Today's climb up Mont Ventoux served as a worthy test of the strength and willpower that will mark the top general classification riders when they take to the podium tomorrow in Paris--not only because of the vicious crosswinds and unrelenting ascent, but also because of the tactical battle that played out among those not quite ready to concede.
About 25K to the summit, crosswinds began to split up the peloton. Yet all the top riders remained in the lead group. Meanwhile, a 16-man breakaway that held about a five-minute lead had begun the ascent and started to shatter.
When the yellow jersey group reached the base of the climb, Frank Schleck immediately accelerated. Lance Armstrong stuck on his wheel. Alberto Contador remained there, too. Then Andy Schleck attacked, but could not maintain the gap. Around the 10K-to-go mark, Andy attacked again, shadowed by Contador. Frank Schleck couldn't match the acceleration and the top two in the GC began to climb away. Armstrong stuck with his rivals for the third spot on the podium, including Andreas Klöden, Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali.
Nibali, who sat 1:50 off Armstrong, broke free to catch the yellow jersey up the road and possibly gain a podium spot should Lance falter. Andy Schleck continued to accelerate away from Contador, but the Spaniard stuck to his wheel as they passed remnants of the lead breakaway like billboards on a highway.
Recognizing that he wasn't helping his brother overcome Armstrong, Andy Schleck eventually slowed down and allowed Armstrong's group to again merge with the yellow jersey. It was then that Franco Pellizotti launched an effort at the stage win, aiming for the final two breakaway riders, Juan Manuel Garate of Rabobank and Tony Martin of Team Columbia-HTC.
At around 4.3K to the summit, the Schleck brothers took advantage of the forced slowing of the moterbikes and official cars by the thick crowds to surge forward again. While Contador, Armstrong and Wiggins remained on their wheels, Klöden fell off the back. Wiggins would begin to do the same at around the 3K mark, but managed to claw his way back on. Andy continued to hold a hard tempo. A kilometer later, Wiggins again began to slip behind, only to seemingly will himself back up to the yellow jersey group and maintain his fourth-place overall position.
With 1.5K to the line, Andy Schleck attacked again. Contador and Armstrong followed, but Frank Schleck and Wiggins couldn't answer and lost contact with the three. Up the road, Garate put the pressure on Martin for the stage victory. Martin managed to reel in Garate, but the Spanish rider had enough strength left at the finish to take the stage victory, the first for the Rabobank team at this Tour.
Less than a minute later, Andy Schleck led Contador and Armstrong over the line, cementing their podium spots in Paris. Frank Schleck followed a few seconds later, and the clock began to tick down on Wiggins for fourth overall. The Garmin-Slipstream rider, visibly using every bit of strength he could manage, stopped the clock with three seconds to spare.
Andy Schleck, right, leads brother Frank up Mont Ventoux while Alberto Contador, in yellow, looks back at Lance Armstrong.
AP Photo/Bernard Papon, POOL
Stage 20 Results
- Juan Manuel Garate – Rabobank – 4:39:21
- Tony Martin – Team Columbia-HTC +00:03
- Andy Schleck – Team Saxo Bank +00:38
- Alberto Contador – Astana +00:38
- Lance Armstrong – Astana +00:41
- Frank Schleck – Team Saxo Bank +00:43
- Roman Kreuziger – Liquigas +00:46
- Franco Pellizotti – Liquigas +00:56
- Vincenzo Nibali – Liquigas +00:58
- Bradley Wiggins – Garmin-Slipstream +01:03
Other U.S. Riders
16. Christian Vande Velde – Garmin-Slipstream +02:34
33. George Hincapie – Team Columbia-HTC +05:45
120. Tyler Farrar – Garmin-Slipstream +25:49
142. Danny Pate – Garmin-Slipstream +25:49
145. David Zabriskie – Garmin-Slipstream +25:49
- Alberto Contador – Astana – 81:46:17
- Andy Schleck – Team Saxo Bank +04:11
- Lance Armstrong – Astana +05:24
- Bradley Wiggins – Garmin-Slipstream +06:01
- Frank Schleck – Team Saxo Bank +06:04
167K (103.8 miles) - July 25, 2009
• The only other time the Tour stopped in Montélimar was 2006
• Mont Ventoux has been a stage finish seven times, but never as the penultimate stop before Paris...until now
• From the Archive:
- 2000: Simpson's Ghost Hovers, but Armstrong's Shadow Is Larger
- 2000: Pantani Wins 12th Stage, Armstrong Remains in Lead
- 2002: Virenque Wins 14th Stage, Armstrong Extends Overall Lead
• Sprint Points at: Les Pilles, Mormoiron
• Mountain Passes: Côte de Citelle located at 14 kilometers - 5.2km climb to 3.9 percent grade - Category 3; Col d'Ey at 65.5km - 6.7km climb to 4.8 percent grade - Cat. 3; Col de Fontaube at 87km - 4.7km climb to 4.2 percent grade - Cat. 4; Col des Abeilles at 121.5km - 7.7km climb to 4 percent grade - Cat. 3; Mont Ventoux at 167km - 21.1km climb to 7.6 percent grade - Hors Categorie
Image courtesy of www.letour.com
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