The first stage in the Pyrenees did provide a showdown with the overall favourites as expected but there was only a little reshuffle of the top 10 of the general classification after the stage from Revel to Ax-3 Domaines. The story of the day was that an opportunist transformed himself into a winner. In 2008, Christophe Riblon’s best result was a silver medal in the points race of the track world championships, two years later he’s claimed a stage win in the world’s biggest road race. He escaped in the first 20km and held off the charge of the GC Brigade on the two huge mountains of stage 14.Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador marked each other so much that they allowed other GC riders to race ahead and gain time but the two at the top of the overall rankings are so far ahead that they can afford to play such games. Contador did attack his rival but when he couldn’t drop him, he showed that he’s prepared to wait for another time. That may yet be the final time trial for the two leaders are clearly the strongest climbers in the race… capable of matching each other when the races is in the mountains.
The Progress Report
The 184.5km 14th stage of the 2010 Tour de France began at 12.07pm. There were 175 riders at the sign on with no overnight abandons. The first stage in the Pyrenees had two intermediate sprints – in Mirepoix (at 51.5km) and Campagne-sur-Aude (102km) but the real features of the stage were the two climbs in the final 50km. The first is rated ‘Hors Category’ Port de Pailheres’ – a 1.5km long ascent with the top a the 155.5km mark, and the second the final climb to Ax-3 Domaines (category-one, 1.5km from the finish).
RadioShack Police Early Escapes
There was an attack in the opening kilometer by Knees (MRM). He was joined by 11 other riders including Voigt (SAX), Di Gregorio (FDJ) and Champion (BTL) but at 9km six of the escapees retreated to the peloton leaving only Thomas (SKY), Zabriskie (GRM), Brutt (KAT), Moinard (COF) and Gutierrez (GCE) up front. RadioShack led the chase and Gutierrez lamented and quit his attack. With a lead of 25”, five counter-attackers set off in pursuit. At the 24km mark Vaugrenard (FDJ), Riblon (ALM), Van de Walle (QST), Rolland (BTL) and Auge (COF) caught the four leaders. At 32km, they were 6’45” ahead of the peloton. The average speed for the first hour was 44.6km/h. At the sprint line in Mirepoix, the peloton was 9’00” behind the nine escapees.
Port de Pailheres
At the base of the first climb the peloton was still led by Astana, with Sky and Saxo Bank also near the head of the bunch that was 4’05” behind the nine escapees. Valls Ferri (FOT) was the first to attack the peloton on this climb. Up front Vaugrenard and Auge were dropped early. Riblon, Van de Walle and Moinard led the stage.
Sastre and Gustov attacked the peloton. Riblon was on his own at the front of the stage with 2km to climb. At the top Riblon led Moinard by 37”; Van de Walle by 1’30”; Valls Ferri, Sastre and Kiryienka by 1’55”. Charteau attacked the peloton in the final kilometer of the climb and was 2’20” behind Riblon at the top. Cunego was at 2’40” and Moreau and Garate at 2’45”. The peloton crested the top at 3’10” and Evans was at 3’55”.
Riblon Races On To Fine Stage Win
On the descent of the Pailheres a group of five formed in pursuit of Riblon – Sastre, Cunego, Valls Ferri, Kiryienka and Van de Walle. Moinard never gave up his chase of the stage leader and, with 10km to go he was just 10” behind but he would never get near Riblon again as the AG2R rider realized this was his chance to win a stage of the Tour. He attacked the final climb and had the benefit of the rivalry between Schleck and Contador who marked each other so much that they allowed rivals like S. Sanchez, Menchov, Gesink and Rodriguez to race ahead of them.
The Astana team led the yellow jersey’s peloton on the early slopes of the climb and this caused riders like Kreuziger, Basso and Leipheimer to lose contact with an elite group. Five kilometers from the finish, Contador was the only Astana rider left and he would attack twice before the finish – both times Schleck and Menchov were able to respond… and, seeing that he couldn’t gain time on the yellow jersey he allowed others to race ahead but both Contador and Schleck paced themselves into a group with GC rivals before the finish. By then, however, Riblon was over the top and raced onward to his first victory in the Tour de France. He had only seven pro victories before today, including a stage of the Rud du Sud in Luchon (site of tomorrow’s stage finish) but now he’s a stage winner of the Tour de France.
Andy Schleck finished fourth in a group that was 1’08” behind Riblon and, although he lost 14” to Menchov and Sanchez, he maintained his lead over Contador and will wear the yellow jersey in stage 15.
A year ago he helped a team-mate race into the yellow jersey on the first mountain stage of the Tour de France, today Christophe Riblon found a few answers to questions he was asking himself in Andorra after stage seven 12 months ago.
“I was really disappointed with my start of the Tour, because I wanted to do something overall, and it did not work. Especially the last two days were very difficult, and I was almost depressed. Then [AG2R La Mondiale’s directeurs sportif] Vincent Lavenu and Julien Jurdi talk to me at length, explaining that I’m usually in good shape by the third week of a Tour, so I had to take my chances and go in a breakaway. They gave me morale, but last night I would still not bet a euro on me.
“In the final I did not want to say ,‘I won’. I constantly repeated to myself, ‘I’m going to win’, but I did not want to be sure, not until the last kilometer. I remembered last year when I wondered how Brice Feillu had done what he did to win the stage to Andorra Arcalis. We were behind, and I do not understand how we failed to reel him in – how could he have stayed ahead when there were riders chasing him down. Now I realize why he could do it. When you’re alone in front, with a few kilometers to the finish, the support of the public helps to carry you and it encourage you, it transforms you and gives you strength. I gave everything and I felt I could not lose.”
It was a curious display from the riders in first and second overall in stage 14. Clearly, they’re the strongest climbers in the race but they allowed others to finish ahead of them while they marked each other closely. Andy Schleck believes that Alberto Contador wouldn’t be happy with how the race went… but it’s only a guess.
“I have a plan and I wanted to follow it. If Alberto have been really bad, then I would have attacked but he wasn’t bad today – he was actually pretty good, but I was good also. When he did attack, like I said on the climb today, I cannot pass him so I had to stay on his wheel. It was a little bit of mind games between him and me but made enough mistakes for him to drop me – I passed him and pulled because I wanted to make it good… but I learned out of my mistakes.
“Tomorrow will be totally different but now it was clear that I could not have passed him because he would have attacked and gained seconds on me.
“I am relaxed, of course, but it’s not easy. It’s stressful and I’ve got a lot of pressure on my shoulders. I won’t break down. I can handle it – pressure motivates me – but it’s not easy.
“Today was a hard day and Alberto can handle it but the situation he’s in right now is not super. It’s not bad either but again today he could not drop me and that gives me a lot of confidence. I was never on the point of being dropped. I felt really good today.
“I don’t know how he feels right now. This is just a guess, but don’t think he’d be happy with how the stage went today. He lost time [on Menchov and Sanchez] and he could not gain time on me and, as we saw, his team rode on the front all day. His plan was to take time today. Even Vinokourov announced this yesterday. It didn’t work.
“[Alberto] didn’t gain a single second me and I think maybe I was a little better than him today.”
With his fourth place in the stage, Schleck has maintained his lead in the general classification. There are no changes to the top five.
Christophe Riblon has won his first stage of the Tour de France a year after helping Rinaldo Nocentini take the yellow jersey. The top 10 in stage 14 is: 1. Christophe Riblon (FRA) ALM - 184.5km in 4h52’43" (37.8km/h) 2. Menchov (RUS) RAB at 54" 3. Sanchez (ESP) EUS at 54" 4. Schleck (LUX) SAX at 1’08" 5. Rodriguez (ESP) KAT at 1’08" 6. Gesink (NED) RAB at 1’08" 7. Contador (ESP) AST at 1’08" 8. Van Den Broeck (BEL) OLO at 1’08" 9. Cunego (ITA) LAM at 1’49" 10. Sastre (ESP) CTT at 1’49".
Menchov and Sanchez have finished 50" behind the stage winner and gained about 15" on Contador and Schleck who finished the stage in the same group as Gesink and Rodriguez.
Riblon has claimed a stunning victory at Ax 3 Domaines. He has thrown his salute and now we watch the clock tick to see what the damage is in the general classification...
Schleck and Contador are so distracted by each other that all their main rivals are gaining time on the riders who are in first and second in the general classifcation.