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With astonishing resilience to the chasing group of favourites, Dane Chris Anker Sørensen of CSC took his greatest career win, his first as a professional, to date. He was part of the day's break, then continued solo from the start of the final climb up to La Toussuire and prevailed by over a minute. In the fight for GC, Alejandro Valverde countered moves by Cadel Evans and Levi Leipheimer and added two seconds to his overall margin of now 39 seconds.
The up and coming Danish climber Sørensen ruled out any comparison with his compatriot Michael Rasmussen after his magnificent solo victory in La Toussuire, where Rasmussen won a stage of the Tour de France two years ago. "I definitely don't want to be the new Rasmussen, let's forget about Rasmussen! But I hope to become the new Danish climber. My first pro win couldn't be a greater one than the queen stage of the Dauphiné, which is a great race, with the col de la Croix-de-Fer, which is one of France's most beautiful climbs. I used to watch the Tour de France pass through it when I was a kid. It's a dream come true for me to win here."
The 23 year-old, who finished the Giro in 27th place before riding the Dauphiné, crossed the line with the gesture of a fisherman, throwing his fishing rod out and raking in his catch of the day. He explained it as a private joke with some friends back in Denmark following the way Paolo Bettini won the World Championship in the role of the hunter.
Sørensen was the only rider left of the breakaway that took shape after 50 kilometres. The highest ranked of the 21-man group was young Frenchman Pierre Rolland, who became the king of the mountains, but was victim of a hunger knock up to La Toussuire where he actually lost even more time than Landis two years ago at the Tour: almost 16 minutes.
"I've never put my body in such a state of fatigue," Rolland said. "But I'm happy to get the polka dot jersey, this is the jersey of my childhood dreams. I took risks today. With a 4'20 advantage that we got at some stage, I was virtually in second position overall. In this stage I've made mistakes that I will not reproduce in the future."
He can look to Valverde for not making mistakes in cycling. The Spaniard didn't panic when Evans attacked with 5.5 kilometres to go. "Instead of responding to him, I preferred to stay behind Gesink, who was keeping a steady but high speed. We had a head wind, I chose to climb progressively. I was very well but the stage was 233 kilometres; that's a distance we have only covered in the classics. As long as we kept Evans at a distance [so] I could see [him] with my eyes, I didn't worry."
The Australian made the race extremely spectacular with his attack. "I'm climbing well," he said after the finish. "But not good enough for the win. Today, I had nothing to lose. Maybe I had a chance to win the overall, sometimes you have to take these chances. I wanted to leave Valverde by himself in the wind." It didn't happen since the race leader got help from a few other riders, mostly Gesink who was targeting the stage win.
That was also the intention of Levi Leipheimer who rejoined Evans but didn't cooperate much with him. The American was still disappointed that the Australian took the second place on GC from him the day before. "I wish I had the same legs yesterday," Leipheimer explained. "La Toussuire wasn't hard enough to make a difference. It was not up to me to work for Evans. I was waiting for Valverde to do some work and I jumped across as he didn't. With two kilometres to go, I realised we were too far from Sørensen for being in contention for the stage win.
"Tomorrow is a hard stage," Leipheimer continued. "Valverde looks strong and he's a smart rider." The Spaniard doesn't want to consider the Dauphiné won before he crosses the line in Grenoble on Sunday. "I will possibly face more attacks," he said. "But it's much shorter and my team works well, so we should save the jersey."
Shall he finish second once again like last year behind Christophe Moreau, Evans will leave the Dauphiné with no regret. "I'm here only to compare myself to the others," he emphasised. "My only goal at the Dauphiné was to get better and I'm getting better. I don't want to be getting too good too soon."
The Valverde-Evans duel might be reproduced next month at the Tour de France with a different scenario.
A group of 20 riders went away in the côte de Megève (km 48): Mario Aerts (Silence-Lotto), José Luis Rubiera (Astana), David Lopez (Caisse d'Epargne), Juan José Oroz (Euskaltel), Patrice Halgand and Pierre Rolland (Crédit Agricole), Jurgen Van de Walle and Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), Vladimir Efimkin and Stéphane Goubert (Ag2r), Juan Antonio Flecha and Peter Weening (Rabobank), David Moncoutié and Amaël Moinard (Cofidis), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Jérôme Coppel and Rémi Di Gregorio (Française des Jeux), Thomas Voeckler and Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom), Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) and Chris Anker Sørensen (CSC).
Rolland was first at the top ahead of Clement, Van de Walle, Coppel and Moncoutié. Rolland was also first at the top of the côte d'Héry-sur-Ugine (km 72), where the escapees had an advantage of 3'15. At km 119, the group split up and 13 riders went to the front. With 10 kilometres to go to the top of the col de la Croix-de-Fer, there were still 12 together: Rubiera, Lopez, Halgand, Rolland, Van de Walle, Flecha, Moncoutié, Moinard, Di Gregorio, Efimkin, Goubert and Sørensen. Rolland again was first at the top (km 180.5).
At kilometre 191, the two Euskaltel riders Mikel Astarloza and Oroz rejoined the front group while the first part of the bunch was located two minutes behind. At kilometre 213, as the gap was reduced to 55 seconds under the action of the Rabobank riders, Sørensen went solo on the way up to La Toussuire.
With nine kilometres to go, the Dane was 1'30 ahead of Di Gregorio, Astarloza and Lopez. The bunch was at 1'50.
With 5. kilometres to go, Evans attacked and created a gap to the Valverde group. The Spaniard stayed in the wheel of Robert Gesink (Rabobank). Three kilometres further, it was the turn of Levi Leipheimer (Astana) to attack. The American rejoined Evans but their advantage was no more than 25 seconds. Valverde caught them under the flamme rouge.
Sørensen kept a one-minute advantage over Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom), who came in second, while Valverde kept his overall lead over Evans and Leipheimer.