Tour de France stage 12: Sánchez storms to Bastille Day victory
July 14, 2011 16 Comments
In his ‘home’ territory of the Pyrenees, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sánchez claimed victory on the summit of Luz-Ardiden on a day which provided definite pointers to the form of the leading general classification contenders without proving anything conclusive. Yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler, the darling of the French media, put in a typically battling performance on Bastille Day to limit his losses and maintain a lead of nearly two minutes which should guarantee him the race lead at least until Saturday’s monster stage to Plateau de Beille.
Thomas in the break, and in the wars
On their national day, three French riders featured in the day’s six-man break. Geraint Thomas (Sky) was the best placed man, 31st overall, 5:51 behind Voeckler. Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun), Blel Kadri (AG2R) and Jérémy Roy (FDJ) figuratively flew the tricolore, and the group was completed by José Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar) and Rubén Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). For Roy and Pérez, this was the third time each had appeared in a breakaway – the latter’s previous appearance was as recent as yesterday.
The break pushed their lead out to nine minutes, with Mangel winning the intermediate sprint at Sarrancolin after 119km. When the peloton arrived, HTC-Highroad set up Mark Cavendish to scoop up the nine points available for seventh place, with teammate Tony Martin denying José Joaquín Rojas eighth. Philippe Gilbert was 13th as Cavendish extended his lead in the green jersey competition to 18 points.
Mangel again led over the summit of the day’s first climb, the first category Hourquette d’Ancizan, with the peloton still 5½ minutes adrift. Thomas had barely followed him over the crest when he appeared to slide on a right-hand bend and had to dive off his bike to ensure he didn’t fly over the precipice, the first of two crashes he would endure in quick succession. As the front of the peloton followed minutes later, Voeckler had a huge wobble in the same spot and was unseated, and several other riders including Andreas Klöden immediately behind him also came down.
The middle of the day’s three climbs was the Col du Tourmalet, which had been the final hors catégorie climb of the 2010 Tour and was the first of this year’s. Close to the top of the mountain, Thomas broke free of the lead group and was eventually joined by Roy. The Frenchman easily outpaced the Sky rider over the summit to claim 20 mountains points.
Leopard-Trek force the final selection
Behind them, Leopard-Trek moved to the front of the peloton with the familiar hang-dog expression of Jens Voigt setting a punishing tempo which soon saw some big names shelled out of the back, including white jersey leader Robert Gesink, Christian Vande Velde, Tejay Van Garderen and Ryder Hesjedal. Voigt would again drive the pace on the lower slopes of Luz-Ardiden in pursuit of the two leaders, who were now being pursued by Kadri and a small group containing both Sánchez and Gilbert, which had popped off the front of the peloton on the descent from the Tourmalet.
One by one on the final climb the pretenders fell away. The injured Klöden was one of the first. So too three-time Vuelta King of the Mountains David Moncoutié, who opted to save his energy for another day. With 10km to go the select group of favourites – which included both Schleck brothers, Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans, Damiano Cunego, Nicolas Roche and the yellow jersey of Voeckler – was 1:43 behind the leaders. As the pace picked up, they took back 30 seconds in the next kilometre, and by 8km the leaders were almost within sight, just 35 seconds up the road.
By now Sánchez and Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Jelle Vanendert had broken free of their little group, and caught and passed the leaders, and the pair would continue untouched all the way to the finish. Olympic champion Sánchez kicked hard with around 250 metres to go and pulled well clear of the tiring Vanendert to claim his first Tour stage.
But the real battle – or at least the initial exploratory feints and parries – was unfolding behind the front two. Andy Schleck launched an initial attack 4km from home to draw his rivals out and set up brother Fränk for a second, more concerted attack. Basso attacked, then Fränk again. Each time the remainder of their eight-strong group was forced to respond, sapping their legs. It was Fränk Schleck’s third attack with 2.5km remaining that proved decisive. He kicked hard, and nobody went with him as he pulled out 20 seconds on the others and nearly caught Vanendert at the finish to finish ten seconds behind the winner.
This final attack was finally enough to dislodge Voeckler who, supported by teammate Pierre Rolland, was able to minimise his loss to 50 seconds. Of the other favourites, Basso and Evans looked the most willing and able to lead the chase with Andy Schleck hanging off their coat-tails as they crossed the line 30 seconds after Sánchez. Cunego lost touch just before the line, finishing five seconds further back, while Contador was another eight seconds adrift, conceding 43 seconds to Sánchez, 33 to Fränk Schleck and 13 to Basso, Evans and Andy Schleck.
The net result was that Voeckler remained in yellow by 1:49, with Fränk Schleck in second place in a dramatically revised top ten. Cadel Evans and brother Andy are both within 28 seconds, with Contador now seventh, exactly four minutes behind. Key names dropping out of contention included Klöden (now 10:19 behind), Vande Velde (14:23) and Gesink (20:55). Gesink’s collapse promoted FDJ’s Arnold Jeannesson into the white jersey, while stage winner Sánchez displaced Johnny Hoogerland in the polka dot jersey.
Sánchez said the win was important to improve his position in the general classification, and it had added significance coming in front of so many Basque fans in the Pyrenees:
It’s a day full of emotion, as I rode in the ‘orange wave’ with the cheers of ‘our’ audience – it was very impressive! And here we are celebrating the anniversary of the victory of [Roberto] Laiseka [the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider who won at Luz-Ardiden ten years ago], so it’s a very special victory.
Andy Schleck pronounced himself more than satisfied on a day when he and his brother had combined to put the other contenders under real pressure:
It was a good day for us. I could see they were looking at us and then Fränk and me kept on attacking left and right. He went away and got some time and for the first mountain stage we’re pretty happy. Levi Leipheimer and Alberto both lost time. I’m happy when any GC rival loses times in the mountains. It shows that we’re on the right way but we’ve seen a really strong ride from Basso, Evans. You’ve got to watch out for them.
Contador admitted that he was not at his best, but improving day by day:
I didn’t feel great today. I’m actually feeling better than I have been in the past days. I am improving. Tomorrow, I should feel better. On balance, it’s been a good day.
And Voeckler was surprised but delighted to maintain his overall lead:
The favourites never attacked seriously. Every time somebody tried, it would all come back together and then the tempo slowed, so that allowed me to stay in touch. I said yesterday I would lose the yellow jersey and I really thought that would happen. But I also said I would give it my best to keep it.
For me, it’s a surprise but a nice surprise. When the favourites attack, I don’t usually manage to follow them.
We are still in the preliminary stages of what promises to be a week-long war of attrition in the high mountains, but the first round goes to the Schlecks, who looked strong and benefitted from Voigt’s incredible stamina in burning off so many riders. Contador will be worried at both his own form and his team’s inability to provide support at key moments. Basso and Evans (and to an extent Cunego) will also be pleased with their strong showing, although it remains to be seen whether they have the legs to attack decisively at critical moments. For now, the shadow boxing has begun, but the knockout punch is still some way away.
Stage 13 preview
As Pyrenean stages go this one is relatively easy, although it does feature the hors catégorie Col d’Aubisque (16.4km, 7.1%) two-thirds of the way through. However, with a long 40km descent to the finish we will probably not see any major attacks from the top GC men and climbers, who will keep their powder dry for the summit finish at Plateau de Beille on Saturday. This may be a day for breakaway specialists who can climb or second-tier riders in the general classification – those seeking a top 20 finish – to make their mark on a day when the overall contenders will be happy not to chase them down.
Stage 12 result:
1. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 6:01:15
2. Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:07
3. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +0:10
4. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:30
5. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:30
1. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 51:54:44
2. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +1:49
3. Cadel Evans (BMC) +2:06
4. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +2:17
5. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +3:16
6. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) +3:22
7. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) +4:00
8. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +4:11
9. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo) +4:35
10. Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) +4:57
1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) 260 pts
2. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) 242
3. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 234
4. André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 164
5. Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) 163
1. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 40 pts
2. Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 32
3. Jérémy Roy (FDJ) 24
4. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) 24
5. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) 22
Tour de France preview
- Sanchez wins first mountain stage (news.bbc.co.uk)