 120km mark (the peloton was at 1â50â). The 14 remnants of the escape group were caught by the Rabobank and Milram-led peloton at the 128km mark when the five were ahead by 1â25â.
The five conceded their advantage and, just after the second intermediate sprint (at 141km) were caught but Duque continued on alone. At the 142km mark he was 20â ahead of the peloton that was still led by Rabobank. The Colombian was eventually reeled in at the 146km mark. The average speed for the third hour was 48.7km/h.
Peloton Splits On Final Climb
A number of riders were dropped on the final ascent including the Pellizotti in his polka-dot jersey but all the GC leaders were in the front group. With 25.5km to go, Lefevre (BBO) attacked but never gained much of a lead. With 21.5km to go, Ballan (LAM) surged ahead of the peloton and under the 20km to go sign he and Lefevre led the peloton by 18â. The two late escapees worked up a maximum gain of just 20â but were caught with 1,200m to go.
Cavendish Claims A Fifth Stage Victory
The Milram team controlled the pursuit of Ballan and Lefevre but with three kilometers to go the Columbia team came out of the shadows of the blue team and took responsibility for the capture. Hincapie peeled off just after the âflamme rougeâ and then Martin took over the lead-out duties for Cavendish. The Brit was forced to start his sprint relatively early but he had the speed, power and cunning to hold off all challengers and win a fifth stage in this yearâs Tour!
Lance Armstrong was the only rider in the top 10 overall to finish with the same time as Cavendish (12th) so he increased his advantage over the likes of Wiggins and Frank Schleck. Contador finished 24th and will wear the yellow jersey in stage 20.
The man in the green jersey was one rider who believed that an escape would succeed in the transitional stage to Aubenas but Thor Hushovd forecast was wrong. Still, he remained focused on the task at hand and followed Cavendish everywhereâŠ including the passage over the finish line. Second today, but heâs still first in the points classification.
âIt was a very fast today, which was ultimately what made it difficult. I thought that the escape would go all the way through to the finish and I can therefore did not expected to contest a sprint. In fact, the Columbia team provided a lot of work for Mark Cavendish in the final, and I concentrated to stay in his wheel at the end. He launched his sprint before me because I did not have the freshness to start earlier. Then I did everything I could to try to win, but I have not succeeded.
âIt is time to get to Paris. I know that for the green jersey, with a 25 point lead, Iâm still comfortable but I will have to avoid all risks and also not to make silly mistakes. Obviously the ideal scenario would be to win the stage to the Champs-ElysĂ©es and to finish the Tour with the green jersey. I know I’m capable of beating Cavendish on the Champs-ElysĂ©es, because I am in very good shape. "
The leader of the general classification after 19 stages has a big advantage over second place but Alberto Contador is not celebrating anything just yet. Mont Ventoux looms and he needs to defend but he holds the upper hand as his rivals must attack.
âI know that the Schleck brothers are going to attack tomorrow. Itâs a mythical climb and I like it but I donât know if I can attack at the end of the stage because we will have the wind blowing us and it wonât be easy to get to the finish alone as itâs always windy in the last six kilometers.
âI think that Frank is going to attack because this is his last chance to show that heâs strong enough to get to the podium â like he did the other day over the ColombiĂšre â and I think itâs going to be some kind of a war between us but itâs not going to be easy to change the places on the podium.
âIâm sure that Iâm going to suffer because itâs a really long stage and itâs going to be complicated. I will only be able to enjoy this race once I get to Paris.â
Andy Schleck lost four seconds of his overall advantage over Lance Armstrong when the front pack split in the final sprint of stage 19. So ended what the rider in the white jersey called âthe hardest day of the Tourâ.
âToday was the hardest day of the Tour for me so far this year. Many people will say that today because everybody already has tomorrowâs stage on the mind and yesterday was a hard time trial. So itâs been a tough week but tomorrow the legs will talk. Itâs no secret: we will go into the climb in a good position and weâll be attentive right from the bottom. I have personally never won a stage of the Tour so it might be my chance tomorrow. If Frank is with meâŠ well, I helped him last time so this time it might be up to him to help me win. But of course many want to win on the Ventoux and it wonât be easy to drop Alberto or beat him on the climb. Weâll be there and weâll try.
âI had wanted to save some energy today but I managed to save nothing. I had to give it everything just to stay in the wheels of the sprinters in the end. It was an incredibly hard stage. I donât know what the average was but I donât remember looking down and seeing the speed under 50. Thereâs one good thing about this: the day passes quickly but itâs also hard for everybody.
âOn the Ventoux, you have to do the race before Chalet Reynard and thatâs basically six kilometers from the top and thatâs when the selection has to be made because after that itâs hard to make a difference. It wonât take long for the race to explode on the final climb.â
With a long category-two climb peaking 16 kilometers before the finish a lot of riders were spat out the back of the pack on the approach to Aubenas. But Mark Cavedish had decided well in advance that it was a stage that he could winâŠ and, once again, the Brit finished off the work of his Columbia team-mates.
âItâs beautiful. We were just determined. Today was a really, really hard day and weâve seen five or six guys from my team just empty their tank and Iâm sure theyâre going to suffer for it tomorrow and for them to put themselves in the box before the Ventoux, to enable me to win, shows how special they are. How they worked today was brilliant; over the climb and into the finish was just perfect.
âI spoke to Brian [Holm] last night and we discussed how the last rise was a second-category one; Iâm usually okay with those. If I didnât think I could get over it, I would have cut my effort and come in with the grupetto. In the first week I definitely wouldnât have had a problem â it would have been a full-on sprint â but in the third week, with tired legs, I was sure they were doing to try and make it hard for us. I said to the guys, âWe need to give it one last chanceâŠâ and I asked them to stay with me. It doesnât necessarily give me shelter but when youâve got guys around you, itâs so good for morale. You know youâve got someone there to push you on. If you feel like giving up because itâs too hard on the climbâŠ when there are guys with you, itâll let them down. If theyâre there, it gives me an extra urge to dig deeper. Itâs not an easy task to stay up there in the top 10 with Menchov riding on the front on the climb but with the guys with me, I was able to do it.
âIt was just a case of suffering over the top. I even tried to go on the descentâŠ Sanchez went and I tried to go after him but no one was going to let me do that.
âIn the last kilometer Tony [Martin] gave it every last drop. He was dying and I had to go early â with 260 or 270 meters to go â which normally, on a flat sprint, is fine but on an uphill itâs a long way. I had to finish it off to pay them back.â
Of the riders in the top 10 overall, only Armstrong (AST) has finished with the same time as Cavendish. After the first 12 riders crossed the line, there was a split and Wiggins, Andy Schleck and others have lost four seconds to the Texan. Contador finished 24th, four seconds behind Armstrong’s group.
The 19th stage was raced at a furious pace. It was a sprint all the way to Aubenas with an average speed in excess of 46km/h. And in the end, the sprint specialists got to fight it out for stage honors. The top five is:
1. Mark Cavendish (GBR) THR - 178km in 3h50’35" (46.317km/h)
2. Thor Hushovd (NOR) CTT
3. Gerald Ciolek (GER) MRM
4. Greg van Avermaet (BEL) SIL
5. Oscar Freire (ESP) RAB
Cavendish has claimed his fifth stage this year. He was forced to sprint from a long way out but he held off all the other sprint specialists to take a fine victory on the eve of the Ventoux stage.
There are two riders from Columbia at the front of the peloton with less than 1km to go. Hushovd is right on the wheel of Cavendish who has Martin ahead of him...
Ballan has surged again just as the peloton has caught Lefevre. But with one turn to go it looks like we could see a fifth victory for Cavendish... at least if the Columbia team has its way.