The vocally antidoping young T-Mobile rider Linus Gerdemann gave fresh hope to fans looking for an exciting, clean Tour when he attacked a break of 15 on the final climb of the day. Heroically pushing through dehydration, cramps and fatigue, Gerdemann launched his attack with 10 kilometres to go up the fan-packed Colombière pass, and then plummeted down in a daredevil descent into Le Grand-Bornand. With the win, the 24 year-old German gained enough time to take over the race leader's Maillot Jaune, the white jersey of best young rider and most aggressive rider in one fell swoop. Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir) finished the 197.5-kilometre stage second and third at 42" and 1'42".
"Today is the biggest day in my career," said a baby-faced Gerdemann at the finish. "I only believed in the win with 300 metres to go. I had cramps; I was over my limits."
The win was the second professional victory for the former German U23 Champion following a stage in the 2005 Tour de Suisse, but the rider had made a name for himself by being openly critical of doping in the sport. "Cycling has a big problem so we need to do something to show that we are clean," Gerdemann noted, referring to the internal doping tests that T-Mobile utilises. It carried out one in London and one yesterday morning.
Gerdemann topped the chasing group containing most GC favourites by 3'38". The rider from Münster will start stage eight to Tignes with 1'24" over Spaniard Landaluze. Riders like Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance), Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) and even a bandaged Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) remained in the favourites' group and with their minds on tomorrow.
After a day long chase by Evans' Predictor-Lotto team aided by the CSC team of yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara, the Lampre team came to the fore at the base of the final climb of the day, the 16-kilometre run up the Alpine Colombière. Working for Slovenian Tadej Valjavec, the team's efforts had brought the gap down (near 5'00") but could not touch the hard-men in the escape up the road.
On the lower slops of the Colombière, Sylvain Calzati (Ag2r Prévoyance) opened up the attacks for team captain Christophe Moreau, hoping to split the group. "Unfortunately nobody followed me, however, my form is improving," said the 28 year-old domestique to Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet. "There will be better days. I will be able to help Christophe Moreau. He is at his best." Moreau is promising to light the race up tomorrow, and was satisfied with his team's performance today.
"It was difficult and nervous since the first climb of the day," noted Moreau to Quénet. "We rode flat out and it was important to stay in the front. As we had Martin Elmiger in the leading group, it was a perfect situation for us. At the bottom of La Colombière, I was well positioned. ... I managed to observe the other riders. The Spaniards are doing great. Tomorrow, will be the first crucial day. There will be some K.O's. At the Dauphiné I've realised that it suits me to be on the offensive."
Today's winner Gerdemann escaped with the group at 44 kilometres from the start in Bourg-en-Bresse, and although the breakaway started to fall apart, there were a few that persisted and, subsequently, rewarded for their efforts. Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d'Epargne) launched the artilleries with a dig at 2.5 kilometres into the climb. His move was marked by a sharp-eyed De La Fuente and then Gerdemann. Kazakh Dmitriy Fofonov (Crédit Agricole) surged up to the 'Guti' trio before the gap got out of hand.
A possessed Gerdemann set off the second artillery blast 1200 metres later that popped the two Spaniards and left only Fofonov to follow. The German/Russian duo gunned up the eight percent gradients while their old escape companions were left scattered over the roads lined with tifosi.
Linus did not hesitate, and hit his companion with a death blow, leaving the Crédit Agricole rider alone with 5.7 kilometres to climb while De La Fuente chased solo. Only Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) could react; the Spaniard closed to De La Fuente and was 18 seconds back to solo Gerdemann at the top of the Colombière.
The gap was stretched by 32 seconds at the line in Le Grand-Bornard where Lance Armstrong took a 'no gifts' win in 2004 over Klöden.
Juan Manuel Gárate (Quickstep-Innergetic) led the GC-favourite gruppo home. All of the favourite were in this group including Australians Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) and Evans as well as Discovery Channel's Levi Leipheimer. Evans is now at 4'02" in 13th and Rogers at 4'03".
"Today, the plan for me was to stay protected," Rogers commented at the finish. "I was good on the last climb. I suffered over the top. I was out off water so I suffered from the heat and I would not mind jumping in the pool." An inviting Le Borne river flowed right along the finishing stretch.
"It was a hard day; he rode super, super strong," Rogers continued regarding Gerdemann. "For the team it was perfect. We wanted to have Kirchen, Sinkewitz or Gerdemann up the road so everything went to plan. The guys will be on the front again tomorrow. It will be a big day."
General Manager Bob Stapleton waited to clarify the team's plan for the overall classification. "We will see after the weekend. It is too early," said the American.
"There was about as many riders over the last climb as I thought," said Leipheimer, who now sits in 16th at 4'06". "I was thinking a few less [would arrive at the finish]. It was a hot day it was import to eat and drink a lot. It was the first day in the mountains and I think some selection was made. ... Too bad the break was not in reach because I think [Yaroslav] Popovych had a chance."
Gerdemann, Landaluze and De La Fuente made the GC-jump thanks to their early escape while Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) surprised many to attack out of the favourites' group to gain 1'24" and move into fifth overall. Gerdemann not only took the stage and Maillot Jaune but also the Maillot Blanc of best young rider, the first rider to do such a feat since Cancellara's 2004 prologue ride.
Scot David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) was impressed with Gerdemann's day. "It is great to see Linus win. This is the sign of a new generation coming through," Millar noted.
How it unfolded
Bastille Day brought bright, hot weather for the 181 riders who lined out in Bourg-en-Bresse for the start of the 197.5 kilometre seventh stage. The race was due to pass through some stunning scenery in the Ain and Rhône-Alpes regions, travelling close to a number of waterfalls including the spectacular Cascade de Cerveyrieu.
Missing from the village du depart were two competitors. Triple world champion Oscar Freire had started the day third in the points standings and fifth overall, but decided to call it quits due to his ongoing undercarriage problems. Fellow Spaniard Ruben Lobato (Saunier Duval) also did not line out after a death in his family, while yesterday's crash victim Enrico Degano (Barloworld) began the race but withdrew before the halfway point.
There was a rapid start to the stage but the Astana team tried to keep things under control in order to spare their two injured leaders, Alexandre Vinokourov and Andreas Klöden. Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) managed to get clear at kilometre nine and after his recapture some three clicks later, then Milram's Andryi Grivko slipped away. However he was brought back just before the first bonus sprint at Pont d'Ain (16.5 km), where Tom Boonen (Quick Step – Innergetic) fortified his points jersey lead by beating closest maillot vert challenger Erik Zabel (Team Milram) and Daniele Bennati (Lampre – Fondital).
A 16 man group of riders went clear very soon afterwards, including riders such as Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile), Christian Vandevelde (CSC), George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) and Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom). They were brought back a couple of kilometres later.
Mountains leader Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) then attacked on the approach of the climb of la Côte de Corlier, 26.5 kilometres after the start. His aggression spurred others into action and he was joined by Francisco Perez, David Arroyo and Nicolas Portal (Caisse d'Epargne), Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile), Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel), Ballan (Lampre Fondital), Dmitry Fofonov and Patrice Halgand (Crédit Agricole), Sergio Paulinho (Discovery Channel), Cristian Moreni (Cofidis), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval - Prodir), Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) and Laurent Lefèvre (Bougyues Telecom).
There was a regrouping of sorts, though, enabling double KOM classification winner Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) and Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel - Euskadi) to spring away. They nabbed first and second at the line, with Chavanel and Paulinho next over the summit. Amongst those in trouble and dropped by the peloton were yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara (CSC), yesterday's stage winner Tom Boonen (Quick Step – Innergetic) and Robbie McEwen (Predictor Lotto).
Six riders went clear a couple of kilometres after the top, namely Gerdemann, Lefèvre, Fofonov, Egoi Martínez (Discovery Channel), Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux) and Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel - Euskadi). They were then joined by double Giro d'Italia winner Paolo Savoldelli (Astana), and then Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel - Euskadi) and last year's most aggressive rider David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval) bridged across after approximately 44 kilometres of racing. Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Bram Tankink (Quickstep) and Tour of the Med victor José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) also realised that it was a strong-looking move and were chasing hard.
Further back, Cancellara was also in pursuit mode and he rejoined the main bunch 52 kilometres into the stage. The peloton stalled and this also enabled the grupetto of riders such as McEwen and Boonen to get back on.
Up front, Flecha, Tankink and Gutierrez chased the leaders for several more kilometres and then got across. This increased the leading group to twelve, and the number jumped to fifteen when Jérôme Pineau (Bouygues Telecom), Martin Elmiger (Ag2r) and German champion Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) arrived some 70 kilometres after the start. The peloton was at this point almost eight minutes back.
The Bastille Day hopes of the home riders rested on the three Frenchmen in the break, namely Pineau, Lefèvre and Vaugrenard. The latter had started the day in 12th overall, 52 seconds back, and was the maillot jaune virtuel. However with 85 kilometres of racing complete Gerdemann gave a sign that he was the strongest rider in the move when he attacked strongly to take the intermediate sprint in Anglefort. Pérez took second ahead of Tankink.
Behind, teams such as Predictor-Lotto and CSC were riding hard to limit the gains. The gap was hovering around eight minutes with 100 kilometres to go and when they hit the feed zone in Les Bonnets (Musieges), it was just over six. This went out a little to 6'47 at the top of the Cruseilles climb (category 3, km 122.5), where de la Fuente jumped clear to take the points ahead of Lefèvre and Vaugrenard. He did the same 11.5 kilometres later at the Côte Peguin, beating Lefèvre and Fofonov.
With approximately 36 kilometres to go Perez kicked off the aggression in the break when he attacked. Tankink joined him but they were hauled back. Behind, yellow jersey Cancellara was one of those driving the pace, the Swiss rider sacrificing himself for the team before the final first category climb of La Colombière. These efforts meant that the gap was down to 4'20 with 28 kilometres remaining.
Gutierrez jumped hard at this point and was joined by De La Fuente. Gerdemann got across, and after a brief pause in the group jumped hard; Fovonov got up to him but could hold on no longer with still 5km to go to the summit. Behind the T-Mobile rider, the remnants of the break detonated, with Landaluze putting in a strong push to overtake him. Gerdemann was 18 seconds ahead of the hard chasing Landaluze at the top, but was riding strongly; he pushed hard on the descent, using every inch of the road, and extended his lead to the line. He raced on into the finish in Le Grand-Bornand, throwing his arms in the air for a superb win.
Landaluze trailed in 40 seconds back, while De La Fuente had gone over the top of the climb in third position and finished 1'39 back. Barloworld's Colombian rider Mauricio Soler rode very strongly in the final kilometres to place fourth, 2'14 down, while Lefèvre was the best Frenchman on Bastille Day in fifth, one place ahead of Wegmann.
The chasing group containing the main favourites came in 3'38 in arrears, their losses limited by the efforts of teams such as Rabobank and Caisse d'Epargne. That ensured that Gerdemann ended the day 1'24 ahead of Landaluze in the general classification, taking the stage victory, the yellow and white jerseys plus the most aggressive rider award on what is clearly the best day of his career.