And no more ‘poids’ for gallant Fred Kessiakoff, but his Pyrenean purge nearly worked. But Voeckler is Voeckler – love him or hate him, you have to respect him.
As Dave said; ‘Man of the day!’
The ASO press release has a similar message, but adds a few more flowers;
‘VOECKLER: THE PRINCE BECOMES KING OF THE CLIMBS.’
PEZ drove virtually every meter of the parcours: here we go . . .
The Boulevard des Pyrenees, Pau, 10:00 am, Tuesday.
The sun is splitting the sky, the views are spectacular. That’s the nice bit.
On the flip side, Frank Schleck left the race under a cloud last night. An ‘A’ sample from a dope test ‘showed xipamide in Frank Schleck’s urine sample of July 14’ said the team’s press release. The substance can be used as a so called ‘masking agent’ – being a diuretic it can be used to ‘flush’ the system.
Until the ‘B’ sample test is conducted, there’s little more can be said. The ‘elephant in the room’ has been duly exorcised.
Ironically, on this hardest stage of the race, thus far, the early parcours is pan flat. But that’s just an illusion; today is a monster stage with four of the Tour’s legendary climbs being taken in during the 197 kilometres from Pau to Bagneres-De-Luchon.
The first joust with gravity for the 155 coureurs left in the race is the 1,709 metre Col d’Aubisque, (HC) 16.4 kilometres at an average 7.1%.
As Martin drops a gear in the Renault, Dave advises from his sofa in wet old Scotland that there have been a lot of attacks from kilometre zero, but nothing has ‘stuck.’
The Aubisque is a tough one, the gradient varies so it’s hard to find the rhythm. There are marker posts every kilometre, not the best for the morale if it’s not your day.
The views are spectacular, though – it’s deciding what not to photograph that’s the problem.
The crowds aren’t huge but there are four Giants to choose from and most folks will go for watching late in the day. But there are Cadel fans making their presence felt as GreenEDGE video the climb for their website.
The descent is technical with no pattern to the bends and nasty shadows to upset a rider’s reading of the road.
Dave tells us there are 37 riders clear with a three minute lead – that’ll shake out on the Aubisque.
As we drop down, the descent becomes ever more lethal, with just a low concrete curb between the parcours and the rock face, below. Tunnels make it even more dangerous, plunging riders into darkness from blazing sunshine.
The parcours rises briefly to take in the top of the Col du Solour before dropping again, in search of the valley floor.
Dave has names: Dan Martin, Steve Cummings, Fred Kessiakoff, Tommy Voeckler, Ten Dam, Vino, Big George, Johnny Hoogerland, Karpets, Voigt, Casar, Fedrigo, Ladagnous, Arishiro, Kiryienka, Hondo, Kruijswijk . . .
There are a few ‘real deal’ big rouleurs in there.
We’re running out of valley floor and sure enough, the parcours begins to drag.
‘Tommy from Fred, bunch @ 4:20 behind group of 38 on the Aubisque GPM,’ Dave tells us. It’s obviously not fully ‘on’ at this stage.
The crowd is much thicker on the Tourmalet – and every camper van in Europe is up here.
It really is a beast, (HC) 19 K @ 7.4% rising to 2,115 metres, gentle to start with but ever more savage as it goes on, slicing across the mountain side – grass, scree, bare rock.
Octave Lapize stands guard at the top as the first man to tame the beast.
Off the top, drop, drop, drop.
The gap is six minutes, Dave tells us they tackle the lower slopes of the Tourmalet – the likes of Dumoulin and Popovych are among those shelled from the break.
And it’s that well known mountain goat, Danilo Hondo clear, alone on the flanks of the beast – wow!
Bad news for Sky as Cav slips out the back of the peloton. Meanwhile, we scurry down the valley; it’s fast and not too technical.
Hondo comes to his senses as Dan Martin, Laurens Ten Dam and Fred Kessiakoff go clear.
And we’re on the Col d’Aspin – there’s no valley road, just down off the Tourmalet and straight back up. The Aspin (1st) is less savage, rising to 1,489 metres by way of 12.4 K at 4.8% grade.
The Martin group comes back; the break is 16 strong with seven minutes lead – that could stick. We drive the Aspin – the crowds are big and a strong breeze is blowing on the riders’ right shoulder.
The crowd is decent but we reckon it’ll be mega on the Peyresourde. There’s more descending and more spectacular views.
The Col de Peyresourde (1st) is the last climb of the day; 9.5 K @ 6.7% rising to 1,569 metres.
We haven’t heard much about the peloton, but Dave updates that it’s well whittled down with Sky doing the ‘clockwork soldier thing.’
The gap to the leaders is over nine minutes – it’s unlikely that’s coming back. Voeckler and Feillu are first over the Tourmalet, then Ten Dam, Sorenson and Kessiakoff @ 50 seconds.
We’re on the Peyresourde, now – Dave tells us that the peloton is down to less than 40 riders and likens it to a sportif. Liquigas need Dave in that team car.
Pit stop – San Miguel for me, coffee for Martin, that’s better. And we have to stop for the mad Aussies – of course.
Young Ed tells me; ‘Tom pulls some quality faces, still leading with Feillu.’ Dave adds; ‘Vino, Ten Dam, Big George, Sorenson, Voigt, Martin and Kiryienka chasing Voeckler and Feillu, 1:45 behind; the bunch at 10.30.
We’ve parked up, inside five to go – it’s a balancing act, you want to be as near the top as possible, but not so far that you can’t park. If you go over the summit, you may have to drive a couple of kilometres to get parked then walk back up – never good.
‘Evans dropped on the Aspin as Liquigas apply pressure.’
It’s about time, if Nibali wants to keep that third spot on the podium, he’ll need more than a 56 second buffer on Evans for the final TT.
Dave stresses that Sky are showing no signs of panic.
In L’Equipe, this morning, there’s a list of their staff on the race: one physiotherapist, five soigneurs, four bike mechanics, one car mechanic, one head chef, one bus driver, one ViP chaffeur and one photographer.
But that’s in addition to David Brailsford (head man), Sean Yates, Servais Knaven both (DS), Shane Sutton, Tim Kerrison and Rod Ellingworth (all coaching), Steve Peters, Richard Freeman (both medical), Carsten Jeppesen (logistics) and Fran Millar and Dario Cioni both media.
They don’t do it by half.
We’re expecting Tommy and Brice, but it’s the Europcar man riding, ‘la course en tete’ – alone at the head of the race. Feillu’s style looks weary compared to Tommy’s jack in the box, jersey flapping bravado.
Chris Anker Sorensen has caught the Sojasun Frenchman and is riding hard at the front in that animated style of his. But it looks like Tommy to us. Vino leads an Euskaltel, he’s impassive; there’ll be no dream end to this last Tour for the Kazakh.
Voigt passes, dribs, drabs, Big George, who’s been on the deck.
Basso drives the ‘blue train’ – with Froome and Wiggins right behind, naturally.
V de B is there, Tejay, Nibali . .
‘Martin, did you see Cadel?’ He didn’t, neither did I; the reason being he’s several minutes back and in trouble.
Fred and his dots, one gruppetto after another – Cav and Sagan are safe; but it looks like a Pyrenean John Connors has had the best of this encounter with a Terminator.
Stone last is Jan Ghyselinck of Cofidis, by the time he passes, we know that Tommy has won the stage – but that’s 20 K away.
We jump the voiture balai – if we didn’t, we’d still be up there.
This is Basque Land and there are numerous displays of solidarity.
As we near the top, it starts to get crazy – there’s a piper banging out; ‘Scotland the Brave.’
And somehow, an American Indian has jumped the reservation; ‘how!’
Meanwhile, the guys in the QuickStep team car amuse themselves with water fights with fans.
We’re glad when we crest the summit and can drop to beautiful Luchon and our ‘evacuation’ route.
Cadel the big loser, Nibali’s grip on a podium place is tighter and Brad’s a day closer to Paris. But like Dave said, it was Tommy’s day.
And we need a cerveza.
We’re in Spain, tonight so; ‘hasta manana.’