Stage 11: Lannemezan - Foix
No change in overall standings, Evans retains yellow
Norwegian national champion Kurt Asle Arvesen (CSC Saxo Bank) sprinted to a narrow victory over Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) to take the first Tour de France stage victory of his 11-year career
"This is the biggest win in my career. I won the Under-23 World Championship and two stages at the Giro, but it can't get better than winning a stage at the Tour in the national jersey," said Arvesen. "I've been waiting for this victory since I did the Tour the first time. I was second in 2005 [in Stage 17 from Pau to Revel, he lost to Paolo Savoldelli - ed.], so this is good revenge," said Arvesen.
Bjarne Riis, the directeur sportif of Team CSC - Saxo Bank, was happy when he heard that Arvesen won the stage. "It's a super win for Kurt. And it is super for us. It was a great stage une belle étappe!"
The three men who battled out the finale were the fastest of a 13-man break which went clear in the first hour of the 167.5 kilometre transition stage from Lannemezan to Foix. The group worked together to gain a winning margin despite Frenchman Amaël Moinard (Cofidis) escaping from the leaders with 65 kilometres to go.
The remaining dozen kept Moinard at a reasonable gap, and slowly brought him back with less than five kilometres to go, setting up an attack by Elmiger which only Arvesen and Ballan could follow. "I knew that the breakaway would be a good one," said Elmiger. "Nobody was dangerous on general classification, but I knew it will not be easy to win with Pozzato, Ballan and others good riders.
The Swiss rider nearly won the stage with a last second thrust forward, but Arvesen was awarded the stage after the referees reviewed the photo finish. "Two centimetres on the finish line – it's difficult but I wasn't in a good condition today and second is not so bad even if everybody wishes to win! In the last days I was a little bit ill, but nothing serious and I'm not 100% of my capacities yet!"
Ballan did not immediately respond to the attack of Elmiger, and paid the price for it in the sprint. "I did a lot to a lot to re-join those two. I spent too much energy, unfortunately, and also Arvesen is very fast."
Moinard was disappointed to have been caught after his 60 kilometre solo ride, but is proud of the performance of his team so far. "We were already up there in the first days of the Tour, with Stéphane [Augé] and Sylvain [Chavanel]. I have super team-mates at Cofidis."
He explained why he put in what seemed to be an ill-timed and futile bid for solo glory. "You have to attack. It is what you need to do in sports," he said, explaining why. "No Frenchman can win the Tour de France [this year]."
Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank) and Alexandre Botcharov (Crédit Agricole) got away for fourth and fifth. Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom) won the small sprint for sixth.
Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), also in the escape, saw Arvesen suffering early on. "On the climb he was behind and I thought he did not have the best legs, but in the finale he put his best legs on!"
The day was relatively calm in the peloton as Arvesen and company got about business. Fränk Schleck's CSC-Saxo Bank and Evans' Silence-Lotto teams did most of the control work, letting the gap of the escapees reach 16'30" over the top of the Col de Portel at kilometre 110. The gap had closed only slightly when Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) led the group over the finish line.
Race leader Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto) finished safely in the main bunch after a largely uneventful day for the general classification contenders. He thus retained his one second lead over Frank Schleck (CSC Saxo Bank), with Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle) remaining 38 seconds back in third overall.
"Sunday was really bad," said Evans of the day he crashed hard during stage nine. During a "good" rest day yesterday, Evans saw his family, ate and recovered from his crash injuries.
"Many had doubts about Silence-Lotto. I was motivated and I am very happy now." The Australian enjoyed the day in the brightly coloured maillot jaune. "More people are shouting your name when you are in the yellow jersey. It give you a lot more recognition," said Evans.
Even Evan's bodyguard had something positive to say about his yellow-clad employer. "He is a great guy. He is too nice for professional cycling!"
The only surprise for these riders was the attack of 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne), the Spaniard pulling over a minute clear but eventually being recaptured on the run in towards the finish.
How it unfolded
The action started way before the start, when it became clear that Barloworld's Moisés Dueñas had tested positive for EPO and was taken out of the race by his team. He had some questions to answer for local police, too. Team Barloworld took the start nonetheless.
The remaining 168 riders set off at 12:36, with the real start at 12:44. A small break tried to go after a dozen kilometres, but the teams held everything together for a bunch sprint at the intermediate sprint in Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges (km 19.5). Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) took the points ahead of Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) and Oscar Freire (Rabobank).
The ensuing chaos and jumping was used by Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) to sneak off the front by himself. Voeckler was caught by a large group at kilometre 28. Everybody was reeled in by the fast moving peloton shortly thereafter.
Then Kurt-Asle Arvesen (CSC-Saxo Bank) and Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) attacked at kilometre 35. They were soon joined by a few other riders, making the front group 13 riders strong.
Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom), Kurt Asle Arvesen (CSC - Saxo Bank), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Alexandre Botcharov and Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole), Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank), Marco Velo (Milram), Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux), Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) and Amaël Moinard (Cofidis).
The group quickly gained three minutes. The top riders on top of the Col de Larrieu, after 50 kilometres, were Botcharov, Fédrigo, Ballan and Moinard.
Despite the category three climb, the break had covered 47.5 kilometres in the first hour, which is why Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) dropped out of the formation and back into the more relaxed peloton.
On the other hand, José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) was trying to bridge up from behind.
Pozzato took the sprint in Prat-Bonrepaux after 69 kilometres ahead of Velo and Moerenhout. The gap had skyrocketed to over 11 minutes. And after 92 kilometres covered it was a 14 minutes.
Silence-Lotto and Garmin were controlling the pace on the front of the peloton, but didn't use up their last ounce of energy.
With a good 100 kilometres covered, Moinard decided to take matters in his own hands and left the break. He was first over the top of the Col de Portel, a category one climb. The break followed 1'50 behind, with Fofonov, Fédrigo, Ballan, Wegmann, Vaugrenard, Arvesen and Pozzato receiving the remaining points.
Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) attacked the peloton in a stunning move was he out for some extra training? Over the top, Pereiro was 14'35 behind Moinard and about two minutes ahead of the pack.
More bad news for Barloworld, when its rider Félix Rafael Cárdenas had to abandon the race.
Moinard had a maximum gap of more than two minutes, but over the top of the final climb of the day, the col de Bouich, he was only a good minute ahead. Ballan led the chasers over the top, ahead of Arvesen and Velo. The break realised they had to go full gas and quickly gained ground. With 17 kilometres to go the gap was merely half a minute.
Pereiro continued to pedal a minute ahead of the field, which in turn was more than a quarter of an hour behind.
Another short rise and the ensuing fast descent, but unfortunately for Moinard the gap had dropped to 22 seconds. Ballan was really driving it now, Almost passing the motor bikes on the right hand bend that marked the beginning of the descent.
Moinard was not more than a handful of seconds ahead, but the break started to play games. However, Moinard was too tired to resist and with three kilometres to go, Elmiger and Arvesen caught up with him. Moinard tried to stay in their slipstream, but was unable to do so.
The super active Ballan managed to join the leaders with two kilometres to go. Moerenhout jumped as well, and the four stayed away to make for an exciting four-up sprint. Arvesen hung on by only a couple of centimetres.
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