A 160km ride through the Pyrenees under a shining French summer sun greeted the riders today. A shining sun that saw the peloton cross two classic climbs of the Pyrenees, the Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet.
Pierrick Fedrigo took a hard-fought win over Pellizotti in an unlikely sprint. Pello looked to have it won, but Fedrigo took him on the line.
Normally two big, mythic mountains such as these would signal difficult times for the favourites, but the problem today was the distance from the top of the Tourmalet to the finish – 70kms! There was no way that the Schlecks and Evans etc were going to try anything on the Tourmalet today as they knew that such a move would be suicidal with a super strong Astana team behind to chase them down on the run home. Consequently everyone knew that a breakaway would be the order of the day and the attacks came thick and fast from kilometre zero.
Thirteen riders got clear in the first 30km but they never had a big gap as the peloton wasn’t content to let them go with Astana and Katusha especially prominent on the front. One member of the 13 man group was classic breakaway rider and general hardman, Jens Voigt. Jens knew that the break wouldn’t get clear with such a big group, so on a small unclassified climb he surged away taking Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Pierrick Fйdrigo (BBox Bouygues Telecom), and Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) with him.
Behind the action of these four, the other 9 riders were brought back to the peloton after an attack by Lance Armstrong! Yes, you read correctly, Lance himself attacked on this small unclassified climb sending shockwaves through the peloton. The only man to react quickly was the yellow jersey Nocentini who must have been thinking, ‘What on earth is going on here?’. Ok, so he’s Italian , maybe he was actually thinking, ‘Mama Mia!’ or perhaps something stronger….
With 130km still to go before the finish and the two mountains to cross it was a move by Armstrong that nobody was expecting. It certainly raised some eyebrows and got the spectators and journalists very excited, but in the end not much else, as it was quickly shut down by the peloton.
The four escapees out front stayed away however, and they soon hit the first obstacle of the day, the 1st category Col d’Aspin. The pace set by Pellizotti was too high for Duque, and he quickly dropped off the pace, whilst behind the now three man break another small move of 9 riders went clear.
This group was comprised of riders either looking after team interests (Paulinho for Astana and Van den Broeck for Silence-Lotto) or riders who are quite good climbers who thought that maybe they could be the next to take the climber’s jersey this year in Egoi Martнnez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Juan Manuel Gбrate (Rabobank), David Moncoutiй (Cofidis), Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R La Mondiale), and Thomas Voeckler (Bbox Bouygues Telecom).
Pellizotti took the points on the Aspin up front, and back in the following group, Egoi Martinez, took the maximum points on offer left to move him up in the KOM classification. On the following mountain, the HC Tourmalet, Franco Pellizotti continued his strong riding by attacking the front group with only Fйdrigo able to follow him. Jens Voigt continued to do his best, but his day in the front was over. Meanwhile, the fight for the points in the 2nd group continued with Voeckler, Moncoutie and Garate outsprinting Martinez at the summit this time. Martinez had done enough though to secure the mountains jersey for tomorrow.
Meanwhile, back in the peloton, absolutely nothing happened. Yes, nothing. The commentators and spectators alike were all disappointed with the lack of action but that’s what happens when you put an HC category mounatin in the middle of a stage followed by a 25km descent and then 45kms through a windy valley for the finish. Why would an overall favourite risk himself in a suicidal attack that would go nowhere? Cadel clearly wasn’t going to make that mistake two days in a row….
No worries for Nocentini. Ag2r gets to tend to Jaune for the next week…it would seem.
So instead of fireworks and battles in the mountains we instead had a surprise yellow jersey in Nocentini who had an ‘easy’ day in the mountains surrounded by his teammates and who wasn’t subjected to even one small attack. Even certain sprinters made it over the Tourmalet with the peloton, Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne) notably so. Consequently, their teams started to ride hard to catch the breakaways. The 2nd group of Martinez and Voeckler was quickly caught but the two riders out front, (Pellizotti and Fйdrigo) still had 4 minutes lead with 40kms remaining. Could they do it?
Oscar Freire took the sprint from the chasing field. Can you imagine if Freire had one a stage that included the d’Aspin and Tourmalet?
The time gap was dropping rapidly but the two riders out front were not giving up and at 5kms still to go the gap was 45seconds. After being on the attack since kilometre 12, these two weren’t giving up without a fight and, incredibly, they managed to hold off the charging peloton.
The difficult two man sprint with a corner only 150metres before the finish line was won by 1/2 a bike length by BBox’s Fйdrigo to take France’s 3rd stage victory this year! A great day for the French, a good day for the Italians with Nocentini easily holding yellow and a good day for the Spaniards with Martinez now moving into the climber’s jersey.
Stage 9 Results:
1 Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom 4:05:31
2 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas
3 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 0:00:34
4 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha
5 Peter Velits (Svk) Team Milram
6 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
7 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence – Lotto
8 Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Agritubel
9 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre – NGC
10 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
Overall After Stage 9:
1 Rinaldo Nocentini ITA ALM 30:18:16
2 Alberto Contador ESP AST at 00:00:06
3 Lance Armstrong USA AST at 00:00:08
4 Levi Leipheimer USA AST at 00:00:39
5 Bradley Wiggins GBR GRM at 00:00:46
6 Andrйas Klцden GER AST at 00:00:54
7 Tony Martin GER THR at 00:01:00
8 Christian Vande Velde USA GRM at 00:01:24
9 Andy Schleck LUX SAX at 00:01:49
10 Vincenzo Nibali ITA LIQ at 00:01:54