- The race 2011
- All about the race
There were a dozen more favored riders in an elite group that raced together up the final ascent of the 14th stage but none showed the panache that Jelle Vanendert did at Plateau de Beille. The Belgian gave his Omega Pharma-Lotto team its third stage win of the 2011 Tour de France by hanging with the yellow jersey’s posse until the 6.5km to go mark when he grew tired by the regular volley of surges by the likes of Andy Schleck and even the race leader Thomas Voeckler. Up ahead was just one rider who had escaped the peloton the first two kilometers of the 168.5km stage from St-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille, Sandy Casar. Within a minute of launching off the front of the Contador group, Vanendert was in the lead of the stage and that’s where he stayed through to the end. A late challenge by the winner at Luz Ardiden, Samuel Sanchez, netted the 2008 Olympic road race champion another second place in a climbing stage of the Tour and the order from two days ago was reversed: Vanendert first, Sanchez second... while Voeckler’s impressive seventh place in the same time as the other GC favorites ensured that he will keep the yellow jersey for yet another day.
The Progress Report
The temperature at the start of the final stage of the 2011 Tour in the Pyrenees was 20 degrees Celsius. The official start of the race from Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille was at 12.08. There were 171 riders at the sign on with no non-starters. There six climbs on the menu: the cat-2 Portet d’Aspet (26.5km), col de la Core (cat-1 at 62.5km), col de Latrape (cat-2 at 94km), col d’Agnes (cat-1 at 109km), Port de Lers (cat-3 at 118km) and the ‘hors categorie’ ascent to Plateau de Beille at the finish. The intermediate sprint was in Orgibet (36.5km). The first attack was from Chavanel. By 2.5km there were 20 men in a lead group: Gerdemann, Voigt, Izagirre, Mollema, Luis Leon Sanchez, Millar, Di Gregorio, Koren, Bouet, Riblon, Zandio, Chavanel, Casar, Delage, Vichot, Quinziato. El Fares, Charteau, Silin and Marcato. At 5km, seven counter-attackers surged ahead of the Europcar-led peloton, this group was composed of: Perez Moreno, Iglinskiy, Costa, Gutierrez, Ventoso, Pineau and Malori. At the 16km mark, the 20 led the counter-attack by 205” and the peloton by 4’00”. At the top of the first climb, the peloton was 4’45” behind. Gutierrez, Ventoso and Iglinksiy were dropped from the counter-attack. The average speed for the first hour was 36.1km/h. At the 43km mark, Pineau, Malori, Costa and Perez Moreno caught the lead group. The peloton was behind by 5’30”.
Col de la Core & Col de la Trappe
On the slopes of the second climb, there were just 24 men ahead of the peloton. Delage only dashed ahead in the final 300 meters to make sure that FDJ claimed maximum points. The peloton was led by Europcar all the way up the col de la Core. Cavendish was the first to be dropped (with about 1km to climb). The average speed for the second hour was 31.5km/h. Casar, El Fares and Millar descended faster than all other escapees and arrived at the feedzone (76.5km) with an advantage of 40” on the other escapees. The peloton was 7’00” behind. Casar was the best-placed on GC of the escape, starting the day ranked 21st (8’47” behind Voeckler).
As the leading trio began the ascent of the col de la Trappe, Casar became the virtual leader thanks to an advantage of 8’45” on the peloton. The former escape companions were at 1’35”. Leopard-Trek put five riders on the front of the peloton 2km from the top of the third climb. At that mark (92km), the peloton was 9’20” behind the leading trio. This was the maximum gain of the escape. Casar took first place on the Trappe climb, 40” ahead of Riblon and 1’35” ahead of Chavanel. The peloton was 7’45” behind at the top.
Escape Splinters On Col d’Agnes
The escape group split to pieces on the fourth climb. Nine formed in the lead with 5km to go to the top of the col d’Agnes: Voigt, Izagirre, Di Gregorio, Riblon, Zandio, Casar, El Fares, Silin and Charteau. With 5km to go, the peloton was 6’55” behind the nine stage leaders, with remnants of the first escape littered between the two groups. With 3km to climb, Gerdemann and Chavanel rejoined the lead group. Chavanel and Charteau sprinted for first place points on the col d’Agnes with the French champion winning that race. The peloton was 5’15” behind at the top of the fourth climb.
Izagirre attacked the lead group early on the descent and held on to the lead right to the foot of the final climb but 10 of his former escape companions chased him down and Casar launched an attack right at the foot of the Plateau de Beille ascent. The peloton arrived at the base of the last climb 2’02” behind Casar. With 12km to climb the FDJ rider had a lead on the yellow jersey’s group of 1’40”. Voeckler group was led by Leopard-Trek riders until the 12.5km to climb mark when Vande Velde and Danielson moved forward. By then there were about 25 men in the group.
Vanendert Exposes His Talent!
While the pace of the Leopard team – and then Garmin – thinned out the yellow jersey’s peloton to just a selection of GC specialists, a few impressive climbers and a race leader who refuses to give in, Casar ploughed on ahead with his move early on the slopes of the final ascent. Voeckler had Rolland for support in a group that also contained Contador, Andy and Frank Schleck, Evans, Peraud, Sanchez, Basso, Uran, Danielson and the surprise package of 2011, the Belgian Tour debutant Jelle Vanendert. After a volley of attacks by Andy – four in total, but not which netted any true gain on his rivals – we saw Vanendert surge ahead. No one responded to his attack 6.5km to go, and the Belgian wasted no time in reeling in Casar and racing on to what would become the biggest win of his career. He was ranked 30th overall at the start of the day, 12’54” behind Voeckler so it’s unlikely that the winner of the Plateau de Beille stage of the 2011 Tour will also win the title... even Marco Pantani was only 4’41” down on the yellow jersey before his win here in 1998. Still, he held off a late charge by Sanchez who was the only rider from the GC group to be allowed to gain any time by Evans, Contador, and the Schleck pair.
Vanendert has taken over the lead in the climbing classification and will wear the polka-dot jersey in stage 15.
Voeckler was the other surprise of the stage but we now realize that there is a lot more to this Frenchman than just an opportunistic soul who chances on a few days in yellow. He was able to respond to every acceleration and finish seventh in the stage, losing no time to his main rivals. He will wear the yellow jersey in stage 15.
The team of Thomas Voeckler Europcar has won the big stage in the Pyrenees through the work of Pierre Rolland, who accompanied his leader all the way to the finish at Plateau de Beille while keeping the white jersey in the back of his mind. Anthony Charteau, present in the escape of the start of the race, also hung to be the third man from the team at the mountain-top arrival. Europcar was 1’14” ahead of Leopard-Trek in the stage but the team from Luxembourg logically took over the the overall lead from Garmin-Cervélo. Still, the team of the Schleck brothers has only a six second lead over Europcar in the general classification with AG2R-La Mondiale next (at 2’32”) then Garmin-Cervélo (at 3’43”), while there’s now a significant gap to fifth place which is held by Katusha (at 8’31”).
He finished almost 27 minutes behind the stage winner and at Plateau de Beille Mark Cavendish admits to being “on his knees” but with a flat finish in stage 15, he can smell the finish line again...
“It’s been incredibly tough to just survive these mountains. I thought I was climbing well. I lost so much weight before this Tour de France but I just can’t seem to get the power out. I can’t get settled on the climb and it’s frustrating but I’ve got an incredible group of guys around me. If they’re not riding on the front, if they’re not leading me out, they could be having an easy day in the ‘grupetto’ but they’re dropping behind and towing me back when I’m dropped. I’m incredibly lucky to have them around.
“It’s not hard for me to switch gears when I go from the mountains to the sprint stage because I can smell the finish line. And so that’s okay.
“It is funny though because we were watching Twitter this morning and Cadel was saying, ‘Now the Tour starts...’ and I was like, ‘I am absolutely on my knees...!’ and he’s saying that. It’s humbling actually.
“I believe I’m the best finisher of the job but I’m always in the best position to do that. You see that when I’m not in the best position, I don’t always win but my team does an incredible job to put me in this position and it’s hard for me to lose really.”
To borrow a phrase often used in cricket, Thomas Voeckler was meant to be the ‘night watchman’ of the yellow jersey... but the Frenchman is riding the race of his life and matching the pace of the general classification favorites – even on the mountain-top finishes in the Pyrenees.
“I would lie if I said that I expected to keep the jersey but I was more optimistic than I was two days before the Luz Ardiden stage. On the last climb today, I was really surprise that I was with all the favorites at the end and it was very hard for me but I understand that it was the same for them. I tried to give my all and it was okay.
“We’re not dreamers but we just try to do our job. It’s a great surprise for us to manage and control the race and for me to be with the favorites at the end but we have to keep quiet and do out job.
“There was so much wind before the last climb that I said to myself, ‘So, stay on the wheels of the favorites and try to follow then.’ Finally I saw that they weren’t so much better than me. I kept on trying and each time they attacked I tried to go. As they were all together the pace was a little lower and I was able to finish with them. It’s a good surprise for me to finish not so far from the favorites.
“It’s hard for me to believe that I’m in yellow after the Pyrenees with almost the same gap that I had before the Pyrenees. I won’t understand it if it continues like this for the last week because it’s unbelievable for me. It’s like a dream.”
The first Australian on the Parisian podium for the general classification the Tour de France is still poised to take over the yellow jersey. He doesn’t like to listen to the opinions of “cycling experts”, rather he just wants to win the race this time around. Consistency is the key...
“It’s under control. Everyone says that no one attacks and so on... but they also need to consider the wind and the closeness of the racing. The Schleck brothers were there and they’ve got the yellow jersey to gain and then they look at me to pull for them. I joke with them, ‘I’m not here to tow you to Paris.’
“So many cycling experts said we wasted a lot of energy of the team to put ourselves in with a good position coming in to the mountains and they see a little bit of conservative racing but these stages are hard!
“They’ve been saying that whoever wins here today will be the winner of the Tour. Maybe I need to break away to win... I don’t know. As long as it’s on consistency and being there every day, it’s okay for me…
“The Schlecks have a team for the mountains and now they’re putting it on the line. It’s not easy in the wind.
“Voeckler is really good. Everyone has been saying, ‘He’s going to lose yellow...’ but I’m like, ‘No way!’ I think he’s going to go a few more days at least. He hangs in there every day and I imagine that he’s incredibly motivated here in France and riding in yellow on Bastille Day for a French team. It all helps.”
He raced only 10 days in 2010 and suffered to knee injuries that kept him off the bike for eight months but Jelle Vanendert is rapidly making a name for himself in his debut Tour. The Belgian runner-up at Luz Ardiden is a winner at Plateau de Beille.
“It’s like a dream come true. After last year, when I didn’t race for seven or eight months because of two knee injuries, I think my career has now started. It’s difficult to consider the polka-dot jersey because they changed the points system and so I think it’s going to be difficult with Samuel Sanchez because he’s going to go for the climbing classification and I don’t know if I’m strong enough to always be in front of him in the mountain stages.
“Winning at Plateau de Beille... it’s not bad, huh? Two mountain top finishes: one time second, one time first... I’ve tried two times and luckily now I have two things: a prize jersey and a stage win, so I’m very glad.
“On the last climb I saw that Andy was watching Contador a little bit and Contador was watching Frank.
“I thought that Contador could just answer the attacks of the Schlecks; Evans and Basso are also there for the general classification and it was only me who was not going for the classification so I thought that I could go and try to get an advantage.
“It’s lovely to see the images of the finish. It’s really very nice.
“The new points system makes defending the jersey difficult but we’ll see...
“When you look at the battle of the favorites, we see that they do not want to put all their cards on the table for now, because the Alps are yet to come. And when there is a team with two riders in great shape, it’s really an advantage – that’s how it for the Schleck brothers right now. So I tell myself that if Jurgen Van de Walle was still there, with the shape he had, and the way I’m going, we could have done great things.”
Vanendert started the stage ranked 30th overall, almost 13 minutes behind Voeckler. He will move up the rankings a little but it’s unlikely that the winner at Plateau de Beille will be the champion of the Tour this time (but stranger things have happened)... the top 10 in stage 14 is: 1. Jelle Vanendert (BEL) OLO 2. Samuel Sanchez (ESP) EUS at 21" 3. Andy Schleck (LUX) LEO at 46" 4. Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC at 48" 5. Rigoberto Uran (COL) SKY at 48" 6. Alberto Contador (ESP) SBS at 48" 7. Thomas Voeckler (FRA) EUC at 48" 8. Frank Schleck (LUX) LEO at 48" 9. Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) ALM at 48" 10. Pierre Rolland (FRA) EUC at 48"
The winner at Luz Ardiden is the runner-up today. Sanchez is 21" behind the Belgian stage winner.
Jelle Vanendert is throwing salutes and starting to celebrate third win for the Omega Pharma-Lotto team in the 2011 Tour de France. It’s the Belgian’s first stage win in his first Tour de France.
Vanendert is going to win the stage and inherit the lead of the climbing classification. There are double points for the final climb today and he’s already got 34 points.
Vanendert appears as though he’s going to improve on his second place at Luz Ardiden. The Belgian is 52" ahead of the yellow jersey. Only Sanchez appears capable of spoiling the Omega party in the Pyrenees. Vanendert has less than 1km to go and his lead over Sanchez is 23".