The first 10 km of the stage set the scene for the rest of the day as hard driving attacks and pulls split the race to pieces. For the break of nine, it was mostly an inglorious day as the nine became one. For Riblon, it was a lonely yet heroic ride into Ax-3-Domaines as he was able to dig deeper than the rest and realize his first stage win in a Tour de France.
Unbeknownst to the Ag2r rider, drama was unfolding and it began in the Gorges des L'Audes where Team Astana took control of the peloton in defense of Alberto Contador. There were no major moves by the top GC contenders on the slopes of the first major climb of the Pyrenees--Port de Pailheres--since the climb was followed by a 20 kilometer descent before the final climb to the mountain top finish.
When the peloton arrived on the slopes of the 7.8 kilometer Ax-3-Domaines, Saturday's stage 13 winner Alexandre Vinokourov set the pace for Contador. For a moment it seemed Schleck was falling off pace or had a mechanical as he drifted backwards to speak to a team car. It became apparent, however, that Schleck had no mechanical, no problems and perhaps was simply playing a mind game with Contador as he sat at the back of the group, seemingly not worried about his 30 second lead over the Spaniard.
Water is sprayed by spectators as Denis Menchov, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, front to rear, climb towards Ax Trois Domaines during the 14th stage of the Tour de France.
AP Photo/Christophe Ena
Vinokourov broke the legs off everyone except Denis Menchov, Samuel Sanchez and of course Contador, Schleck and the remains of the breakaway in front. Meanwhile, Carlos Sastre (Cervelo TestTeam) who had won on the slopes of Ax-3-Domaines before appeared to be on his way to a stage victory as he escaped the peloton. The Spaniard picked off previous attackers which included Footon-Servetto's 23 year old Rafael Valls.
There was no change in the top five of the overall general classification of the race, but Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador spent the final few kilometers of the climb into Ax-3-Domaines playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse and toying with their lead over the rest. With the Astana team driving the pace all the way from the base of the climb to Port de Pailheres, down the slopes and up to Ax-3-Domaines, Schleck had to only sit in and watch Contador and mark his attacks. Contador was unable to shake Schleck and it seemed Schleck was taking back some of the confidence he had given Contador on the previous stage into Mende.
Dreams Come True
Meanwhile, Riblon surged for the win. "I don't know what to say, I'm just too emotional," said Riblon, who was congratulated by Schleck after the Luxemburger'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 more valuable. I did a good climb. It's the kind of result I've been after for a long time."
While the two power climbers were playing their game and Riblon was soloing to his first win, Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi) gained an extra 15 seconds on the number one and two as they finished just 52 seconds behind Riblon.
In the end, Schleck admitted to his game playing. "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," he added.
American Levi Leipheimer, team RadioShack's podium hope lost a few seconds and fell from 6th to 7th in the GC giving way to Rabobank's Robert Gesink. Leipheimer eventually finished 11th at 1:53 behind Riblon. Anthony Charteau (Bbox-Bouygues Telecom) solidified his lead in the King of the Mountains competition. Charteau now has 115 points, with Jerome Pineau (Quick Step) in second with 92.
The rest of the pre-race contenders watched their mountains of hopes crumble to gravel. America placed their hopes on Lance Armstrong for a stage win today yet he was one of the first to pop off the peloton by the pace set by Astana on the Pailheres and finished 15:14 behind Riblon. Lance sits 38th overall at 39:44 behind Schleck. In spite Amrstrong's finish today, he still has hopes for a stage win.
"I'd still like to get one," stated Armstrong knowing this is a tall order at this point. "The race is hard, nobody's going to give it away."
Australians Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans, Britain's Bradley Wiggins and American Levi Leipheimer were left among the strugglers on the final climb into Ax-3-Domaines.
Stage 14 Results
- Christophe Riblon (ALM) - 04:52:42
- Denis Menchov (RAB) +00:54
- Samuel Sanchez (EUS) +00:54
- Andy Schleck (SAX) +01:08
- Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (KAT) +01:08
- Robert Gesink (RAB) +01:08
- Andy Schleck (SAX) 68:02:30
- Alberto Contador (AST) +00:31
- Samuel Sanchez (EUS) +02:31
- Denis Menchov (RAB) +02:44
- Jurgen Van Den Broeck (OLO) +03:31
- Robert Gesink (RAB) +04:27
7. Levi Leipheimer (RSH) +04:51
21. Christopher Horner (RSH) +13:14
38. Lance Armstrong (RSH) +39:44
75. George Hincapie (BMC) +01:20:08
Overall Points Standings
- Alessandro Petacchi (LAM) - 187 Points
- Thor Hushovd (CTT) - 185 Points
- Mark Cavendish (THR) - 162 Points
King of the Mountains Jersey
- Anthony Charteau (BBO) - 115Points
- Jerome Pineau (QST) - 92 Points
- Andy Schleck (SAX) - 76 Points
Best Young Rider
- Andy Schleck (SAX) - 68:02:30
- Robert Gesink (RAB) +04:27
- Roman Kreuziger (LIQ) +07:11
Complete Standings on LeTour.fr
Stage 15 Preview
Day two in the Pyrenees will present the riders with another HC climb--the 19.3 km at 6.1 percent Port de Balès. After cresting Port de Bales, the course winds down into Bagneres-de-Luchon--with a 2 km flat finish.
With a 20 km descent after the summit of the Port de Bales, this will be a day for attacks and daredevil descents to take the stage win. Look for climbing specialists, Spanish and Basque riders to take chances while Schleck and Contador continue their game of bicycle poker.
184.5K (114.6 miles) - Sunday July 18
- Two tough climbs at the end of this stage, with a mountain top finish at 1372 meters (4500 feet), could widen gaps in the standings
- Watch for the yellow jersey to change hands on this stage
- Sprint Points at: Mirepoix, Champagne Sur Aude
- Mountain Passes: Port de Pailheres located at 155.5 kilometers - 15.5km climb to 7.9 percent grade - Category H; Ax-3-Domaines at 183 kilometers - 7.8km climb to 8.2 percent - Category 1
Image courtesy of www.letour.com
Image courtesy of www.letour.com