On paper, the moments following the exit of the Tour de France from the Pyrenean mountains seem simple: the stress of summit finishes behind them, the riders should in theory have enjoyed a cruisy few days in France. However the so-called 'transition' stage madness began the evening of stage 14 for Leopard Trek's Andy Schleck.
Schleck criticised drug testing agencies after he was tested three times in the space of 12 hours. The Luxembourg climber stressed that he was still behind measures to improve cycling’s image and the fight against doping.
Schleck was tested at the end of stage 14. He was then flown from Plateau de Beille by helicopter and once he arrived at the Leopard Trek hotel he went for dinner.
"Then I had another one at the hotel, we hit the restaurant and had to walk through holding a cup of my own urine which I’m sure the people eating dinner really appreciated. Then I woke up and had another test in the morning.
"The testing agencies need to communicate a little better because that’s just throwing money out of the window.
"I’m really transparent and I think it’s great that they do a lot of controls and that helps the sport but you don’t need three controls in twelve hours, that’s just ridiculous."
A flat stage harder than the mountains?
Some riders called the 193km stage from Limoux to Montpellier as harder than the mountain stages just behind them. Garmin-Cervélo's David Millar put his feelings about the stage up on Twitter soon after the finish.
"50k to go THOR: How you feel? ME: Fucked. You? THOR: My eyes hurt from trying to keep them open. Maybe we'll feel ok when we see 25k to go?," he wrote. A minute later came the punch line, "we didn't". The team's sprinter Tyler Farrar came second to Mark Cavendish on the day.
Even if it was a day for the sprinters, the GC men didn't have a day off from fighting in the finale. The Saxo Bank, BMC and Leopard Trek teams all fought to keep captains Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans and Fränk and Andy Schleck out of trouble in the finale.
"We took no chances and stayed in the first row of the peloton," said Saxo Bank-Sungard's director Dan Frost. "Other teams had the same idea and took the pace up to an extreme level and especially in the final three kilometers where the pace didn't go under 70 km/h."
"Today was brutal," said BMC's George Hincapie. "For a transition day, it was harder than a lot of the mountain stages we've done. It was full-on, all day, fighting for position. You couldn't let your guard down for one second.
Evans said a strong tailwind made the race "really risky" and imperative to stay near the front, particularly near the finish. "It's a sort of a conflict in the race where the sprinters want to be in the first position, but we have to be in the front and sometimes we have to be in their way at 10 or five kilometers to go," Evans said. "Of course they don't like that, but we can lose the race at five kilometers because we have to at least be at three kilometers if something happens in the peloton."
"Holy mother of all traffic jams"
The escape from Montpellier was complicated for the Tour's riders, staff and journalists alike as families heading back from weekend holidays clashed with the traveling circus that is the Tour de France on the highway leading north.
Garmin-Cervelo boss Jonathan Vaughters tweeted "holy mother of all traffic jams" as he eyed the jam that stretched for tens of kilometers. The 200km transfer took some teams five hours to complete, with riders finally getting tucked in at their hotels at 10pm. Here's the reaction from some of the riders on Twitter:
Jesus Hernandez - Second day of rest in the Tour! Over 3 hours on the bus to get to hotel! Off tomorrow to enjoy a well deserved rest!
Carlos Barredo - Time to dinner...long day...1h to the start...4h race and after 175km by bus to the hotel!!!!
Fabian Cancellara - Lucky we have danny (our busdriver) he found some roads were no traffics is...beside the highway... 200km in 4hours not bad... F...ing bad
Geraint Thomas - Traffic... Man I hate it!! People of France, where are you all going at 8pm?!
Jakob Fuglsang - Tour du traffic jam...again today!!