Since Kilometer 9 a large group of 20, featuring none other than a desperate Cadel Evans, made their jump off the front and managed to cut out upwards of 3 minutes. But the group was eventually distilled over the opening 100km, and finally was represented by Yaroslav Popovych (Astana), Josa Luis Arrieta Lujambio (AG2R La Mondiale), Jose Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Caisse d’Epargne), David Millar (Garmin – Slipstream), and Leonardo Duque (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne).
Duque took off in a desperate solo bid as the fat lady sung for the rest of the break, but it too was for naught. Despite the big firepower of the escapees, the doom hammer came down with 36km to go. Duque dangled but managed to swipe the last sprint point on the day and then the climb began. Col de l’escrinet 14k at 4% – not too terribly difficult but with so few chances left to actuate the race, we were bound to see some attacks.
Rabobank had missed the breaks all day and did most of the pace all day, and that didn’t change as they swept up Duque, only to see his fellow Cofidis rider Christopher Kern take off. That too, was a short lived solo move thanks to Liquigas, but still Rabobank went to the front and kept the pace up with Juan Miguel Garate. Clearly they were thinking they’d pick up a stage win with Oscar Friere today.
BBox rider Laurent Lefevre went next, leaping off the front and establishing a gap. At 51 minutes down, there wasn’t what you’d call panic behind. There were still 9k to the top and 25 k to the finish. Laurent cut out 15 seconds while the peloton rode steady tempo behind, the work being done by Cervelo and Rabobank.
No problems for the Astana boys today.
Then from about 6th wheel world champion Allesandro Ballan too the rainbow jersey on a flyer and bridged up to Lefevre, and the two immediately began working together pushing the gap to 17 seconds.
Menchov kept up the pace at the front of the peloton, followed by the Astana team. More and more riders were being shown the way out via the back door of the peloton.
A raucous crowd cheered the riders on their way up as the group pinned back the break to just 13 seconds. Ballan lead over the top, then Caisse’s Sanchez immediately attacked as the group crested just 10 seconds behind but it didn’t stick.
Ballan did the World Champion colors proud today. There’s still a lot of racing to be done in the Rainbow Jersey this year.
So ahead we still had Ballan and Lefevre punishing their pedals, totally committed to the effort at hand. Behind, the work was being done by Columbia-HTC and Milram. Between the two was a precarious 10 seconds.
Under the 3k banner and the two ahead were just burying themselves but it seemed to be slipping away as the Columbia juggernaut still had 3 men pushing the pace for Cavendish behind. The main group was considerably smaller now, but all the big names that needed to be there were there.
2k, flat out, still just a few seconds in hand. Hincapie drove the final nail in the coffin of the duo as they went around a roundabout. Oscar Friere decided on cyclocross and jumped the curb and went over the grass, reentering the group on the other side of the traffic circle.
With only Renshaw leading him out with a full k to go, Cavendish leapt out of the slipstream and once again buried the sprint, once again followed by Hushovd, then Ciolek. Tyler Farrar was in the mix until the Missile’s leadout, Renshaw, came backwards and forced Farrar off his line. More bad luck for the American.
So, another stage win for Cavendish, who only picked up 5 points on the 2nd placed green jersey of Thor. We won’t see these two trading punches tomorrow as they’ll both have prime seats in the bus once Ventoux kicks up, but come Sunday on the Champs, we’ll see another battle, no doubt.
Tomorrow the last chance to save face for some, stamp authority for others, and just survive for the rest, manifests itself in the rocky high slopes of Mont Ventoux. No doubt the desperate will be out swinging for the fences and the fireworks will be worth watching.
Stay tuned to Pez as we take the final turns home to Paris…what a Tour!
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