The aquiline profile of Pierrick Fedrigo cut through the steaming hot Mediterranean afternoon, to edge Salvatore Commesso (Lampre) for the win in Gap. This duo were the sole survivors of a 6-man breakaway that had built a lead of over 5 and a half minutes. Four men – David Canada (Saunier Duval), Rik Verbrugghe (Cofidis), Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) and Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto succumbed in their own disastrous ways.
They were in the break of the day, after a flurry of escape attempts in the first, super-fast hour of racing. Fedrigo and company were working well together – different teams represented, strong and experienced riders, no GC threats – and the time gap was growing. It was all going swimmingly …
… then the catastrophe! Flying round a right-hander (35kms from home) we had two separate crashes in the space of about 10 metres. Aerts wobbled his front wheel in the melting tar and managed to stay upright but Verbrugghe just inside him wasn’t so lucky and flew straight over the crash barrier. Result? Broken leg for the Belgian Giro stage winner.
In the same instance, David Canada (Saunier Duval) face-planted just behind them. Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) hit him, and catapulted straight over the crash barrier. Canada got up, jersey in tatters, but knew straight away that his collarbone had gone.
Matthias Kessler got up, too, and continued, but he looked very unhappy – jersey dusty, stones jammed into the vents on his crash hat, he wheeled it the finish more or less in one piece.
Fedrigo, Aerts and Commesso were alone against the peloton now, still over 3 minutes ahead, but missing half their firepower. The Frenchman had a go early on the Col de la Sentinelle in the last 15kms. Commesso chased and got on, but Aerts was blown out. Further back in the chasing field, a quartet of riders contrived to crash going uphill, getting tangled up on a corner and tumbling into a ditch.
Fedrigo led over the top of the second-category final climb, but at the front end of the peloton, Michael Boogerd hammered it, dragging Frank Schleck (CSC) and Jose Azevedo (Discovery) with him. It looked touch and go for Commesso and Fedrigo to hang on. The peloton shredded under the pressure and about 20 guys had gone clear.
The leading pair couldn’t give it full gas on the final descent because the tar was melting and they’d seen what had happened to Verbrugghe and Canada. It was total anarchy in the peloton which imploded on the final plunge down to Gap, as no team took charge of things.
Popovych and Azevedo started driving to try to set something up for Hincapie, but it was too late.
Under the red kite the lead duo had 9 seconds as they started to watch each other. The chasing group slowed, and immediately, Christian Vandevelde launched to catch them. He came up just short.
Commesso hit the front and led things out, but Fedrigo was too strong on the day and took the win easily.
Team Lampre reported after the stage: “I wanted to win this stage: until now I worked for the team and today I had my chance and I gave everything I owned. But the victory didn’t arrive”: commented with a very sad voice Salvatore Commesso after the end of the 14th del Tour de France (Montelimar-Gap). To console Commesso arrived the “Prix de la combativitи”: on Tuesday, after the rest day, Salvatore will run with the red number.
So we hit the last rest day, and there are still healthy handful of riders in with a shout. It looks like the most exciting final week in the Tour for a long, looong time, and Pez will be braving the heat and the climbs to bring you all the top stories. Keep it Pez!
PS: Unfortunately, Big Maggy ditched it this afternoon. Hopefully, we’ll be able to catch him shortly and get the scoop direct from the man himself.
Tour de France Stage 14: Montelimar – Gap 180.5km
1 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bouyges Telecom 4hrs 14’ 23”
2 Salvatore Commesso (Ita) Lampre same time
3 Christian Vandevelde (USA) CSC + 3”
4 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2r + 7”
5 Georg Totschnig (Aut) Gerolsteiner
6 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas
7 Christian Moreni (Ita) Cofidis
8 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel
9 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
10 Alexander Botcharov (Rus) Credit Agricole All same time
Tour de France Overall GC After Stage 1
1 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 64hrs 05’ 04”
2 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak + 1’29”
3 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Ag2r + 1’37”
4 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank + 2’30”
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto + 2’46”
6 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC + 3’21”
7 Andreas Klцden (Ger) T-Mobile + 3’58”
8 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 4’51”
9 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) Agritubel + 5’02”
10 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2r + 5’13”
15 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner + 7’ 08”