Russian Yuriy Trofimov created a surprise by claiming a stunning solo victory in Morzine. The Bouygues Telecom rider distanced his breakaway companions on the Col de Joux-Plane, and then held off the charge of the favourites to the line, just 18 seconds ahead of an unusually aggressive Cadel Evans and yellow jersey Alejandro Valverde.
"This victory is a big surprise for me," Trofimov explained. It's not a common affair that a first year pro wins a mountain stage in such a prestigious race. That's why the Russian added: "It's hard for me to realize what I've done."
"At the beginning of the stage, I didn't think I could win it. It's only at the end that I had an opportunity to do it. As I was first at the top before going down to Morzine, I became confident because the practice of mountain-biking made me going good in downhill. Now my ambition is to make a top 10 overall in the Dauphiné.
"I don't know if I'll do the Tour de France, it's not up to me to choose." He'll probably be lined up by Bouygues Telecom after winning the stage of Joux-Plane at the Dauphiné.The Russian is scheduled to go to Beijing for the Olympics as a mountain biker. He's now fourth on GC between Leipheimer and Robert Gesink (Rabobank), who will target the podium with the intention of giving it all on the way to La Toussuire.
The steep slopes of the Joux-Plane also provided the battlefield of champions, where a fit and feisty Gesink, who caused the selection of the group of favourites with a strong acceleration. The harshest attack came from Valverde, who made Levi Leipheimer come unglued. The American clawed his way back into the group only to come off again with an attack from Evans.
The Australian was very active towards the top of Joux-Plane but admitted he didn't think he'd be able to dethrone Valverde in Morzine. "I tried more to get some time onto Leipheimer," he commented. "I go one step at the time. I've tried to become second before thinking of getting first. Tomorrow we'll see. The day after is also selective but tomorrow is a hectic stage. Today in the hills I felt just ok, there's still a little bit of improvement that I need in my climbing." While Valverde is more of a favorite than ever, the Silence-Lotto rider is laying in an interesting waiting position prior to the queen stage
Evans rode strongly up to Joux-Plane but Valverde didn't show any weakness. "I always had good sensations," the Spaniard commented. "I have attacked at some stage in order to test Evans and Leipheimer. Evans saw it and he passed in front of me. He did all the work till the finishing line. He seemed to go very well. Today was a duel, but at the Tour de France, there will be Cunego, Menchov, Sastre, Schleck as well..."
There was another rider who looked happy at the finish: Michael Rogers. For the second day in a row, the Australian played a major role in the mountains and came home with Leipheimer about one minute after the duelling Evans and Valverde. "Slowly, this gives me the will to ride the Tour," the man from Canberra noted after crossing the line.
Saturday's longest stage of the Dauphiné will take the riders to La Toussuire via the grueling climb of La Croix-de-Fer. Another duel between Valverde and Evans is expected and it'll be interesting to see if super climber Gesink is on fire.
How it unfolded
Many skirmishes made the beginning of the race intense. Christophe Le Mével (Crédit Agricole), Matteo Carrara (Quick Step) and Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d'Epargne) formed a group of aggressive riders at km 32 before Christophe Riblon (Ag2r) attacked with Alexandr Kuchynski (Liquigas) at km 40. They also weren't successful.
Hubert Dupont (Ag2r) went away at the bottom of the col de Saxel (km 45). He was soon rejoined by Daniel Navarro (Astana), Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r), Yuriy Trofimov (Bouygues Telecom), Juan José Cobo (Saunier Duval), George Hincapie (High Road), Alexandr Kuchynski (Liquigas) and Inigo Cuesta (CSC).
At km 68, the whole Caisse d'Epargne team led the bunch exactly three minutes behind the eight men away. At km 100 at the bottom of the col de Joux-Plane, the peloton was 2'15" behind and exploded very quickly under the action of Robert Gesink (Rabobank). In the breakaway, Efimkin, Trofimov, Cuesta and Cobo dropped the other riders one by one, then it was the turn of Cuesta and Efimkin.
Cobo passed the summit of Joux-Plane in first position ahead of Trofimov who passed him and went away solo in the col de Ranfolly which prolongs Joux-Plane. The group of the favorites was 43 seconds behind at the top with only five riders: Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre) and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel). Levi Leipheimer (Astana) cracked two kilometers from the summit.
Trofimov descended well to keep an 18 seconds advantage on Evans and Valverde, who kept the yellow jersey while Cobo took the polka dot jersey over from his team-mate David De La Fuente after passing all the climbs of the day in first position.