Stage 9: Val-d’Isère - Briançon
Disco detonate Galibier with Popo and Contador
Mauricio Soler stamped his authority on the mountainous romp to Briançon. The 24 year-old Colombian won by 38 seconds and gave his Barloworld team a huge boost after arriving at the Tour de France via a wildcard invite.
For the young, unknown Barloworld rider it was a grand Bonjour to the world of cycling. His only previous win came in 2006, his first year as a professional, when he won stage two and the overall of the Circuit de Lorraine with team Acqua & Sapone. Barloworld's Directeur Sportif Claudio Corti scored big over the winter by signing the mountain-man from Ramiriqui and finding a wild card invite to the Tour de France along side team Agritubel.
"It is my first time to race here in the Tour so I didn't know the climbs," said Soler who went on the attack as the stage departed and immediately climbed the Col de l'Iseran. "I attacked like a loco and I did not imagine it would come true. It is like a dream. It is the best thing in my life."
Discovery duo Alberto Contador and Yaroslav Popovych lit up for the finale of Galibier but were pulled back by Michael Rasmussen's groupe maillot jaune. The Dane of Rabobank continues to lead with 2'35" over Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), while pre-Tour favourite Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) was eliminated from the overall after finishing over three minutes back.
The Col du Galibier proved to be the stomping ground for Soler but also Team Discovery. 'Popo' attacked on the Col d'Iseran, some five kilometres into the race, and had gone over the top with a group containing eventual stage winner Soler. The Ukrainian launched a solo offensive on the 34.8 kilometres uphill of the Télégraphe and the Galibier. The move put 'Vino' in difficulty but also set up for Contador's subsequential move two kilometres from the top.
With Popo solo, Contador struck fear into the yellow jersey gruppo with a blast. His teammate got the orders to wait for the Spaniard and, starting from Galibier's summit,the duo commenced a two-man downhill time trial to put time into the favourites and vie for a stage win while Aussie Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) briefly fought in no-man's land.
There was some panic in the groupe maillot jaune. Valverde and Iván Gutiérrez of Caisse d'Epargne hit the front of Rasmussen's group hard to pull back the Disco duo but also to distance Vinokourov, who was struggling in a group with Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Fränk Schleck (Team CSC) and Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel).
As Caisse put the juice into the chase the GC men collected themselves. The move worked and it was a group of seven with six kilometres to go, and later 14, when Rasmussen, Valverde, Gutiérrez, Astarloza and Kirchen bridged followed by Evans, Arroyo, Sastre, Moreau, Leipheimer, Cobo, Mayo and Klöden.
"Everyday that is past us is staying according to plan," said Evans to Cyclingnews. "I'm sticking to myself and following my plan." The Aussie was left alone after his Predictor teammates faded. "I didn't have many teammates and was a bit isolated, and I had the legs to go with Contador when he went. For me he was one of the strongest guys ... Lance Armstrong had a whole team for him but I don't," Evans laughed. "I had Chris [Horner], Mario [Aerts] and Van Summeren with me all the way to the Galibier. My guys did their best."
"I have never coped really well with a mountain stage after a rest day," Moreau noted to Cyclingnews' Jean-François Quénet. "I am getting old and there is no way I can improve that. It was a difficult day but I never panicked. The most important thing was to keep myself in one piece but at the top of the Galibier, I was feeling better already."
He spoke of the lack of cohesion. "There is a new fashion in cycling and it is non-collaboration. It is sometimes hard for me understand the different strategies of the other riders. I can't have the legs everyday like I had in Tinges." The new French President road along with the race organisers. "I have been honoured with the support of the French president Nicolas Sarkozy," Moreau added.
The big loser of the day was Astana's Alexander Vinokourov. Struggling from the knee injuries sustained in the stage to Autun, the punchy Kazakh effectively lost the 94th Tour de France. He crossed the line in 3'24" (2'46" behind Valverde) in arrears and was exhausted from the chase.
"It has been a very difficult day for me. I hung on alright on the Télégraphe but I had pain everywhere. The team has worked well. I have tried to limit the gap to the best riders but it has been a day in hell," said a teary-eyed Vino, who was the last Tour stage winner in Briançon. He had received help from trusted companions Kashechkin and Iglinskiy but it was not enough to save the 33 year-old's run for the race overall.
The race resumes tomorrow with three transitional stages leading to the feared Pyrénées. The GC is still undecided but there is a 99-percent chance that Vino will not figure in the fight for the yellow jersey.
"For the moment I will fight for the yellow. I can take the polka-dot jersey later," concluded current maillot jaune Rasmussen, who holds a lead of 2'35" over Valverde.
For his work Popovych received the Prix de la Combativité for most aggressive rider while teammate Contador took the maillot blanc of best young rider.
How It Unfolded
After two consecutive Alpine stages plus the Tour's first rest day in Tignes on Monday, the race started again in the beautiful Alpine village of Val d'Isère. In front of the riders loomed a 159.5-kilometre race from there to Briançon, with the hors catégorie Iseran pass, the first category Télégraphe and the hors catégorie Galibier coming before the drop down towards the finish and the tough final kilometre and a half.
At 12:36, 171 riders departed with T-Mobile's Patrik Sinkewitz being the only non-starter. And bang, right from the start of Stage 9, the Tour peloton began ascending the winding, wide-open slopes on the 15 kilometres climb to the summit of the Col de l'Iseran. At 2770 metres, it is one of the highest roads in Europe.
The first to make a move was Ag2r's José Luis Arrieta. He went after three kilometres, and when Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel) counterattacked, he quickly got across to Arrieta after 6.5 kilometres of the long ascent. The powerful Ukrainian then left the Spaniard behind and crossed the summit of the Iseran first, 50 seconds ahead of chasers Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues Telecom), Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel), Francisco Pérez (Caisse d'Epargne), Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance) and Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom).
On the long, fast downhill into the Maurienne valley to St.Michel-de-Maurienne, Popo took the sprint in Le Villaron (33.5 km). The chasers were at 15" and the Rabobank-led peloton was chasing at 1'15".
The gap had swelled to 2'42" with 100 kilometres to race. Rabobank couldn't contain things up front. Then, as the long, legendary double ascent of the Télégraphe (12.0 kilometres climb at 6.7 percent grade / 1st Cat) and the Galibier (17.5 kilometres at 6.9 percent) began, Astarloza attacked the break and gained time. The rest of this group fractured under the pressure of chasing the Basque rider, who had 30" on the chasers and 3'02 on the groupe maillot jaune halfway up the Télégraphe.
At the summit of the 12-kilometre ascent, Astarloza was in the lead by 21" ahead of Popovych, Clement, Gutiérrez and Gusev. Soler was at 40", Vaugrenard at 50" and the group Maillot Jaune was 2'55". There, Vinokourov was visiting the medical car of Dr. Porte, so clearly the Astana leader was still in some discomfort.
Astarloza remained ahead until the hors catégorie Col du Galibier commenced, a 17.5-kilometre climb with a 6.9 percent grade. Suddenly, from behind the front group, the long, lean silhouette of Colombian climber Soler appeared and he immediately passed the break. The rest struggled to hold his wheel and had to let go.
The groupe maillot jaune was three minutes behind, and it was blown apart when Valverde attacked hard. With 15 kilometres to the summit, this new, reduced group comprised Michael Rasmussen and Denis Menchov (Rabobank), David Arroyo & Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto), Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance), Vladimir Gusev, Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel), Juan Miguel Mercado (Agritubel), Andrey Kashechkin and Andreas Klöden (Astana) plus Juan Jose Cobo and Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval).
Soler was riding superbly off the front with Popovych chasing hard 30 seconds behind. The rest of the break had exploded. Valverde went on the attack once again, causing Moreau, Kashechkin, Arroyo and Menchov to be dropped from the Rasmussen group. With five kilometres to the summit for that group, Contador made a hard attack and only Evans could get close. The Aussie didn't last long on the wheel of the Discovery climber and once again, as always in the Tour De France, the steep final ten kilometres of the Galibier was making the day's crucial selection.
Soler passed the KOM alone at the summit, the point being just above the monument to Tour founder Henri Desgranges. With 34 kilometres to go to the finish in Europe's second-highest city of Briançon, he was two minutes ahead of Popovych, who was caught by his team-mate Contador right at the top. Evans was chasing solo at 2'30, and the groupe maillot jauneof Rasmussen, Valverde, Kirchen, Sastre, Leipheimer, Klöden, Cobo, Mayo and Moreau were at 3'15. Vinokourov was struggling at 4'45", flanked by teammates Iglinskiy and Kashechkin.
From here it was down, down, down the long wide-open descent to Briançon. There was a full-gas pursuit match going on, with Valverde's teammate Gutierrez coming back to the group on the descent. He was chasing all out in pursuit of the Discovery duo and Evans.
With 20 kilometres to go, Soler still had 1'30" on the Discovery duo. Evans, meanwhile, had sat up as he realized he was going nowhere fast as regards staying away from the Rasmussen group.
Once he was back in the fold, there was a split in this yellow jersey group. Rasmussen, Valverde, Gutierrez, Astarloza and Kirchen got away from Evans, Arroyo, Sastre, Moreau, Leipheimer, Cobo, Mayo and Klöden and with ten kilometres to go, they were ten seconds apart. Soler was 1'18" ahead of the first of these two, while Popovych and Contador were between, a minute behind the Colombian. Then with six kilometres left Contador and Popovych were reeled in and the subsequent slight easing in pace enabled the other eight to get back up.
The inspired Soler was still out front with a 50" lead as he began the final ascent into the old town of Briançon. He dug deep and hit the line well clear of the others, taking the first Tour de France stage win by a Colombian rider since Santi Botero at les Deux Alpes in 2002. Indeed, it was the same Botero who won here in Briançon seven years ago.
Soler's super solitary ride to a stage win confirmed his teams wildcard invitation to the 2007 Tour. Valverde blasted home at the front of the groupe maillot jaune, 38" behind the Barloworld rider. A strong Evans was in third.
Rasmussen kept yellow with his sixth place stage finish, while the Tour's 2005 stage winner in Briançon, a suffering Alexandre Vinokourov, was 20th on the stage. He lost almost another two minutes to his main GC rivals. His Astana teammate Klöden was in the front, taking ninth, and looks set to be the leader of Astana after today.
In the general classification, Valverde has moved into second, 2'35" behind Rasmussen. Iban Mayo is four seconds further back in third, with Evans, Contador, Moreau, Sastre, Klöden, Leipheimer and Kirchen rounding out the Top 10.
The status quo should reign for the next four, flat stages, but with only 1'18 covering the riders from 2nd to 9th place, next Saturday's 54 kilometres Albi ITT will be crucial to determine who controls the Tour De France in the difficult Pyrénées stages that begin Sunday.
Stage 10 - Wednesday, July 18: Tallard - Marseille, 229.5km
Tallard-Marseille / 229,5km
After the final Alpine effort, Stage 10 heads south from Tallard, just south of Gap through the Alpes de Haute Provence to the port city of Marseille. Opportunistic riders who are looking for a result will certainly be on the attack.
The two Cat. 3 climbs Bastides and Gineste, which come in the final 30 kilometres, will be decisive in determining who gets the winners big bowl of bouillabaisse for the stage that finishes in front of Marseille's Stade Vélodrome.
km 57: Côte de Châteauneuf-Val-Saint Donat: 3.3-kilometre climb to 3.1 % / 4th Cat.
km 93: Côte de Villedieu: 1.1-kilometre climb at 5.2 % grade / 4th Cat.
km 201.5: Côte des Bastides: 7.5-kilometre climb at 2.9 % grade / 3rd Cat.
km 219.5: Col de la Gineste: 7.5-kilometre climb at 3.2 % grade / 3rd Cat.
km 82.5: Oraison kilometres
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