Franceâ€™s Pierrick Fedrigo stunned pre-race favourites Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong to win one of the most impressive victories of his career on the Col de lâ€™Ospedale.The former French champion and Tour de France stage winner surged on the last climb of the 177-kms first stage of the Criterium International from Porto-Vecchio to cross the line on his own ahead of Portugalâ€™s Tiago Machaddo (RadioShack) and Spainâ€™s Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel). Of all the big names at the start, Cadel Evans was the one who most limited the damage by finishing fourth, 15 seconds back.Seven times Tour champion Lance Armstrong lost touch with five kilometres to go and finished nearly five minutes adrift, but it was expected that the American would not be in his best shape. The sensation however was the failure of Alberto Contador, the arch-favourite at the start, who also bonked two kilometres from the line and lost 1:13. Sundayâ€™s second and third acts promise to be all the more exciting as the race is now completely undecided.
Pineau, the good son
The start was given at 11:30 to 128 riders. Van der Velde (Garmin) did not start. After a first attempt by Yann Huguet (Skil Shimano) and Christophe Moreau (Caisse dâ€™Epargne), the long break of the day took shape at km 10, when another Skil Shimano rider, Albert Timmer, joined forces with Cedric Pineau (Roubaix Lille Metropole) to move. The lead gradually increased to reach 10 minutes at kilometre 35. Oddly enough, Pineauâ€™s move took place on the birthday of his father Franck, who is FDJeux team director on the race. The first sprint of the day (km 45) seemed to indicate that Contador was on a great day as he sprinted to take third sport and grab a second off his rivals. The chase led by his Astana team-mates and by Euskaltel bit hard into the escapees lead.
As the race tackled the Alta Rocca region, the break was finally reined in (km 110) and Franceâ€™s David Moncoutie gave it a try at the foot of the climb the Col de Mela. He was rapidly brought back but three other French riders gave it a try: French champion Dimitri Champion (AG2R), Pierre Rolland (Bbox) and Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil). Their lead remained stable at 40 seconds until the penultimate climb to the Col de Bacinu (km 134.5), which they reached with a 50 seconds lead. Rolland was dropped in the descent. As Astana took over from Euskaltel in the chase, Championâ€™s and Feilluâ€™s lead gradually decreased and they were caught at kilometre 160, at the foot of the final climb. Contador grabbed another second bonus by finishing third once again in the final sprint (km 158). Several attacks took place in the climb, notably by Franceâ€™s Blel Kadri and Uzbek Sergey Lagutin, who led the bunch by some 25 seconds,
Armstrong and Contador dropped.
With five kilometres to go, seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was dropped from the main pack as Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) imposed a higher tempo, working for team leader Contador. But against all odds, the Tour de France champion was unable to react when Machado surged, quickly followed by Fedrigo in the final two kilometres.
While Fedrigo bore the final blow under the red flame, Contador was drifting away and reached the line more than a minute off the pace, while Armtrong was almost five minutes adrift.
Sundayâ€™s final time-trial over 7.7 kms should be decisive with Sanchez only 21 seconds behind Fedrigo overall while Evans and Michael Rogers (Columbia) are 25 seconds adrift.
The more it went in this stage the better I felt. And since I had good legs in the finale, I decided to give it a go. I had checked the last climb yesterday but I didn’t go all the way because of the bad weather. I attacked precisely at the sport where I gave up yesterday. I was very surprised to see that I would not be caught. Itâ€™s a real surprise.
My day was not very spectacular but itâ€™s a good day for the team as we had some guys up front.
Contador finishes 1:12 behind Fedrigo.
Pierrick Fedrigo (BBOx) won the 177-kms fist stage. Tiago Machado (RadioShack) was second, 10 seconds behind, and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) was third, a further two seconds adrift.
Contador is 30 seconds behind Fedrigo.
Fedrigo attaks under the red flame.
Fedrigo and Machado lead the Evans group by 17 seconds.