Early on today, with the Galibier and Alpe d’Huez waiting, Alberto Contador knew he had to attack like Chicago voting – early and often, if he had any hope of clawing his way back into this year’s Tour. And attack he did. The yellow jersey was up for grabs from the clutches of the defiant Tommy Voeckler, as were all the other jerseys. This Tour was coming down to the wire in almost every competition save for the team classification, where Garmin-Cervelo enjoyed a comfortable margin.
Wiping out the earlier meaningless break of the day, Contador had no choice and forced the issue before the meat of the Galibier hit them, and Andy Schleck was keen to get a piece of that move. Cadel was chasing as best he could up the climb after his team spent all its money on the front trying to limit the gap to the danger men up front. Tommy Voeckler was cracking like an egg, screaming at his teammates who apparently were driving too hard a tempo. He verbally abused them, then physically abused a bidon, slamming it to the ground in disgust. But, Tom, you yourself said you had zero chance to win, why not enjoy the last day in yellow?
The break whittled itself down to these four: Contador, Costa, Riblon and Schleck. These four managed to eke out a little over a minute, which caused a reaction behind by Evans, who began to chase after suffering an untimely puncture.
With Evans put on the defensive while screaming down the Galibier, help would be crucial and finally some riders began to take some pulls, but the gap kept opening to the mid-30 seconds mark.
Sanchez tacked on to the back of the leading quartet, while Cadel raced with his 9 man group behind to catch on. With so much descending before Alpe d’Huez, one would have to think Cadel’s mountain biking background would come into play and bring the leaders back, but surely he was hoping he wouldn’t have to dig too deep.
Evans was encouraging Hesjedal to come through and do some work with 38km to go, as the nine got the lead down to 22 seconds. After a few more k’s it opened up back to 29 seconds. Sandy Casar was taking big pulls and then the gap swung down to 13 seconds. The chase was desperate for the Evans group, and the chase was heating up a minute plus behind in the yellow jersey group.
Evans’ group clawed their way back, and under the 20km banner to go they had it down to 3 or 4 seconds. And just like that, the heads of state were once again joined in battle, and almost everyone called for a bottle. Stopping for a drink and a breather would help the yellow jersey group behind, where EuropCar and a few riders willing to help chased furiously.
Up front, Pierre Rolland took his leave of the group, and the Garmin man Ryder Hesjedal gave chase. The two built a little gap on the run in to the 21 switchbacks of the mighty Alpe d’Huez.
The yellow jersey group swelled in numbers as riders tacked on but the gap was down to nil to the GC favorites, and 52 seconds to Hesjedal and Rolland.
The leading duo hit the first slopes of the Alpe, and tried to settle into a rhythm but both men looked to be in abject agony from the get go.
The group, all together, hit the slopes next, and Leopard-Trek sent a rider to the front asap, with BMC in chase. The group shattered immediately, and Cadel Evans surged ahead, the Schlecks keeping a keen eye on him just a few seconds behind. Voeckler began his implosion V 2.0, and began slipping backward.
Cadel was all in from the foot, and given the best defense is a good offense, had nothing to lose as he motored away. But his move was picked off by the two Schlecks, helped by Jakob Fuglsang. Contador was in that group, and as soon as the group settled a bit, he went on the right side of the road, bouncing on the pedals and putting his teeth into the Tour de France. Andy Schleck answered it, taking Cadel Evans with him…..but Schleck was struggling a little bit – yesterday’s efforts had to be huring as of now. Cadel just sat stuck to Schleck, no dount thinking about the TT tomorrow, or laying in wait in counter the younger Schleck a little further up the hill.
Contador picked up Rolland and Hesjedal, took their wheel for a second to take a breath, then went to the front to set his tempo, which immediately dislodged the Canadian. Rolland managed to hang on, but it was huring.
Alberto Contador did everything he could to turn the Tour de France upside down, but couldn’t quite manage the feat.
The yellow jersey had lost a minute in the early slopes, lurching and pedaling squares with a few other riders well off the back.
Contador had 36 seconds over Schleck and Contador. The Aussie had to be doing the math, worrying about the TT. No one would have thought Contador would have put up this kind of ride.
The Schleck/Evans pair got picked up by the other Schleck, Sanchez, and a few other riders, swelling their group to about 9. Frank Schleck took a little dig, which Cadel answered, but the move didn’t make any real separation, it was more tempo than anything.
At about 7km to go Peter Velits, who had tucked in the group of 9, attacked, answered by Sanchez. The Schlecks and Evans and the others just kept their tempo up.
Contador looked possessed as he drove on ahead by himself, the fans cheering him along the hill. He had picked up just shy of a minute and had to be worrisome to Evans and the Schlecks.
Thomas Voeckler was in difficulty from the very beginning, but put in yet another impressive effort to defend admirably.
Through Dutch corner, Contador was loudly cheered on. Behind, the tempo was made by the two Schlecks, while Evans sat in, waiting and observing while looking fairly cool, along with Hesjedal, Danielson, and a few select others.
Rolland and Sanchez still dangled between that group and Contador.
5km to go, Contador had the stage win seemingly in hand, and a fan dressed as a doctor ran next to him with a stethoscope, earning himself a punch in the face from Contador.
Andy Schleck leaned into Evans and talked in his ear, and given Evans’ negative nod of the head, it seemed the request for assistance was denied. The crowds were thick as molasses along the sides of the roads, deafening roars all around.
Frank drove on, looking Michael Jordan-esque with his tongue hanging out at 4 km to go.
Pierre Rolland put in what has to be considered one of the best rides of this year’s Tour de France today…not too many people can lay claim to dropping Mr. Contador.
Inside the barriers, Schleck again was talking at Evans, who shrugged his shoulders and sat in. Contador pressed on, but Sanchez and Rolland were actually closing the gap to Alberto – 12 seconds with just 3km to go. Sanchez swung right and berated the young Frenchman for help, but Rolland said no.
Behind, Cunego, perhaps the best wheel sucker of this year’s Tour, made a dig and left the Schleck/Evans group. Ahead, Sanchez made the juncture, and immediately Rolland dug and attacked the two Spaniards. Contador grabbed the back wheel and Rolland bobbed and weaved and altered his tempo.
Cadel finally threw down and just ripped his group apart, where only Andy Schleck could match the move, and the two quickly went up to Cunego.
Ahead, Rolland managed to drop Contador! The young Frenchman was on his way to national hero status with this ride. Sanchez and Contador looked befuddled trying to tack back the young Grenchman, but it was useless, Europcar’s dream Tour went on, despite losing yellow.
Sanchez hit out and dropped Contador.
Rolland crossed the line, arms outstretched, followed by Sanchez, then Contador….nothing could go right this Tour for the defending champion it seemed.
No hard feelings – Sammy Sanchez gives Pierre Rolland a hug after Rolland left the unfortunate Euskaltel rider for dead after Sanchez rode him across the gap to Contador.
Behind, Schleck threw a few punches to answer Evans’ attacks of the past two km’s, but they were mostly for show as their group came to the line together.
Stage 19 Results
1 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 3:13:25
2 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:14
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:23
4 Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad 0:00:57
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
6 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD
8 Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
9 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
10 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:01:15
11 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo
12 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:27
13 Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:06
14 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
15 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
General Classification After 19 Stages
1 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 82:48:43
2 Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:00:53
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:57
4 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:02:10
5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD 0:03:31
6 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:55
7 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:04:22
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:04:40
9 Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:07:11
10 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:08:57