Two riders who were part of an escape group that formed in the first hour earned the biggest rewards in stage seven. Brice Feillu of the Agritubel team attacked a group of fellow fugitives just over five kilometers from the top of the first ‚Äėhors category‚Äô climb of the 2009 Tour and held on to claim a stage victory in his debut in the race. Rinaldo Nocentini, on the other hand, became the first Italian since 2000 to wear the yellow jersey. He has a lead of six seconds on an inspired Alberto Contador who attacked an elite group in the final three kilometers and powered to the line 21 seconds faster than his team-mate Lance Armstrong.
The Progress Report
The longest stage of the 2009 Tour de France, a 224km journey from Barcelona to the lofty heights of Arcarlis in Andorra, began at 11.10am. There were 177 riders at the start. On the menu were five climbs, including the first true mountains of the 96th edition. Points for the polka-dot jersey were awarded at: the cat-4 cote de Montserrat (32km), cat-3 Port de Solsona (97km), the first cat-1 ascent in 2009 ‚Äď the col de Serra-Seca (127km), the Port del Comte (136.5km) and finally, the ‚Äėhors category‚Äô ascent to Arcalis at 2,240m high. Although this is a mountain stage there were still three intermediate sprints. They were in Solsona (105km), Andorra-la-Velle (196km) and La Cortinada (207.5km).
Attacks Begin Early
At the 8km mark Martinez (EUS), Riblon (ALM) and Gutierrez (GCE) attacked. A group of 20 chased after them at 12km. Included in the counter-attack were: Gomez Marchante, Popovych, Larsson, Voigt, Txurruka, Arrieta, Dupont, Nocentini, Moncoutie, Devolder, Moreau, Calzati, Brice Feillu, Knees and Velits and Geschke. The counter-attack was caught at 21km but Gutierrez‚Äôs trio continued alone. Six men ‚Äď Nocentini (ALM), Kuschynski (LIQ), Kern (COF), Pineau (QSI), B. Feillu (AGR) and Frohlinger (MRM) instigated a chase at 24km. They caught the leading three at 34km. When the peloton arrived at the site of the first climb (32km) it was 5‚Äô45‚ÄĚ behind. The average speed for the first hour was 45.1km/h. The bunch allowed the advantage to increase: 7‚Äô20‚ÄĚ at 40km; 12‚Äô10‚ÄĚ at 50km; 14‚Äô20‚ÄĚ at 55km. This was the maximum gain. Astana then came to the front of the bunch. The peloton arrived at the foot of the Port de Serra-Seca 11‚Äô35‚ÄĚ behind Nocentini‚Äôs group. The Italian was the best placed on GC of the nine escapees before the start of the stage (ranked 32nd, 3‚Äô13‚ÄĚ behind Cancellara).
Col de Serra-Seca & Port del Comte
There were no attacks in the lead group on the third climb. Riblon led the escapees over the 1,160m pass. At the top, some in the bunch were forced to stop because the crowds had spilled onto the road and made it difficult for the riders to find a way through. The peloton was 12‚Äô00‚ÄĚ behind at the top. All nine Astana riders were on the front of the main bunch between the third and fourth climbs. Riblon attacked for points again at the top and became the virtual leader of the climbing classification. The peloton reached the top 11‚Äô40‚ÄĚ behind the nine escapees. Joly (FDJ) quit the Tour at the 160km mark.
Feillu Takes A Fine Stage Win
On the approach to the final climb, there was a crash around 26km to go involving Leipheimer, Cavendish, Delage and a few others. They all remounted their bikes and caught the peloton before the final climb. At the 25km to go mark, the bunch was 8‚Äô30‚ÄĚ behind. Kuschynski was the first rider dropped from the lead group (as soon as they reached the final ascent). The peloton was led by Astana all the way to the foot of the Arcalis ascent and was 6‚Äô00‚ÄĚ behind with 10km to go. Cancellara stayed with the Armstrong group until 7km to go.
Feillu attacked the lead group with 5.5km to go. He would hold on to his lead all the way to the finish and give Agritubel its second stage win in the Tour de France. He is the debut Tour for the brother of last year‚Äôs yellow jersey-for-a-day, Roman.
Nocentini The First Italian Leader Since 2000
The Astana team controlled the group of favorites for the whole final climb. They dropped Cancellara around the 7km to climb mark. The first to attack this elite group was Evans (SIL) who launched his bid with 3km from the line. He was caught and then Van Den Broeck (SIL) attacked. This prompted a big reaction from Contador who charged ahead of all other and went past the Belgian like he was standing still. The champion of the 2007 race finished ninth in the stage but fell six seconds shy of taking the yellow jersey. This honor goes to Nocentini who finished the stage in fourth place.
As one of two riders in the nine-man move that escaped in the first hour, Christophe Riblon took points in the climbing classificatioin, helped Rinaldo Nocentini take the lead and also earned the prize as the Most Aggressive Rider of stage seven.
‚ÄúThe ‚Äėcombative‚Äô classification prize is a great reward for being part of this break. Of course, I would have liked to win the stage but eventually things didn‚Äôt work out that way. Since Nocentini was in the position to take the yellow jersey, I put in the maximum effort for the team‚Äôs cause. And it was very satisfying to do so because we now have an advantage of six seconds in the general classification. I don‚Äôt know how long it will be possible to keep the yellow jersey but we will do everything possible. The race is now in mountainous terrain which suits the strengths of this team better. I‚Äôm confident we can hold the little for a little while because we have a good group here.‚ÄĚ
In his first attempt at the Tour de France, Brice Feillu attacked early in the stage at the end of the opening week and was rewarded for his aggression with a victory on a mountain top. As well as the stage win at Arcalis, he has another prize: the polka-dot jersey‚Ä¶
‚ÄúI do not realize what happened. I am a first year pro and I‚Äôve been given the chance to participate in the Tour de France. Now I‚Äôve won a big mountain stage. What more could I ask for? When I saw my brother with tears in his eyes, I began to realize what was happening. Emotion overwhelmed me then.
‚ÄúI like this kind of stage. I had already made a move like this on the Ballon d‚ÄôAlsace, but that was in a race on an entirely different level to this of course. But I am confortable on a road where you have to constantly fight to maintain your speed just like it was at the end here.
‚ÄúAgritubel will stop sponsoring this team so I have to find a new place to go and I think that maybe this win will help me.
‚ÄúWhen it comes to the polka-dot jersey‚Ä¶ well, I‚Äôve always wanted to wear it but I don‚Äôt yet know how we‚Äôre going to try and defend it.‚ÄĚ
If there were doubts about who the leader at Astana is, then you need only watch the final three kilometers of the seventh stage: Alberto Contador is the most sublime climber of his generation and once he decided it was time to fly, no one could respond to his acceleration. He is second overall but the questions of who is the captain should stop now‚Ä¶
‚ÄúIt was our plan not to take the yellow jersey so early in the Tour de France. It‚Äôs hard to keep it and there a lot stages still to come. I was just asserting my position against my main rivals. Today‚Äôs stage was a very tactical one and my team did a great job to set it up just right at the finish. They worked really hard to keep the pace high and ensure we had a good position when it matters. That removes a lot of stress and allows us to asses the situation from the front.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm really tired of the question about leadership at Astana. Let‚Äôs just watch the Tour and see what unfolds and hopefully it will be clear by the end of the race.
‚ÄúI know the road to Arcalis. This is my terrain as well, when I‚Äôm in the mountains it‚Äôs like I‚Äôm at home.‚ÄĚ
He has been the runner-up in Paris-Nice and been a protagonist in other big races before but now Rinaldo Nocentini leads the Tour de France. The AG2R La Mondiale rider is the first Italian to wear the yellow jersey since Alberto Elli in 2000 and he believes his team has the strength to defend it for a couple of days at least.
‚ÄúThis was an important chance. It‚Äôs the thing that every cyclist dreams about and I‚Äôm very pleased to have been able to take the lead. Really it the intention was to go on the attack and try and win a stage and if I was to miss out on that, then this is the best consolation. For me it‚Äôs been day by day and now it is what it is: I‚Äôm the leader of the Tour de France.
‚ÄúYou have to believe in it. It was a long stage and we attacked early. When we started the move I wasn‚Äôt thinking of the yellow jersey at all. On the last climb I began to think that it might be possible. Four kilometers before the finish we had a good lead and then Alberto [Contador] made a big attack and by a matter of seconds I managed to hold him off.
‚ÄúFor tomorrow, I think my condition is good. There is still a big climb in the next stage and my team is good so we‚Äôll try and defend the lead for as long as possible.‚ÄĚ
After 1,040km of racing the new top five of the general classification is:
1. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) ALM
2. Alberto Contador (ESP) AST at 6"
3. Lance Armstrong (USA) AST at 8"
4. Levi Leipheimer (USA) AST at 39"
5. Bradley Wiggins (GBR) GRM at 46"
The top 10 in stage seven is:
1. Brice Feillu (FRA) AGR
2. Christophe Kern (FRA) COF - at 5"
3. Johannes Frohlinger (GER) MRM - at 25"
4. Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) ALM - at 26"
5. Egoi Martinez (ESP) EUS - at 45"
6. Christophe Riblon (FRA) ALM - at 1’05"
7. Jerome Pineau (FRA) QSI - at 2’32"
8. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (ESP) GCE - at 3’14"
9. Alberto Contador (ESP) AST - at 3’26"
10. Cadel Evans (AUS) SIL - at 3’47"
Nocentini has become the first Italian to take the lead in the Tour de France since 2000. He leads the race by six seconds from Alberto Contador.
Contador was 3’25" behind Feillu in the stage. Nocentini was at 25"... we wait for the calculations to be made but one of these riders will take the lead in the Tour.
Nocentini finished fourth in the stage and could yet take the yellow jersey. Now Contador his making his bid. Contador was 19" behind the yellow jersey; Nocentini was 3’13" behind at the start of the stage. Contador is yet to reach the finish but the yellow jersey will go to either a Spaniard or an Italian today.