France scored its fourth stage win in the 2010 Tour de France on Sunday as Ag2r’s Christophe Riblon was the last survivor of a day-long break and held off a group of GC contenders on the mountaintop finish at Ax-3 Domaines.
The favorites engaged in a tactical battle on the final climb, but in the end there were no changes at the top at the standings — despite several attacks, Alberto Contador (Astana) was unable to drop race leader Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank). In the battle for the third spot on the podium, Samuel Sanchez was able to rein in a late attack by Denis Menchov and the two finished at the same, taking about 15 seconds back from Contador and Schleck.
“I don’t know what to say, I’m just too emotional,” said Riblon, who was congratulated by Schleck after the Luxembourger’s arrival.
“Today I felt like I really had good legs, and so I went for it. Given the fact that Astana were chasing hard behind the breakaway, my victory feels even
“I did a good climb. It’s the kind of result I’ve been after for a long time
Schleck admitted to playing mind games with Contador.
But the said he is happy to wait to take more time off the Spanish ace if it means finishing the race in Paris with the yellow jersey.
“He played poker, I played poker, we both played poker today,” said Schleck. “I can afford to lose time to the others but I had to play the game today.
Tomorrow will be different.
“I want to win this Tour.”
Into the Pyrenees
The stage included two categorized climbs in the final kilometers. The first was the hors categorie Port de Pailhères, a 15.5km climb that averages 7.9 percent and began at the 140km mark and summited at 155.5km (29km from the finish).
After a tough, fast and technical drop to the valley the riders hit the finishing climb to Ax-3 Domaines, a 7.8km ascent that averages 8.2 percent.
A group of 11 rides, including breakaway specialist Jens Voigt and American time trial champion Dave Zabriskie, took off in the opening 10k. Voigt and some others soon fell off, but 10k later a bridging group came up to form a break of 11 riders, the best placed of whom was Ag2r’s Christophe Riblon.
The early break
- Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale), 33rd at 24:37
- Pierre Rolland, (BBox Bouygues Telecom), 46t at 42:25
- Geraint Thomas, (Sky Pro Cycling), 58th at 56:23
- Amaël Moinard, (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne), 70th at 1:03:36
- Jurgen Van De Walle, (Quick Step), 85th at 1:12:22
- Pavel Brutt, (Katusha Team) 115th, at 1:33:09
- Benoît Vaugrenard (FDJ), 127th at 1:38:15
- David Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions), 160th at 2:00:24
- Stéphane Auge (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne), 165th at 2:03:54
The gang hammered out a 10-minute gap for a bit ahead of the Saxo Bank-driven pack. But in the final 60k before the base of the Port de Pailheres, Astana took over the front and drove the pack into the base of the climb.
Astana’s pace left much of the pack with few reserves at the base of the first big climb of the Pyrenees, and a laughing group went out the back immediately. Up front the breakaway exploded quickly as well: Auge, Vaugrenard and Thomas were the first to pop, followed by Zabriskie. By the top, it was just Riblon and Moinard as the surviving duo of the long break.
But the real race was at the front of the peloton, where Rafael Valls (Footon Serveto) attacked early on the climb. A kilometer later, 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre, who won on a similar stage in 2003, launched. Schleck and Contador paid little attention as Contador’s wingman Daniel Navarro led the elite group of GC favorites.
Riblon hit the summit first, followed by Sastre, Valls and Caisse d’Epargne’s Vasil Kiryienka. KOM leader Anthony Charteau popped out of the lead group to grab some climber’s points on the HC summit.
Contador and Schleck appeared to save their battle for the final climb.
On the final climb Sastre, eager for a stage win, struggled to catch Riblon, the last survivor of the early break. But Astana’s Vinokourov and Navarro were driving an elite front group of about eight riders, and gaining on Sastre.
Vino’ gave up the front with 5k to go and a beat later Contador threw in his first attack, which was immediately marked by Schleck. The lead group was down to Joaquim Rodriguez, Denis Menchov, Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Samuel Sanchez, Contador and Schleck. They caught and passed Sastre as RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer, BMC Cadel Evans, HTC-Columbia’s Michael Rogers and Sky’s Bradley Wiggins each lost contact.
Schleck sat on Contador at the rear of the group, at times coming close to a standstill watching each other. Menchov had no use for the gamesmanship and attacked, putting time on Sanchez, who clawed his way back.
Up front Riblon looked strong all the way to the line at the ski area.
In the final kilometer Schleck and Contador, perhaps realizing that Menchov and Sanchez were taking time away from them, got down to business.
“We toyed with each other, but I think I finished the day on top,” said Contador.
“But I don’t think the final climb was hard enough for either of us to take time off each other. In the end we decided to collaborate to chase down Menchov and Sanchez.”
Stage 15 may have more bark than bite. With four categorized climbs, including the hors category Port de Balès (19.3km at 6.1 percent), the top contenders are sure to try to shed a rival or two. But with a 20km downhill into Luchon, a GC shakeup is unlikely.
After 106km of the stage, riders will pass the white marble memorial to Fabio Casartelli, who died on the Porte d’Aspet descent in 1995. No doubt some of the peloton will take a moment to say a silent prayer for the young Italian’s soul.
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