After the performance of Denis Menchov and Robert Gesink on the first mountain stage in the Pyrenees, the Rabobank team was pretty pleased with the day's results: Its two team leaders were able to defend or strengthen their position in the general classification, with Menchov still in fourth and Gesink gaining a spot. He is now sixth after Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) lost almost a minute on the last climb to Ax-3-Domaines.
While Alberto Contador (Astana) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) watched each other, Menchov attacked and ended the stage fourteen seconds ahead the yellow jersey, but was unable to distance third overall Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel). "I had to gain some time and it worked. Finally. It's good for my confidence. Too bad I couldn't shake off Sanchez," Menchov said after crossing the finish line.
Of course Menchov noticed the games between Contador and Schleck but he wasn't impressed at all by their manoeuvres. "I was riding my own race. I was battling to gain some time in the general classification. I heard in the radio that I had a gap," Menchov said. When asked by Cyclingnews which riders he regarded as his main rivals Menchov came up with a surprising answer.
"Samuel Sanchez and Schleck," Menchov said. One might assume that Menchov included Schleck because he feels that he can still close the current gap on the Luxembourger in the 52-kilometre long time trial. "Winning the Tour de France will be difficult though. I'm looking at the general classification day-by-day. Every stage is a different story. It was a difficult stage, really tough, but I showed what I'm capable of," Menchov said.
Teammate Gesink was riding a completely different race at the back of the group. Early on the Dutchman struggled to keep up with the pace set by Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) at the foot of the final climb. "After descending twenty kilometres you're reaching the foot of that climb. Vinokourov showed yesterday that he's able to put the hammer down for two to three kilometres and that's just what he did today. That tempo was a bit too much for me," Gesink said.
A little later his direct rival for sixth place, Leipheimer, got dropped as well. While Gesink was able to crawl back towards the group, Leipheimer continued to lose ground. "When Vinokourov came off the front the speed dropped back. Then my tempo turned out to be a little bit higher than that from the men in front. Leipheimer hung on with the group a little bit longer and he blew up his engine. That's a good thing for me. Fifty kilometres against the clock suits him better him but everything I'm gaining now on those guys is well appreciated," he said.
When Gesink bridged back up to the main group in time for Menchov to power away from the group. "For Denis it was the perfect moment to go because nobody was really riding in the group," Gesink commented. "Actually during the briefing this morning I already said that I expected that I would have a hard time during the first kilometres of the last climb. The longer climbs that start off more easily suit me much better."
Coincidentally, tomorrow's final climb, the Port de Balès, fits his ideal climb well, starting off easy before offering a second half that includes gradients until 11.2%.