Tour de France podium main priority for Katusha rider
Try as he might, Joaquim Rodríguez was unable to shake Alberto Contador or Nairo Quintana from his wheel on stage 19, despite his best efforts on the Col de la Croix Fry. While Rui Costa was racing towards his second victory of the race, the Katusha Spaniard was launching his own attack but it didn't pay off.
Rodríguez has launched a spectacular comeback over the last week, but his run of position climbing in the general classification ended when he finished with the pair in Le Grand-Bornand. Time is running out and with only one more mountain stage at the Tour de France Rodríguez will be hoping he can make up at least two more general classification positions before he reaches Paris.
The Spaniard started Friday's stage in fifth, after making time on Bauke Mollema during the previous day's dual ascent of the Alpe d'Huez. Rodriguez stayed quiet for much of the today's stage before launching an attack near the top of the Col de la Croix Fry, but he was unable to make it stick.
"I had to really race really hard in the final kilometres," said Rodríguez. "We were testing each other and I got a bit of a gap, but they came back to me."
He may be tantalisingly close, but Rodríguez isn't underestimating the task ahead of him. "I am very close... close and far," he told the waiting press at the finish. "It remains really tough, you saw today that even when I'm pulling off the front the others were with me. Alberto is Alberto and I know that if Alberto wants to get second than he can get second. Nairo, I think is one of the best so it is very complicated, but I will try."
Quintana and Contador aren't the only two riders for Rodríguez to worry about. Contador's teammate Roman Kreuziger is just one place above him in fourth and if the Spaniard manages to keep up with the pace then his teammate is likely to be not too far behind. The Katusha rider will be hoping to repeat his performance on the Alpe d'Huez, where he made up two minutes on the Saxo-Tinkoff pair.
With third place up for grabs Rodríguez may play it safe, to ensure his spot on the podium. "We can maybe win the stage," said Rodriguez. "First I have to see if I am in the final. If I want to make it onto the podium then I have to race well. The podium is more important than the stage."
Any rider looking for glory will have to think quick, though, as stage 20 gives the riders a lot less options to attack, with only 125 kilometres of terrain to pick their moment. The first category Mont Revard and the hors catégorie Annecy-Semnoz are the two prime spot for action.
"Anything is possible," Rodríguez said of the last day in the mountains. "In the final it is a steady climb at the bottom, but then there are a lot of turns so it will be very tricky."
While he impressed on the Alpe, Rodríguez thinks that the climb to Annecy-Semnoz won't be a carbon copy. "It is very different to the Alpe, with the heat it is going to be a very different climate. It is a climb that is more like the Glandon in its rhythm. I think that I will have to take it at my own pace and try to stay calm."
Frenchman exhausted after 50km solo ride in the Alps
Pierre Rolland will take over from Alpe d'Huez hero Christophe Riblon as he'll wear the popular polka dot jersey during the last mountain stage of the Tour de France from Annecy to Annecy/Semnoz on Saturday, but he admitted he'll have an extremely difficult task succeeding his compatriot and teammate Thomas Voeckler as the winner of the King of the Mountains competition. Tour de France leader Chris Froome (Sky) still leads the classification, with Rolland just one point shy of the Briton in second.
The Europcar climber looked exhausted at the finish today in Le Grand Bornand as his 50km-long solo ride took its toll. Rolland rejoined lone leader Ryder Hesjedal 4.5 kilometres before the top the Col de la Madeleine and passed in first position the highest summit of the Alps this year (2000m above sea level). The lanky Canadian couldn't follow him as they began climbing the Col de Tamié with 70km to go.
"When I found myself at the front with Hesjedal, I believed he was the right guy to be with," Rolland said. "He's a very courageous and generous rider. Unfortunately, today he wasn't at the level he had for winning the 2012 Giro d'Italia. Had he been just as strong as last year in May, I'm convinced it would have been hard for anyone to catch us." The Garmin-Sharp Canadian has been hampered in his current Tour de France with a broken rib suffered on the opening stage.
"It doesn't often happen to me but I cramped badly," Rolland continued. "I adjusted my pedaling style to my suffering. It had been a long effort, mostly solo. I was targeting both the stage victory and the polka dot jersey. It all depended on the circumstances of racing.
"After having thought of winning all day and when I realized that I wouldn't even come second or third [after being passed by eventual stage winner Rui Costa with 20km to go], my head and body both fell apart."
The Frenchman collected enough points to move up to second place in the King of the Mountains competition, only one point down on Chris Froome, so he'll wear the polka dot jersey again on stage 20 after doing so in the early part of the Tour de France in Corsica and after. He admitted that he got excited about wearing the polka dot jersey to such an extent that he switched his goal and gave up his initial ambition of riding for GC like last year (when he finished 8th overall).
His move was also dictated by the uncertainties over the future of the Europcar team until the rental company announced the renewal of their sponsorship during the second rest day. "I didn't want to ask too much from my teammates who weren't sure to get a job for next year," Rolland said.
"Because of Froome and [Nairo] Quintana being so strong in the climbs, I had kind of given up my ambition for the polka dot jersey," he added at Le Grand Bornand. "That's why I'm more disappointed to have missed out on the stage win here today.
"Now my chances of taking the lead in the KOM are real but slim. Considering the 50 points up for grabs at the finish up the Semnoz, it's almost impossible for me to make it, unless I can do it from a breakaway. But I presume the favorites like Saxo and Movistar will play for the stage victory. It looks complicated for me to make the top ten, so all depends on my possibilities to take points earlier on. Recovering from today's ride is already a difficult task.
"Shall I ride around the Champs-Elysées with the polka dot jersey on my shoulders but without the pleasure of going on stage and receiving it at the very end of the Tour, I'd be very disappointed," Rolland concluded.
Unzue impressed by Colombian's recovery in third week
Nairo Quintana has not yet climbed onto the final podium of this year's Tour de France and they're already asking if he can win the next one. Movistar manager Eusebio Unzue could only throw his arms wide and smile when the question was put to him outside the team bus in Le Grand Bornand on Friday, a day that saw the Colombian youngster finish comfortably with the yellow jersey group to retain third place overall with just two stages remaining.
"I think that he's certainly a rider for the future," Unzue said as he sheltered from the rain under the canopy of his bus. "After seeing how he has gone through this final week, I think he's already well prepared for the possibility of winning the Tour some day."
Quintana, of course, has raced this Tour with the urgency of a man who can't wait for tomorrow. Aggressive in the Pyrenees, he seemed the only rider competing in the same race as Chris Froome on Mont Ventoux, and he has been increasingly assured in the Alps. Quintana distanced the yellow jersey on Alpe d'Huez on Thursday and put in a tentative dig over the top of the Croix-Fry on Friday for good measure.
Although his Movistar teammate Rui Costa claimed stage victory from the day's early break, Quintana appeared disappointed that the high tempo imposed by Saxo-Tinkoff over the day's final three climbs had limited his scope for going on the offensive.
"We tried sending [Alejandro] Valverde ahead in the end to see if I could jump later, but we didn't really have the opportunity to attack," said Quintana, who still showed his hand by matching Joaquim Rodriguez's acceleration near the summit of the Croix-Fry. "At least the stage ended without incident and I'm still on the podium."
Saturday's summit finish above Annecy at Semnoz appears ideally suited to a climber of Quintana's characteristics, but rather than chase the stage victory he sought in vain at Ax 3 Domaines and again at Mont Ventoux, the 23-year-old insisted that his primary focus was on protecting his current overall position.
"We'll have to wait and see how the stage develops: sometimes you think it will go one way and then the race doesn't go as you think. It'll be a difficult day to stay on the podium and we must be ready for attacks from my rivals," he said.
While the yellow jersey of Chris Froome seems out of sight, 5:32 clear on the overall standings, Quintana is just 21 seconds down on second-placed Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and, on the evidence of the race's summit finishes to date, has every chance of overhauling the Spaniard on Saturday.
"The truth is that it's possible. He's up there," his manager Unzue said, although with Roman Kreuziger and Joaquim Rodriguez lined up just behind Quintana, caution could prove the better part of valour. "The gaps between second and fifth place are really minimal. Above all, we're trying to hold a place on the podium. But if we have the chance to take second, we'd certainly go for it, but for now, we're very happy with third place."
Unzue has spent much of the past three weeks playing down the prospects of Quintana, who lined up for the Tour ostensibly on a fact-finding mission as Alejandro Valverde's chief lieutenant. It didn't escape notice, however, that Quintana had prepared very specifically for the Tour by training at altitude for two months in Colombia. Remarkably, he didn't race for the entire period that separated Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour, yet he has scarcely missed a beat since returning to Europe just ahead of the Grand Départ in Corsica.
"He's really a great climber, but in the flat stages that didn't suit him here, he showed that still has the knack of finding the right position with the help of his team," Unzue said. "He's also defended himself well in the time trials and he's been very consistent, so he deserves to be on the podium of the Tour de France."
Quintana's performances at the Tour have brought the talents that claimed the 2010 Tour de l'Avenir, the toughest stage of the 2012 Dauphiné and overall honours at this year's Tour of the Basque Country to the widest possible audience.
"I'm impressed simply by how he recovers in the third week," Unzue said. "As for everything else, well, I already knew he could do that."
One final day of work remains to secure Sky's second Tour title
With just one more day to go in the Alps, Team Sky looks set to ride into Paris for their second Tour de France win in a row after the overall contenders marked each other out of stage 19 to Le Grand Bornand on Friday. Chris Froome continues to lead the race, his 5:11 lead over Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) intact.
After the fireworks on Alpe d'Huez, Friday's stage was about consolidation for Froome's rivals. Legs weary from yesterday and with one more summit finish to come, the race for the final podium places became the objectives for Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). The teams' classification also became a clear aim for Saxo-Tinkoff as they sacrificed Michael Rogers' own GC ambitions for the greater prize.
Not that one Dave Brailsford minded in the slightest. Almost giddy with relief after Sky were given a relatively unchallenging day from their rivals, the Sky boss's emotions were clear as he talked to the press after the stage.
"It was a pretty regular stage to be honest. We were never under pressure, a perfect stage really but G [Geraint Thomas] and Ian [Stannard] did a great job this morning and then Saxo took over riding and that was that," he said.
"Well they didn't have to work, did they?" Brailsford replied when asked about how the day played out for him team. "They just sat there and haven't really tried all day… well they tried but they've not been put under pressure.
"Yesterday everyone was on their knees, you could see that quite clearly, so today it was all or nothing if someone wanted to risk it. On a regular stage and then a short stage tomorrow with the final climb and maybe some podium places could change there."
With one more day in the mountains to come Sky has one final day of work ahead of them before the procession to Paris.
Asked if the race was over, Brailsford replied, "If you start thinking that you're in trouble and like always we'll go in there with the fear of God in us and try and defend our situation. It's good to get that stage out of the way.
"There's a lot to play for tomorrow. There's team GC, there's all the podium positions."
Spaniard helps Saxo-Tinkoff protect team classification lead
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) has been one of the few riders to take the race to leader Chris Froome and try to crack the Tour de France leader, despite being over five minutes down on the Sky rider.
Yesterday Contador sent teammates up the road and decided to make his escape on the descent of the Col de Sarenne, but in stage 19 today the Spaniard seemed unusually quiet. As the peloton wound its way from Bourg-d'Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand, the Saxo-Tinkoff rider stayed safely in its clutches for much of the day.
When the stage reached its crucial final ascent, he allowed Movistar to throw down the gauntlet with both Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana riding off the front. "There was a moment when I thought to attack, because the rain is good for me," Contador said. "But we decided the best thing was to stay together."
Contador is not known for taking a back seat in races and has often said he'd prefer to finish far down the general classification than finish second. It was used to great effect at last year's Vuelta a España when he a attacked Joaquim Rodríguez on what was meant to be a transition day, to win the stage and the race out right. His attacks haven't paid off this time around, which has generally been put down to a lack of form coming into the race.
With the heavens opening above the peloton, Contador decided against a do or die move on the final descent. "I didn't want to attack, because behind the TV there are people who love me and get nervous when I attack on a descent. Also, the descent was not great and it was better to be calm and stay together."
In addition to the second place overall that Contador still holds onto, the Saxo-Tinkoff is leading the team competition. The points earned from the team competition could prove crucial when WorldTour licences are given out at the end of the season, even more so with the number of points being the sole deciding factor.
"My team was doing a great job, controlling for the team classification," Contador explained. "If I attacked I could cause Roman Kreuziger to unhook."
Contador hasn't completely given up on trying to put some time into Froome and the other main contenders, but it will "all depend on how the legs are."
Dane holds 7th in advance of Tour's final mountain stage
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) produced another consistent performance in the mountains of the Tour de France on Friday's stage to Le Grand Bornand to help cement his place in the top ten. With two days of racing - one of them a final pass through the Alps - to come, the Dane sits in seventh place, 9:33 down on race leader Chris Froome (Sky).
Fuglsang has been talked about as a rider of GC potential in Grand Tours since his early steps as a road rider. Since moving over from mountain biking, where he was U23 world champion in 2007, he has displayed, albeit in fits and flashes, the ability to climb and time trial with the best.
Sixth in the 2009 Dauphine was followed by 11th at the Vuelta, riding under the Schlecks' shadow, however. A disruptive year spent under Johan Bruyneel's tutelage in 2012 meant that this season was always going to be pivotal in the 28-year-old's career.
"Of course it's been a good race for me and I'm still feeling, not fresh that would be wrong, but I still don't feel like I'm worn out. It's been a good race so far," he told Cyclingnews after stage 19.
The stage itself saw Fuglsang maintain his seventh place overall. He followed and was amongst the best climbers in the race when he formed a crack group on the Col de la Croix and with one difficult mountain stage to come looks on course for his best ever finish in a three-week race.
At this point in the race most riders with GC aspirations have one eye looking over their shoulder and defence is the name of the game as they look to solidify their Paris placings. With Fuglsang still feeling frisky, sixth is not out of the question. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) survived today but lost time on stage 18 due to illness.
"It was hard and wet in the end but overall it was a good day. I was trying and hoping that I could take some more time on Mollema today but it didn't work out. It is how it is but maybe we'll see tomorrow if there's a possibility, otherwise it's going to stay like it is," he added.
"Mollema could be a possibility for me to move further up, but I maybe also have to pay attention to Daniel Navarro, although he may not climb better than me. He made a big jump today, also Valverde but for the rest, we'll have to see how it goes tomorrow, but I will try if the possibility is there."
Cadel Evan's hopes of overall victory at the Tour de France have turned into a battle for survival, with the 2011 winner and BMC team leader now just hoping to make it Paris.
The 36 year-old Australian fought hard to finish third at the Giro d'Italia in May, convinced that the Italian Grand Tour would give him the form to fight for victory in July. However his form faded gradually during the Tour despite fighting to try and be competitive.
Evans fell out of contention mid-race and finished stage 19 in the gruppetto, 35:24 down on stage winner Rui Costa (Movistar). He is now 36th overall, 1:13:00 behind Chris Froome (Team Sky).
"I started exhausted and only became more exhausted as the stage went on," he admitted in his diary.
"It was a very long and tiring [day] and certainly [it was] not the group I wanted to be finishing this sort of stage in," he said according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"I don't expect any miracles and I came into this third week absolutely exhausted," he said. "At this point I just hope I can finish and get to Paris.
"If I can be of some help for my teammates that would already be something for me at this point. No expectations."
Cavendish on the Dutch Corner
Mark Cavendish is not a favourite of the Dutch fans, having wiped out Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) in the sprint of the Tour's 10th stage. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider was cleared of any blame by race organisers, but various onlookers have disagreed with that decision, choosing to express their opinions by such actions as spraying him with urine during the time trial.
So the obvious question was how Cavendish would experience the “Dutch Corner” on l'Alpe d'Huez on Thursday on the two climbs. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) took it upon himself to find out, and tweeted the response.
“This morning i asked @MarkCavendish how was the dutch corner yesterday. His answer: "not to bad they only called me asshole twice" #letour”
Surgery for AG2R-La Mondiale riders
AG2R-La Mondiale's two Tour de France crash victims both need surgery. Jean-Christophe Peraud, who crashed both before and during Wednesday's time trial, has a “displaced fracture of the distal end of the right clavicle.” His operation will be Monday in Lyon, the French team has confirmed.
Teammate Maxime Bouet did not take to the start of the sixth stage. The team said that he has “a non-displaced lower end left radius articular fracture.” A recent examination 10 days after his crash “showed the need for prompt surgical intervention.” He is expected to be out of racing for a month and a half.
Bauer, Sieberg injury update
Jack Bauer of Garmin-Sharp crashed face-first into a barbed-wire fence during Friday's 19th stage, and had to abandon the race. The team announced the extent of his injuries.
“Jack has 8 stitches across his upper lip, 2 on his forehead and one on his chin. He has multiple abrasions to his face and lips,” said team doctor Kevin Sprouse on the team's website.
“At the moment there are no known fractures but with injuries like this when swelling reduces, small fractures may be detected later. Considering the way it happened, his injuries could have been a lot worse so we’re all very thankful that they weren’t”.
Another victim of the race was Lotto Belisol's Marcel Sieberg, who crashed hard on the descent of the Col de la Madeleine. X-rays confirmed a non-displace fracture of the collarbone. The big German will fly to Belgium today for surgery, and is expected to be able to start training in a week.
Images from the team bus to the finish line in Le Grand Bornand
Cyclingnews captured an intimate view of Garmin-Sharp's day at the Tour de France on Friday, revealing the pain and suffering, the quiet and the noise of life in a major team during the third week of the race.
Photographer Pete Goding spent the day of the 19th stage with the Garmin-Sharp team, starting out with the team bus and ending up watching the riders roll over the finish line. I between there was rain, attacks, crashes and a lot of climbing on the road to Le Grand Bornand.
One of the first pictures shows Jack Bauer pinning on his start number but his Tour de France ended with a crash, facial injuries and hospital treatment. David Millar also crashed but lived to fight on another day.
It was another day of aggressive racing for the team, with Ryder Hesjedal spending 130 kilometers on the attack before finally paying for his efforts and crossing the finish line 31:34 down, accompanied by Millar. Andrew Talansky finished with the overall contenders and so edged even closer to a top ten finish in his first ever Tour de France.