Two French riders in a day-long break, Bastille Day and the Tour de France... it would have been an irresistible mix, except that Sergio Paulinho hadn't read the script. Team RadioShack's Portuguese domestique salvaged something from this year's Tour with victory in Gap this afternoon, dashing the dreams of the locals.
Fairy tales are called so for a reason - they don't happen often - and while a French winner today would have capped what has been thus far a fantastic Tour for local riders, with the exploits of Sylvain Chavanel and yesterday's stage victory for Sandy Casar, Cinderella's pumpkin was used to make soup rather than carry a local rider to a triumph in the shadow of the Alps.
Paulinho's daring in the final 10km of the stage deserved the victory it garnered however, the 30-year-old fighting for line honours with Caisse d'Epargne's Vasili Kiryienka and pipping the Belarusian at the post in what was a tight finish.
"I knew I had to attack to get away from the group, and I actually felt pretty good," Paulinho said after the stage. "I was just a little bit stronger than Kiryienka, and waited until the last moment to make my move."
The victory was an important boost in morale for the American team, whose leader Lance Armstrong had his dreams of an 8th Tour win all but dashed on the road to Morzine on Sunday.
"We did a lot of work for the team in the first week of the race. The last two stages were very important to the team, and we were quite strong. All we really wanted was to get a stage win," Paulinho said.
"In the team meeting this morning, we were told we needed to have someone in the breakaway. We also had to look out for the team classification, so when I saw a rider from Caisse d'Epargne go, that's when I decided I had to be there."
It was the second Grand Tour stage win for the man from Oeiras, whose last taste of glory in the season's biggest races came with victory in stage 10 of the 2006 Vuelta a España in Santillana del Mar whilst riding for a previous incarnation of the Astana outfit.
Now riding for Team RadioShack, the 2004 Athens Olympics road race silver medalist beat Kiryienka, Dries Devenyns (QuickStep), Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Mario Aerts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), who rounded out the minor placings respectively.
While there was no change in the general classification, the keen battle for the mountains classification saw Jérôme Pineau regain the ascendancy over countryman Anthony Charteau as Mark Cavendish took ninth at the finish to collect valuable points towards his ambitions of a first points classification win in Paris.
A day to take stock
After the difficulty of yesterday's stage, there was a sense of inevitability to the formula for today's 179km journey from Chambéry to Gap: let the right break take a tonne of time ahead of the peloton, sit back and take what respite was on offer for those who didn't feel like another day of suffering.
That meant there was a real chance at the stage victory for the escape artists, which of course is appealing at the year's biggest race. Consequently, there was plenty of interest early, with numerous attacks from the likes of Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia), Aitor Perez (Footon-Servetto), Daniel Oss (Liquigas-Doimo) and Jeremy Roy (Française des Jeux).
None were successful due in part to the early intermediate sprint, although with about 36km of the stage run the ingredients of what was to be the day's main break were finally mixed, shaken a little and let loose. Mario Aerts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Dries Devenyns (QuickStep) instigated the move that saw Paulinho and Kiryienka join in and quickly establish a lead of one minute.
Aerts was best-placed on general classification of the breakaway, beginning the day in 44th, 32:55 behind overall leader Andy Schleck - posing no real threat - and hence the big names down the road were content to let the move fly the coop in the torrid heat.
Meanwhile, down that same road, Maxime Bouet (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) had missed the break and decided to ride away from the peloton; after about 20km of synchronised toil they joined the leading quartet, just before the cat 1 Côte de Laffrey.
While they were reinforcements for the break's cause, the presence of Rolland posed a threat if the stage came down to a sprint fought out amongst the sextet.
It's a blowout!
As the break approached the day's main climb, it had an advantage in excess of eight minutes, which crept up to nine with 106km of the stage remaining. At the top of the Côte de Laffrey that gap sat at a comfortable 8:40, with no interest in a chase from the main field behind.
The only semblance of racing came from king of the mountains contenders Pineau and Charteau, the French duo tied on points in that classification with the Bbox Bouygues Telecom rider wearing the jersey courtesy of a countback. They scavenged the remaining points on offer, with the Quick Step rider doing enough to take back the polka dot jersey he has worn for much of the last week.
Going through La Mure the gap between break and peloton had been extended to 9:33 and with 77km to go that nudged over 10 minutes as the main field effectively shut down for the day. As the escape hit 69km remaining it had opened the advantage in excess of 11 minutes.
As the break ticked over fifty clicks before the finish in Gap, the advantage stood at 11:13 ahead of the Saxo Bank-controlled peloton, the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Stuart O'Grady and Matti Breschel keeping maillot jaune Schleck out of the wind and any potential trouble.
The opening slopes of the Col du Noyer saw the gap break the 11-minute barrier again and having found himself in difficulty for several kilometres Bouet was dropped from the break with 1.5km remaining on the ascent, 35km from the finish. It required a big effort for the young AG2R-La Mondiale rider to get back in touch with the leading quintet, which he managed to do before the summit in a resumption of the status quo.
Time to think about a win
With 25km to go, at the top of the day's final categorised climb, the gap had blown out to 11:43 and was getting ever closer to 12 minutes with just 23km remaining. A couple of kilometres later it briefly hit that mark, but with Stuart O'Grady guiding the Saxo Bank crew down the mountain the break's advantage remained steady.
On the downhill run into Gap it was time for the desperate bids for victory to begin: Aerts hitting out with 15km to go and shedded the gallant Bouet; having spent 140km on the hard road with these five breakaway companions the experienced Belgian had summed up their weaknesses and strengths. It was then time for Devenyns to take over, the Quick Step rider countering his countryman's attack and quickly opening a gap.
Then it was Paulinho's turn to try his luck with Kiryienka on the wheel, the Russian making himself an ally and enemy with just 13km to go. The pair rapidly distanced the four men behind as hope began to fade of a French victory on the nation's day of celebration, putting 36 seconds into them with 11km remaining.
It seemed that the Belgians' enthusiasm to attack a long way from the finish had backfired, as Devenyns and Aerts were forced to chase hard with Rolland on the lead in to Gap.
Despite its chase, the trailing trio was fighting a losing battle as the three riders found themselves one minute behind with five kilometres remaining. Ahead of them the leading pair continued to work together to make sure line honours would be fought out without the company of Devenyns, Rolland and Aerts.
Having achieved that objective it was time to negotiate the expected two-up sprint, for which Kiryienka was well-equipped given his track background. But the Caisse d'Epargne rider reacted too late to Paulinho's dash for the line in the final 150 metres and paid the price for his error.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Sergio Paulinho (Por) Team Radioshack||5:10:56|
|2||Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step||0:01:29|
|4||Pierre Rolland (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:01:33|
|6||Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:03:20|
|7||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||0:12:58|
|8||Rémi Pauriol (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||0:13:57|
|9||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia||0:14:19|
|10||Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Kristjan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Damien Monier (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo Bank||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team Radioshack||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Luke Roberts (Aus) Team Milram||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Maarten Tjallingii (Ned) Rabobank||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Juan Manuel Gárate Cepa (Spa) Rabobank||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||Aitor Perez Arrieta (Spa) Footon-Servetto||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Astana||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team Radioshack||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Alexandr Pliuschin (Mda) Team Katusha||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Grégory Rast (Swi) Team Radioshack||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test Team||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|47||Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Cervelo Test Team||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Francesco Bellotti (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|50||Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Michael Barry (Can) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|52||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|54||Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|56||Julien El Farès (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|57||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 56 - Cell 2|
|58||Bram Tankink (Ned) Rabobank||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spa) Astana||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Matthew Lloyd (Aus) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Team Radioshack||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|67||Iban Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - Transitions||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 68 - Cell 2|
|70||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Mauro Da Dalto (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|72||Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|73||Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana||Row 72 - Cell 2|
|74||Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 73 - Cell 2|
|75||Michael Rogers (Aus) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|76||Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|77||Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Française des Jeux||Row 76 - Cell 2|
|78||George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 77 - Cell 2|
|79||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|80||Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|81||Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 80 - Cell 2|
|82||Koos Moerenhout (Ned) Rabobank||Row 81 - Cell 2|
|83||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Professional Cycling Team||Row 82 - Cell 2|
|84||Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team Radioshack||Row 83 - Cell 2|
|85||Thomas Rohregger (Aut) Team Milram||Row 84 - Cell 2|
|86||Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 85 - Cell 2|
|87||Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 86 - Cell 2|
|88||Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 87 - Cell 2|
|89||Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 88 - Cell 2|
|90||Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom||Row 89 - Cell 2|
|91||Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 90 - Cell 2|
|92||Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - Columbia||Row 91 - Cell 2|
|93||Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 92 - Cell 2|
|94||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step||Row 93 - Cell 2|
|95||Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre-Farnese Vini||Row 94 - Cell 2|
|96||Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 95 - Cell 2|
|97||José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 96 - Cell 2|
|98||Mathieu Perget (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 97 - Cell 2|
|99||Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||Row 98 - Cell 2|
|100||Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 99 - Cell 2|
|101||Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank||Row 100 - Cell 2|
|102||Maarten Wijnants (Bel) Quick Step||Row 101 - Cell 2|
|103||Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Quick Step||Row 102 - Cell 2|
|104||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram||Row 103 - Cell 2|