Richard Virenque is victorious for France on their quatorze de Juillet.
Long awaited after a week of fast and dangerous racing, the first hilly-mountainous stage of the Tour is over.
The race started with attacks and a group of 20 riders forming off the front. U.S. Postal took control and brought back the big group. Richard Virenque of Quick Step-Davitamon and Axel Merckx of Lotto-Domo took this opportunity to counter and form the day's breakaway.
They set out on a difficult task of trying to cover the remaining 200kms together. Their lead increased to one point of more than 10 minutes before Brioches La Boulangere picked up the chase behind to keep Virenque at bay and Voeckler in his yellow jersey.
Virenque left Merckx on the Category 1 climb with 40 miles to go and never looked back. Behind the group whittled down to 60 or so riders and seemed content to follow the pace of Voeckler's Boulangere team.
One other short note. It was sunny and warm. Definitely welcomed by the riders. It was a good day for them because it was not too hot. They will profit from the slow change of temperature if it is going to heat up more in the Pyrenees. It is tough to go from one extreme to the other.
The race favorites seemed hesitant to try any big moves. I think the jagged profile and distance of the stage made for a conservative peloton. This is not to say that Virenque did not work hard and earn his victory.
In the final he held strong and finished with over five minutes gained at a time when the field gains natural momentum. He added a polka dot jersey to his collection and will for sure focus the remainder of the Tour on this objective.
His interview following the stage was emotional as he dedicated the win to a good friend who passed away and his grandmother who passed away in June.
Tomorrow looks to be a similar stage but shorter. Maybe the riders will start off a bit more calm. Who knows? That is a big maybe. If a dangerous rider could slip into a bigger breakaway of 8-10 riders it could make for a very tough stage.
This transition through the Massif Central will favor any riders who are on their form. It is giving them a chance to find their climbing legs.
Let's see what goes down for Stage 11. It's going to be nice to get an indication of the state of the favorites -- Armstrong, Ullrich, Hamilton, Mayo, Heras and others like Julich, Leipheimer and Basso.
July 13: Stage 9: Back to work day
July 11: Stage 8: Hushovd takes cold, rainy day
July 10: Stage 7: Petacchi out Pozzato in!
July 9: Stage 6: More crashes and scares
July 8: Stage 5: The big breakaway day
July 7: Stage 4: Postal takes command, Lance in yellow
July 6: Stage 3: Cobblestones prove critical to Mayo
July 5: Stage 2: Hats off to Hushovd
July 4: Stage 1: Kirsipuu takes the opener
July 3: Prologue: Cancellara was man of the day
July 1: Preview: Lance, Jan and Tyler poised for podium
Former pro cyclist Kevin Livingston is in the unique position of being the only rider to have ridden on teams with the three top favorites of the 2004 Tour de France: Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich, and Tyler Hamilton. After retiring in 2002, Kevin started Kevin Livingston Consulting in Austin, Texas. For a complete bio click here