Cadel Evans lost 4:13 on stage 8 of the Tour de France and languished in 23rd position ahead of stage 9 to Bagnères-de-Bigorre but a dogged ride during Movistar’s all-out offensive followed by a defensive stance on the final climb of Hourquette d’Ancizan saw the Australian finish alongside the main overall race contenders.
The 2011 Tour winner now sits 16th overall, 4:36 down. As he warmed down in the shade by the BMC bus Evans spoke about what he felt had been a bizarre stage after Garmin and then Movistar took the fight to Sky.
The British team crumbled on the first two climbs, leaving Froome isolated for much of the stage, with the race leader forced to cover a number of moves.
Evans, with his confidence partially restored now heads into the rest day happier, and admitted that "he will keep his hopes alive and quitting is not an option."
Spaniard 2nd overall but fails to land knock-out blow to Froome
Alejandro Valverde and Movistar sparked some major life back into the battle for the overall classification of the Tour de France on Sunday after launching an all-out attack on the first of five Pyrenean climbs. But the Spanish veteran admitted that they had failed to deliver the coup de grace in a spectacular day's racing where Chris Froome was isolated from his Sky teammates for nearly all of the stage.
Valverde's teammates Ruben Plaza and Jonathan Castroviejo were amongst the first who began the mass attack, on the Col de Portet-d'Aspet. And at one point, after the next climb, the Col de Mente, Valverde moved ahead with those two teammates and Froome and looked to be close to breaking away ahead of the front group as well.
The Froome-Valverde move eventually eased back and re-fused with the first group of chasers, but with Nairo Quintana and Rui Costa both present in the chasing group, Movistar were still in a position to call the shots. Which they duly did, as Quintana launched one little dig after another on the final climb and Richie Porte disappeared completely from the front end of the overall classification. "We dismembered Sky," Ruben Plaza said later. "It was a question of either them blowing apart or us blowing apart, and it ended up being them."
"It's a pity we could finish [Froome] off, but I'm happy about what we did," Valverde, now second overall, said afterwards. "I'm very happy to be second, we pulled the Sky team apart. Froome is very strong, but we've managed to do some damage to the team.
"It was a very, very hard day," the 2009 Vuelta winner, who remains at 1:25 on Froome, said. "We wanted to give the race a little more tension and Sky didn't have their best day.
"But we've got rid of Porte, which was one big rival, although it would have been even better to win the stage and that didn't happen. Froome, in any case, was never weak at any point."
Other benefits for Movistar are that Quintana has now moved up to seventh, whilst remaining leader of the Best Young Rider competition, whilst Costa is now tenth. Movistar has also reinforced its leadership of the teams classification. Whether Valverde can remain in second overall, though, now hinges on his getting through Wednesday's 33 kilometre time trial. If he loses as much time to Froome as he did on a similar distance in the Criterium du Dauphiné, where he lost 2:37, the ball may well be back in the British rider's court.
Tejay van Garderen (BMC) had another disappointing day in the Pyrenees at the Tour de France but vowed to continue in the hope of rescuing a positive result from the race.
Van Garderen came into the Tour with high ambitions but his bid for a second white jersey and competitive result in the overall classification crumbled on the first mountain stage to Aix 3 Domaines. Stage 9 to Bagnères-De-Luchon saw the American trail home even further adrift, although a brief attempt to escape into a break gave the rider and his team hope that he could still rescue something from the race.
"It was rough. I tried going into a breakaway but it didn't work so I just tried to survive to the finish," van Garderen told Cyclingnews after he wheeled to a standstill on stage 9.
"Right now I'm just looking forward to the rest day. Obviously right now this Tour isn't going our way but we're going to keep trying to ride aggressively and then salvage what we can from the Tour."
Crashes in the opening first week have been contributing factors but van Garderen is still unsure as to how and why his form as deserted him at the Tour. A win in the Tour of California in May brought home a debut stage race title and appeared to an indication that a Tour offensive as successful as the one of 2012 could be possible.
"I'm not sure [what's wrong]. I've been talking to my coach and trying to pinpoint it. I might have an answer for you after the race," he told Cyclingnews.
"I came into the race feeling fit and strong and read to go. These last couple of days obviously it's not been the race but hopefully I can bounce back and make something happen."
Better news for BMC was the sight of Cadel Evans holding Chris Froome and the Movistar led-group over the major climbs. The Australian still sits down in 16th place in GC but moved up from an overnight starting point of 23rd.
Still, team manager Jim Ochowicz was still unsure as to why van Garderen had been off the pace in the Pyrenees.
"We think it could be a little bit of fatigue from the two crashes he had but I don't know. Everyone reacts differently to injuries. His looks small but he's got about eight different places where he's got things going on and that takes its toll on the riders in the weather when it's this hot. That's the only explanation that we have right now."
At over 35 minutes down in the race for yellow van Garderen's only hand will be to race for a stage win, although he will surely have to help Evans too. With Monday's rest day one thing Ochowicz won't consider is the American leaving the race.
"That's not in my mind and I don't think it's in his," he stated. "Any medical decisions that are made are made by the team doctor, not by me or the rider, generally speaking. I don't Tejay is in that state where he's damaging himself for future races this year by staying in the race, at this point. It's about recovery and we have some flatter stages to come.
"We changed our strategy last night and we discussed with the whole group where we're going to go from here. The GC is still something we're going to try and get to although we don't think we can get to the top."
The Tour's most combative rider on Stage 3, Clarke shot off the front of the Chris Froome and Movistar-led group on Sunday before fighting his way past the lead trio of Bart De Clerq (Lotto Belisol), Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) on the road in a big to chase down valuable KOM points.
Orica GreenEdge sports director said that it was very much the plan to have last year's KOM winner at the Vuelta a Espana follow the day's moves.
"We could afford to be aggressive today because the next climbing stage isn't until next Saturday," he explained. "We gave the option to Michael Albasini, Simon Gerrans and Simon Clarke to go on the attack. Albasini was in one of the first early moves but was caught.
"Simon didn't have a great start today. He felt a bit rough in the beginning. He went too deep at the start of the stage, but he really came good a bit later. He rode very, very aggressively. I would say he was one of the fastest guys on the first three climbs. He jumped from one group to another group before getting off the front by himself for a while."
With five points to his name after his road on Stage 3, Clarke added 10 more to his tally as first man over the top of the fourth climb of the day, the Cat. 1 Col de Val Louron-Azet. Dropping back to the peloton for the fifth and final climb, La Hourquette d'Ancizan, the 26-year-old Australian had to be content with his efforts, while Rolland had surged past classification leader Chris Froome with his raid. Clarke is now seventh in the KOM classification behind the Frenchman, Froome, Richie Porte (Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
White remained ambivalent over whether Clarke would make a concerted attack in the battle for the polka dots.
"We'll see if Simon has other opportunities later on in the Tour to go after mountain points, but I suspect it will be hard for him to go down the road without Rolland," he explained. "Hard to say for sure. We'll have to play this one by ear."
Omega Pharma-QuickStep directeur sportif gives his verdict
What is cool?
According to Omega Pharma-QuickStep directeur sportif, Brian Holm in relation to cycling at least, a rider can be judged as being cool by the way he carries himself both on and off a bike. With his impressive quiff, and self-described "German U-Boat captain beard" the Dane muses over his top-five coolest riders to Cyclingnews in this video.
Holm's scope goes way back to the 1950's and someone who also had an impressive pompadour hair style, Jacques Anquetil, right through to the modern era and 'Le Dandy' David Millar. As for the rider who closes out the top-five, we won't give it away but Holm warns it will be controversial.
Watch Brian Holm's top-five coolest riders of all time below.
Eagle of Toledo, rated Tour's greatest-ever climber, visits race
Fifty-four years after he won the Tour de France, Sunday at Bagneres-de-Bigorre Spanish all-time climbing great Federico Bahamontes paid a visit to the race where he took Spain's first-ever victory in 1959 and won the King of the Mountains prize no less than six times.
A few days after France's top sprinter André Darrigade was at the race, on the Pyrenees it was Bahamontes turn to be paid homage. Fans will be pleased to hear that Baha', recently voted best-ever climber of the Tour by a L'Equipe panel and internet vote is still looking as fit as a fiddle at 85 despite being up since 4.30 to fly to Toulouse and the Tour and full of jokes, humour and energy.
He is due to play a big part in this afternoon's victory ceremonies. And ‘the Eagle of Toledo' had, as usual, strong personal opinions about the Tour to give to Cyclingnews as he wolfed down a couple of cakes and a coffee at the finish.
"The race isn't won for Sky yet," Bahamontes said - before looking at the TV screen, where events confirmed that it was indeed being a tumultuous stage for the British team. "Why do you think Froome was looking under his arm all the time on the climb yesterday? He was worried about the guys who were behind him! That was why they had to leave [key Basque rival and Spanish national team-mate] Jesus Loroño at home in 1959 when I won the Tour, so it would be more united.
"We might be friends off the bike, but on the bike it's like boxers, you've got to start thumping each other and not stop. Otherwise it would all be like it was fixed, wouldn't it?"
As for Froome's top rival, Bahamotnes says "I think that Colombian [Nairo Quintana] is going to give Froome a lot of grief all the way to the finish."
"Quintana's attack was the best for sure, although I'm not so sure about [Alberto] Contador [Saxo-Tinkoff]. Losing that much time on the first big mountain stage wasn't a good sign at all. I just hope he can move back up again into the action."
He was he said unsurprised, by that he was recently-voted best climber of the Tour, "given what I've achieved in this race. I won here in Bagneres-de-Bigorre twice, for example."
"In either case, I'm sorry to say this but the racing is far less spectacular than it used to be ... and that's a shame."
Racing like US Postal needs to be taken in perspective, says Garmin Sharp rider
The aftermath of insinuations and allegations pointed towards Team Sky following their apparent domination during the first mountain test at this year’s Tour de France is not warranted, according to Garmin Sharp’s David Millar. The connections made between the GB outfit and the former US Postal squad after the team crushed the peloton on the road to Ax 3 Domaines also needs to be put into consideration, says the Scotsman.
Millar has become a strong voice in the anti-doping fight since serving his own two-year suspension in 2004 after he admitted to doping offences and says that while the current maillot jaune Chris Froome has talent that is "off the scale", the team could do more to satisfy the general public. Team Sky "don't deserve to have mud thrown at them," said Millar on Twitter believing the squad doesn’t help it’s cause by remaining tight-lipped on what seems to be the winning training formula.
"They could be more open and not be so defensive at times, but you have to understand we are a professional sport and we are competing against each other," said Millar to AFP. "It's one thing satisfying the sceptics, but it's also about being professional and wanting to win races.
"For them [Sky] it's very difficult, it's a tightrope they're walking, trying to be transparent, but also keeping their trade secrets, which are the (way they conduct their) training," he added.
Connections were made between Lance Armstrong’s dominance during the US Postal days in the wake of Froome and Richie Porte’s stunning 1-2 display at the Tour’s first summit finish but this must be looked at from within the current environment. The sport has changed, says the 36-year-old and that is a big point of difference.
"They race in a very similar way to the US Postal team, but you have to take into perspective the fact that the sport is different now.
"There is more control and greater transparency than then, so even if we are saying that Sky aren't transparent it's night and day compared to Postal.
"The general public don't know how the sport has changed and what Sky are actually doing. There is a massive difference between them and Postal," he added.
For Millar, the key to satisfying the critics is to open the communication lines with those who voice rational thought. The sport likely faces a long road before the cynics will be satisfied but this is all part of the job.
"When you sit and get accused of lying and cheating and doping constantly, the first time it happens it knocks you for six, but before long it just becomes part of the job. We keep it in perspective. It is natural for people to ask questions, but there is a certain sector whose cynicism is something else.
"If you have a lot of energy and a negative attitude, you're just cynical. What you really want to listen to is those people who really are the middle ground, who have a rational thought process, and ask questions.
"I think there is a definite dialogue to be had with them."
Team said to be interested in both Schleck brothers
Fränk Schleck might be signing with Astana for the remainder of the 2013 season with an option for 2014, L’Equipe has reported. Several teams expressed interest in Schleck, according to the French sports paper. It also said that Astana is interested in signing Andy Schleck for the 2014 season.
The oldest of the two Schleck brothers was fired from his RadioShack-Leopard team last week but is eligible to ride again as of this Sunday after his suspension. Schleck was suspended for a year after a positive doping test for Xipamide in last year’s Tour de France.
L'Equipe reported that Astana wants to incorporate the 33-year-old Luxembourger for the remainder of 2013 to support Vincenzo Nibali in the Vuelta a España. The roster of the Kazakh team currently consists of 29 riders so there would be room for one rider more.
One problem with signing Fränk Schleck is the Movement for Credible Cycling, of which Astana is a member. The rules state that: “teams say they do not engage MPCC riders involved in business doping, and were punished more than 6 months by the international body (excluding penalties for no-show and / or information not AMA), within 2 years after the suspension.”