What a show we fans have been given, it’s a veritable dream race after the last eight years of predictability. It’s like an engrossing novel: good guys, bad guys, plot twists, drama, emotion, and good ol’ blood and guts.
Today would be the last day for fireworks before the brass tacks of tomorrow’s Time Trial in Albi, and then the two subsequent hellish days in the mountains, and fans wondered if they’d see some type of action a’la Vino’s last ditch jump at stage end yesterday, or some type of heroics like Soler’s big day out in the Alps. The course was sprinkled with hills as it arced away from the coastline, nothing major, and it seemed as though it might be a routine day, but if this Tour has taught us anything, there’s no such thing as a routine day in this boucle.
At least the first few feet of the stage were a lazy, nice affair.
The first break of six went off under 30k into the race, but it was short lived as the group put the tractor beam on and reeled them in. Soon after, another septet went, this one containing the estimable David Millar, but it too was not given quarter. Finally, after 110k, the duo of Pierrick Fйdrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) made their bid for freedom, and succeeded, the 5 or 6 who tried to tack on were not let loose, and off went the pair, and the group settled into a rhythm.
The break of the day: Pierrick and Amets. Curious names indeed.
The duo with somewhat curious names put over 11 minutes in their pockets in no time, but, just like a pot roast, the slow cook behind began, timing the catch to perfection. In the bylines, Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) had made a bid to bridge, but did nothing more than spelunk in no man’s land, though he did gain 6 minutes on the main group.
Tom Boonen enjoys a visit from Lientje Van Der Kelder (I don’t know who that is), she doesn’t seem too upset about Tommeke’s presence.
The minor bumps gave cause to pay extra attention in the group, as even though the climbs were not so vicious, they were climbs nonetheless, and the big names all were visible on the front, including the seemingly rabid Vinokourov. Hurt, injured, with 8 minutes hanging on him, one can tell the group still fears the Kazakh.
The leaders weren’t taking any chances today – they were all attentive at the front on the climbs.
The gap was slowly whittled away as the peloton ate up the road. Liquigas rolled near the front for their man Pozzatto, Lampre for Bennati. By the dwindling gap and the amount of road left in the race, the arithmetic would tell you the dynamic duo up front would be gobbled up with 7k to go.
Michael Rasmussen, resplendent in yellow though under a bit of fire for missing some controls in June, rode smartly near the front all day, under close escort by some Rabobank teammates. At the business end, FDJ threw a few bodies onto the sword to bring the escapees back.
Thor Hushovd drives the field…yeah, that’s right…Thor Hushovd is at the front driving hard. Thor will SMASH (copyright somebody else).
At 9k, the pair up front pared down to under a minute’s advantage. They were clearly doomed. The catch up front made the group giddy, and a gallimaufry of riders were jettisoned out the back. Between the escape and the peloton, the cars were pulled out.
At 4k, and with 24 seconds in hand, the duo kept cranking, committed, tongues displayed in agony. Behind, Quick Step and FDJ set the hard tempo after a bit of disorganization which played to the advantage of the break. Soon, some Milram riders entered the fray. Alas, at 1k, the catch was made.
Quick Step went to the front and took the race by the throat, as they kept Steegmans, as last man for Boonen. The grand old man, Erik Zabel positioned himself well as only a seasoned pro like him could, and the likes of Hunter and Dean marauded nearby at 40mph. Steegmans launched boonen, as Chavanel (FDJ) tried but failed on the left. Boonen staved off the charging Zabel on the right and Hunter on the left, to take his 2nd win of this Tour.
Yippee…I won. My ridiculously successful career just got a little bit more ridiculous.
That’ll be it for the sprinters for a while, as tomorrow’s TT will reveal much, as Sunday’s and Monday’s stages in the mountains. By Monday night, when the dead and wounded are collected, we should have a clearer picture of who will be in yellow in Paris, but until then, it’s anybody’s game. What a Tour!
My guns…I owe everything to these two.
Stage 12 Results
1. Tom Boonen (B) Quick Step, 178.5km in 4:25:32
2. Erik Zabel (G), Milram
3. Robert Hunter (RSA), Barloworld
4. Daniele Bennati (I), Lampre-Fondital
5. Thor Hushovd (N), Crйdit Agricole
6. Bernhard Eisel (A), T-Mobile
7. Sebastien Chavanel (F), Franзaise des Jeux
8. Nicolas Jalabert (F), Agritubel
9. Robert Forster (G), Gerolsteiner
10. Andrey Kashechkin (Kz), Astana, all s.t.
General Classification After 12 Stages
1. Michael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, 57:37:10
2. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne, 2:35
3. Iban Mayo (Sp), Saunier Duval-Prodir, 2:39
4. Cadel Evans (Aus), Predictor-Lotto, 2:41
5. Alberto Contador (Sp), Discovery Channel, 3:08
6. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, 3:39
7. Andrйas Klцden (G), Astana, 3:50
8. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Discovery Channel, 3:53
9. Kim Kirchen (Lux), T-Mobile, 5:06
10. Mikel Astarloza (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 5:20