Team Sky leader eight seconds from lead as race hits mountains
Stage 8 marks the first real test for those with ambitions for the general classification as the Tour de France is set for the summit finish at Ax 3 Domaines. In this video Sky Procycling captain Chris Froome discusses the previous day's stage - won by Peter Sagan (Cannondale) - and says he is looking forward to the race finally hitting the mountains.
"This is what we've trained for, this is what we're ready for now and now I'm looking forward to putting it to some good use," Froome told reporters at the end of Stage 7 - won by Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Froome, along with his Australian teammate and final podium contender Richie Porte, sit in seventh and eighth-place respectively and lie a mere eight seconds from capturing the overall lead - currently held by Daryl Impey (Orica GreenEdge).
Today's stage will likely be the first time Froome's squad come to take proper control of the proceedings and suggests that while the team is known for a particular style of racing, they will be ready to switch up the tactics depending on how things unfold out on the road.
"We've got a pretty well established style of racing already and I don't see us doing anything differently. Obviously in the heat of the race you've got to be able to make those calls in the last few kilometres and I'm sure it's going to come down to that tomorrow."
Yesterday the Manxman was livid after crashing in the finale, being forced to change to his spare bike and sprinting from behind his rivals. During Friday's long stage to Albi he and his teammates tried to catch the front group that included Sagan but eventually threw in the towel.
Cavendish finished in the 90-rider front group, 14:53 behind Sagan. He remains third in the points classification, but is 105 points behind the Cannondale sprinter, who has already racked up a total of 224 points with his victory in Albi and a series of excellent placings.
Cavendish spoke briefly after getting changed on the team bus.
"I wasn’t the only one dropped on that mid-stage climb, there were about 80 others and there’s still plenty of sprints left before the Champs Élysées," he told French television.
He later tweeted: "Well, one of the "maybe a sprint" days definitely wasn't!! Finished with about 80 riders after @opqscyclingteam did some gutsy chasing."
Directeur sportif Brian Holm also sportingly accepted defeat, doffing his hat at the excellent work of the Cannondale team.
"Cannondale did a bloody good ride today didn’t they? Everyone knew exactly what would happen and they did it," he told Cyclingnews.
"There were two or three teams chasing behind but they pulled it off. For sure it doesn't make it any easier for the green jersey but what can you do?
"Cav was quite alright today. He was fine on the climb, we've got no worries. Yesterday he was angry. But if he wasn't angry after yesterday, he should find another job, shouldn't he."
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step had the consolation that Michal Kwiatkowski finished fourth on the stage and retained the best young rider's white jersey. He could take the yellow jersey on Saturday if he stays with the overall contenders and distances Daryl Impey, Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky).
Stybar visits the Tour, Mollema ready for Pyrenean test
Rolland loses his dots, Voeckler hit by heat
It was a day of mixed emotions for Europcar who received a double-blow at the end of Stage 7 to Albi after 205km racing. Despite Cyril Gautier infiltrating the breakaway and holding on until the final kilometers it was the team's captains that lost out. Pierre Rolland fell short of retaining his lead in the KoM classification by a single point while Thomas Voeckler's perhaps lax approach to bunch position saw him cross the finish line with the main group of sprinters – more than 15 minutes down on stage winner Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
The team may not have intended on defending Rolland's lead in the polka-dot competition but he still showed his intention by contesting the second climb of the day, the Col de la Croix de Mounis but was beaten to the line by the new mountains leader on the road Blel Kadri's (Ag2r La Mondiale) teammate Romain Bardet. Rolland will start the first proper mountain stage to Ax 3 Domaines with one point separating him from Kadri.
"We said we would not contest the polka dot jersey today. Although Pierre will be monitored, he will be less identifiable with a Europcar jersey," said directeur sportif Andy Flickinger on the Europcar team site.
For Voeckler, his often familiar spot at the back of the bunch may have contributed to his huge time loss. Always looking for an opportunity to attack however, the Frenchman was putting a positive spin on his fall down the GC rankings.
"It was a difficult day for me," said Voeckler on his personal Facebook page. "Over the years, my body needs more time to acclimatise to the heat. I went back to the car to take water aspirin and at the same time the team of Sagan has accelerated. Well played on their part! Their maneuver was fatal. I ended up with the sprinters.
"The advantage is that now there may be better days! I hope to use this to my advantage on the coming weekend but I will need my best legs."
Gilbert refused stage victory
It's a different kind of Tour de France this year for current road world champion Philippe Gilbert. Team BMC has arrived at the centennary edition with two leaders for the general classification with Cadel Evans leading the charge and rising start Tejay van Garderen second in command if the Australian should fall by the wayside.
Gilbert has been hard at work support his younger teammate van Garderen and whilst he has been performing at a level good enough to target a stage win, his personal ambitions has fallen on deaf ears - at least for now. For someone like Gilbert, who is used to being the protected rider, keeping up the morale and enduring spirit has been tough when all his energy has been used to keep the likes of van Garderen and Evans out of trouble and protected from the wind. Will he get his chance to go for a stage victory? Even the former yellow jersey wearer is unsure.
"It's hard to have fun if you have no ambitions because then the tour takes a very long time. It's like you go fishing but nothing can catch" Gilbert told Nieuwsblad.
"Normally, this stage (eight) would suit me but the team is not interested in stage wins. Therfore I should not try. The goal is just to keep the leaders from the wind. That's not easy to accept but it is a decision of the team."
Stybar eyeing 2014 Tour debut
Zdenek Stybar visited his Omega Pharma – Quick-Step teammates the day after British champion Mark Cavendish notched up his 24th Tour victory and opened his 2013 winning account. Stybar has been enjoying a long break after the classics season and was invited to appear as a guest for Sporza television show Vive le Velo and stated his desire to ride the Tour in 2014. Whether that be in support of the team's number-one sprinter Mark Cavendish is yet to be seen.
"I hope next year. If we're here with Cav, it's, of course, to support Cav. There's three weeks to pick some stage, and I think that there would be something that I would love," said Stybar, thinking ahead. "The first year is always about the experience, but if there's a chance, then you have got to take it."
The former cyclo-cross star is yet to announce his next race appointment however, if last year's schedule is anything to go by, fans of the upcoming classics contender can expect to see the Czech rider line up for the Vuelta a España.
"It will probably be the same - like last year. It's very difficult to say what I'm going to do and where. I think it's just going to be like last year."
Bakelants eyeing more success, in support of Fränk Schleck
A stage win, two days in the maillot jaune and a most aggressive rider award is enough to deem any grand tour a success but the hunger for more led Jan Bakelants to attack again on Stage 7. He was swept up in the dying kilometers of the stage into Albi and earned another most aggressive award for his efforts.
"I remain convinced that if there had been a little less headwind and a shorter final straight, I had the legs to go all the way to the finish," Bakelants told Lavenir.
The RadioShack Leopard rider may have to play the team card during the first mountain stages this weekend but he has already announced his plans for upcoming stages: he wants more. The exact place and time may be yet to be decided but he believes his form is good enough to get another taste of victory champagne before the race reaches Paris.
"The sensations are excellent and I adapt quite well to the heat. What will I do in the coming days? I do not know yet, we'll see how the race unfolds. All I know is that I will try my luck as soon as it presents itself to me."
In regard to the dumping of Fränk Schleck after reportedly supporting the former rider during his ban: "I think he has been sufficiently punished for what he did. He has my full support," he added.
Mollema up for Pyrenean test
Taking a spill during Stage 6 at the Tour left Bauke Mollema a little uncomfortable during yesterday's stage from Montpellier to Albi, especially when Cannondale liften the pace mid-way through the stage but the Belkin GC man was upbeat about the coming mountain test, believing he's ready for the demanding summit finish to Ax 3 Domaines.
"My body was still a little stiff from yesterday's crash, but it's not a big deal. With some long climbs, the parcours today was rather challenging. Over the last hundred kilometres, the racing was intense in order to drop some sprinters but I could maintain the pace very well. Tomorrow is the first real test for the classification guys and I am feeling up to it," he said on his team site.
Those examinations showed “a partial crack of the posterior cruciate ligament, a partial crack of the medial ligament, an injury of the cartilage, a bone bruise and a bruise of the patella tendon was concluded. Apart from that also blood was drawn two times out of the knee,” the team said on its website.
He will require surgery for the cartilage damage, but that can't take place until next week. He still has open wounds and abrasions on the which could lead to an infection, and he seems certain to miss the Vuelta a Espana.
“You train all year and then in one minute, one second, everything is over,” he said, according to Het Laatste Nieuws.
The goal for the BMC Racing Team during the first week of the Tour de France was primarily to protect their general classification contenders Cadel Evans and Tejay van Garderen plus have the team remain healthy and in advance of the first day in the Pyrenees team manager Jim Ochowicz was satisfied with the opening stages.
Evans and van Garderen are in 22nd and 24th overall, 31 seconds behind race leader Daryl Impey, and 23 seconds in arrears of the highest-placed GC threat, Chris Froome (Sky). The deficit is due to their 9th place team time trial result, what Ochowicz called the week's "only downside".
"It's hard to measure but there's no one particular place where we lost a lot of time," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews.
While Ochowicz wouldn't speculate on how BMC's team leadership would play out between Evans and van Garderen, he believes Evans is recovered from the Giro d'Italia and has fitness on par with 2010, when he also did the Giro/Tour double.
"He's fine, healthy," Ochowicz said of Evans. "I think he's recovered from the Giro. I think he's only going to get better from here."
Cycling's transfer merry-go-round is already in full swing at this year's Tour de France with rider agents an almost daily presence at the start villages each morning. Although contracts can not be announced until the start of August, Marc Sergeant, the team boss of Lotto Belisol, is already trawling the market in search of riders.
The Belgian team is already on the lookout for reinforcements for the new season, and with a number of teams having uncertain futures due to sponsorship concerns, Sergeant is well aware that team managers hold the cards when it comes to negotiations in the market.
"The store is full, you can go shopping but at this point we can't afford to reach that high," he told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 8.
"Someone has already asked me if I'd like Gilbert back. If we had the money, the answer would be yes, but maybe he'd come for less. Anyway he has one more year still at BMC."
In reality Lotto has looked to keep their stars rather than compete with the bigger budget teams. Andre Greipel signed a contract extension recently, although Sergeant added that the squad is on the lookout for depth in their roster.
"Up to now we've been trying to keep our best guys. Now we're waiting a little bit and seeing what happens. We don't have the budget of the guys like Sky so we have to be careful," he said.
"Lets say we're after a bit of everything. So here at the Tour we have a good team but you see that with Van den Broeck being out we're now in difficulty and we have to put everything on Andre for the sprints."
"If you have another climber, maybe another rider for the Classics like Flanders, that's what we're looking for."
One rider that may interest Sergeant is Sylvain Chavanel, currently out of contract at the end of the season.
"Right now managers are all over the place. There are a lot of names on the market but a lot of them are already close to agreement. Chavanel, he's free but there are other ones too. But we have some good Belgian riders and that's one of the missions of the team, to bring in young riders and let them grow for the future."
Andrew Talansky came through the first mountain stage of the Tour de France relatively unscathed, finishing in a group containing Michael Rogers, Jakob Fuglsang and Garmin-Sharp teammate Daniel Martin. The American rode alongside Martin on the slopes of the final climb to Ax 3 Domaines, as up ahead Team Sky annihilated the opposition. Talansky now sits 12th in the overall standings, 2:48 down on race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky).
"It was exactly what I expected to happen with Sky taking over, riding tempo and their race. You just have to hang on," Talansky said as he warmed down alongside Martin at the summit.
"It's a good boost for my confidence. It's the first mountain stage, people are still fresh and I'd imagine that I'd get less fatigued than other guys in the third week. It's just a matter of getting through one more day here in the Pyrenees and then going onto the Alps."
Talansky came into the race with somewhat broad ambitions. First and foremost the 24-year-old set his sights on reaching Paris but as the race left the cauldron of Corsica and teased towards the Pyrenees, a tilt at the white jersey became a possibility. Talansky now lies second in that competition, 46 seconds down on Movistar's Nairo Quintana, who attacked on the Port de Pailhères and finished alongside Alberto Contador.
"I'm not with the top five guys right here, right now but I am kicking around in the front group and I can hang on. Mentally knowing that is helpful," Talansky said, almost somewhat relieved.
Garmin came into the race with a number of possible top ten contenders. Ryder Hesjedal slipped from contention after he broke a rib on stage one. Talansky found himself alongside teammate Daniel Martin on the last climb and when the American began to suffer the Irishman paced him towards the finish.
"Today, it was everything I could do, the pace they set on the first climb of the day was almost faster than any climb we've done all season. I like when you get to the point where you're on the last climb, it blows up and you just have to go as hard as you can to the line. Luckily I had someone with me shepherding me along."
The team's director Charly Wegelius admitted that Sky currently had the two strongest riders in the race but praised the efforts of both Talansky and Martin, the latter who lies 13th and on the same time as the American.
"That was very good, extremely good and world class rides from two young guys. I was impressed with how they rode together as a real team," Wegelius said.
"I was surprised we lost Ryder early on but he's riding with a broken rib so we can put a brave face on it but I'd challenge anyone to ride up a mountain in the Tour de France with a broken rib and make the front group."
"The first mountain stage of the tour always provides some surprises about riders' condition. In the past it's always been about riding on flat roads for ten or twelve days but the fact that this was the first day we had and coupled with the heat, it's pretty normal to see some people suffering in the end."