After yesterday’s surprising drama, another potentially important day was on the menu for the Tour’s soldiers. The 179 kilometer day from Gap to Pinerolo, Italy included quite a few climbs: two Category 3′s, two Category 2′s, and one Category 1 climb.
Lumpy, but not too bad, right? Well, at least compared to the next two days…
The day started, as expected, aggressively and very fast. It took over 50 kilometers for the appropriate group to manage to pull free and when it did, it included some hard men.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, Ruben Perez, Tjallingii, Fofonov, Muravyev, Amador, Paterski, Chavanel, El Fares, Casar, Bozic, Leukemans, Hivert, and Mollema.
After a torrid start, the recipe for the proper flavored break had been found, and they were off. The gap went up, up, up. This wasn’t a sacrificial break, this was a break that would decide the stage.
The day’s break.
With the break far off in the distance, AG2R’s Nicolas Roche, Johnny Hoogerland, and Kevin De Weert depart the safety of the bunch in an attempt to bridge the ocean between field and break.
Surprisingly, the trio manage the feat on the wattage of an extremely powerful Kevin De Weert. The young Belgian has been fantastic in this year’s Tour and proved again that he’s a rider to pay attention to today.
Unfortunately for the trio, they didn’t get much time to enjoy the fun, as Euskaltel’s Ruben Perez was already gone to collect top points on the Sestriere climb, then see about glory in Pinerolo.
Perez rode well, but suffered on the long downhill drag to the climb of the Pra Martino. By the time he reached the base of the climb, his gap on the chasing break was nonexistent, and the race was just beginning.
The small gap Perez had was erased with authority by a hard charging Sylvain Chavanel. Unfortunately for Chavanel, who looked primed for glory in his country’s national tour, he found an extremely strong Edvald Boasson Hagen. Boasson Hagen attacked the French champion, and Chavanel had nothing in response. The Sky rider, already an owner of a stage win at this year’s Tour, smoothly powered clear and opened up his gap bit by bit over the top of the category two summit.
Here goes Contador! The speed of the defending Tour de France champion is akin to a motorbike on the narrow wooded slopes of the Italian ascent. Andy Schleck and Thomas Voeckler are more than a match for the Spaniard’s bullet shot attack. Unlike yesterday, Contador seems content with the effort and resigns himself to climbing with the select field.
Ahead, Boasson Hagen summits, and Contador goes again. In the shadows of the Pra Martino, the yellow jersey of Thomas Voeckler is under attack. Frank Schleck goes over the top of Contador, but favorites are quickly on his wheels. Those that aren’t, like Basso, get back on to terms slowly, but on to terms nonetheless. So far, so good.
On the descent, Bauke Mollema and Jonathan Hivert are chasing at frightening speeds, and sure enough… Hivert nearly loses the road on a turn, and just as I caught my breath, he really does lose it a turn later, going tumbling into the pleasant darkness of the forest. Thankfully, he’s in one piece, leaps back on to his bike and resumes his dangerous descending maneuvers.
With attacks flying from the main field and bodies flying just behind him, Boasson Hagen pieces together a sterling descent sans difficulty and with plenty of speed. Behind, Hivert loses the road again! The images of Hivert desperately karate kicking to save balance will be some of the most memorable from today’s stage.
Rein Taaramae goes hard and stretches the lead group over the top, but despite the best efforts of some of the favorites, the group stays together over the top. Now, the fun can begin…
Thomas Voeckler can’t restrain himself and takes advantage of the technical descent. Voeckler, Contador, and Sanchez are cannonballing the downhill. Voeckler’s extreme aggression gets a warning from the road when he briefly loses contact with the road for a moment, but luckily, keeps it upright, but only just. With that slip, the Spanish duo of Contador and Sanchez arrive to the same light bulb moment – let’s go even faster! Off they go with Contador putting the demon descender Sanchez into difficulty.
As the drama of a downhill race unfolded behind, Edvald Boasson Hagen pushed home the final few kilometers to the finish in Pinerolo. The hard won gap from the Pra Martino and its descent allowed the Norwegian to enjoy his second stage win of this year’s Tour de France. It was a beautiful solo victory for Boasson Hagen and redemption for yesterday’s loss to countryman, Hushovd. Speaking of country – today’s win marks Norway’s fourth of the Tour de France.
Back to suspense – Voeckler tries out the same driveway that Jonathan Hivert had experimented with just a few minutes before. Like Hivert, Voeckler was able to keep it upright, but the u-turn necessary to get back on the road costs him valuable time while Contador and Sanchez drive like madmen for the line in Pinerolo. Unfortunately for Voeckler – Contador and Sanchez are the least of his worries – he misses the chase group too, and is left to pedal desperately to limit his losses until he’s caught by the notoriously bad descender, Ivan Basso, on the flat run-in to Pinerolo.
The faces of Sanchez and Contador, like their effort, were unified in suffering, but like yesterday, the effort was seemingly paying off. The gap was real, and their downhill antics had put the yellow jersey into difficulty.
Contador digs deep just to get back on the wheel of Sanchez as the Olympic Champion comes through – you can feel the searing pain through the computer/tv. It’s impressive.
Just as the duo take the final turn – surprise – the chasing group containing the Schlecks and Evans catches Contador and Sanchez – the effort was ultimately fruitless, save for time gained on a misfiring Thomas Voeckler. In the end, it was Voeckler’s downhill aggression that cost him dearly. The missed turn cost him a spot in the leading group and valuable seconds. When the general classification flashes on tv – Voeckler’s lead on Evans is down to only 1:18.
Whew. We’ve been told that the race begins in earnest tomorrow. What in the world are we in for?
Stage 17 Results
1 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 4:18:00
2 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:40
3 Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ 0:00:50
4 Julien El Fares (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
5 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team
6 Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana 0:01:10
7 Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale
8 Dmitriy Muravyev (Kaz) Team RadioShack
9 Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Saur – Sojasun 0:01:15
10 Borut Bozic (Slo) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:02:20
General Classification After 17 Stages
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 73:23:49
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:01:18
3 Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:01:22
4 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:02:36
5 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:02:59
6 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:15
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:03:34
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:03:49
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:06:04
10 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:07:36