By John Trevorrow
As the Tour de France headed into Spain, the real contenders stepped up out on the steep slopes towards Val dÁran.
Cadel Evans rode steadily all day and looked in control until the final few kilometers. He just couldn't react to the final attack of Russian Denis Menchov about three kilometres from the finish. Evans finished fourth only 17 seconds back and lies in fourth spot one minute 17 seconds behind new leader American Floyd Landis.
Although Evans seemed to be at his limit towards the end, but last year his best mountain days were towards the end of the tour.
Michael Rogers was also strong until the final 10 kilometres, where he started to struggle. Rogers lost over three minutes in the stage and is in seventh spot, 3 minutes and 22 seconds from the lead. Obviously, the T-Mobile team had decided that Kloden was to be their protected rider as Rogers spent a fair bit of time on the front. In the end that was to no avail as Kloden faltered soon after Rogers and finished in sixth place at 2 min 29 seconds.
Simon Gerrans rode a tremendous race spending much of the stage on the front setting the pace for his AG2R teammate and maillot jaune Cyril Dessel. The young Frenchman rode well above himself and gallantly refused to give in on the final climb to only lose the lead to the American by eight seconds.
Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady booked themselves on the grupetto bus and managed to make it inside the time limit, but not by much. "That was definitely the queen stage of the Tour," O'Grady said. "That one gets locked into my memory bank as one of the top three hard core stages I have ever ridden. As it turned out we had to dig in pretty deep towards the end as we were in danger of being outside the time cut. There was a bit of panic over the airwaves and we came in about 44 minutes down and the cut off was 46.30 seconds."
McEwen managed to take the first sprint before the climbing started and extended his lead to 29 points.