Stage winner Thomas Voeckler of France climbs towards Port de Bales pass during the 15th stage of the 2010 Tour de France.
AP Photo/Christophe Ena
The stage began with a blistering pace. Cervelo TestTeam GC contender Carlos Sastre observed: "It was really hard, really fast. The first 100 km was MotoGP." The pace was set, not only by the teams of the GC contenders but the would-be heroes looking for a stage win.
Holding Out for a Hero
The break of ten lacked the climbing firepower of previous stages, and the question was whether or not anyone could make the break stick and take the win. At 70 kilometers from the finish, the gap had grown to 10 minutes. On the slopes of the Port de Bales, the question was answered, in French, when Thomas Voeckler rode away from the main break. The first 10 km of the climb averaged 5 to 6 percent in gradient, increasing to 10 to 11 percent for the second 10 km. At the top of the climb, Voeckler had a 4-minute, 15-second advantage, which was enough for him to comfortably ride in to Bagneres-de-Luchon uncontested.
For Voeckler, it was his first win in this year's Tour de France. For France, it was the host country's 5th.
"I worked hard for this stage win," said Voeckler, who admitted he almost abandoned the race last week. "It has been a really difficult race for me and, if there had been crosswinds on July 14 instead of a headwind, I would almost certainly have pulled out." The 31-year-old Bbox-Bouygues Telecom rider is perhaps best known for the 10 days he spent in the yellow jersey in 2004.
As in the preceding days, the drama of the Tour was unfolding behind, and unbeknownst to, Voeckler.
Every Man for Himself
Astana and Alberto Contador learned from their mistake on Sunday's Stage 14: Today, as Saxo Bank's star riders and sprinters including Jens Voigt and Nicki Sorenson pushed an excruciating pace, Contador and his team sat behind. When Andy Schleck rotated to the front, he knew he would have to push the pace on his own. Schleck whittled the group down to four--Contador, Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel-Euskadi) and himself--just kilometers from the summit.
With only three kilometers remaining to the summit of Port de Bales, Schleck dropped his chain. Contador, Sanchez and Menchov took the opportunity to attack. Contador gained just enough time to take back the yellow jersey, with a mere 8-second lead over Schleck. Contador received a few cheers among the boos during his yellow jersey presentation; however, with Menchov and Sanchez still within reach of the podium, Contador could not risk losing any more time to the pair. Schleck finished 12th in the stage, 3-minutes and 29-seconds behind Voeckler.
"I'm really disappointed. My stomach is full of anger, and I want to take my revenge," said Schleck after the stage. "I will take my revenge in the coming days."
Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis, meanwhile, appeared to side with Contador. I didn't see it but it's all part of racing circumstances," said the Dane. "I think he (Contador) waited at the start, and then he went. That's just part of racing."
Contador, who was at the mercy of not only Schleck, but Menchov and Sanchez as well, said "I set out with the intention to attack on the climb, but when I countered Andy I didn't know he actually had a problem," said the Spaniard. "When I knew he had the problem, it was already too late. We had taken a significant lead on him."
Had the boot been on the other foot, the Luxemburger claimed he would have waited on Contador. "In the same situation I would not have taken advantage," said Schleck, who took the yellow jersey from Australia's Cadel Evans on stage nine.
Stage 15 Results
- Thomas Voeckler (BBO) - 04:44:51
- Alessandro Ballan (BMC) +01:20
- Aitor Perez Arrieta (FOT) +01:20
- Lloyd Mondory (ALM) +02:50
- Luke Roberts (MRM) +02:50
- Francesco Reda (QST) +02:50
- Alberto Contador (AST) 72:50:42
- Andy Schleck (SAX) +00:08
- Samuel Sanchez (EUS) +02:00
- Denis Menchov (RAB) +02:13
- Jurgen Van Den Broeck (OLO) +03:39
- Robert Gesink (RAB) +05:01
7. Levi Leipheimer (RSH) +05:25
21. Christopher Horner (RSH) +15:37
31. Lance Armstrong (RSH) +40:31
64. George Hincapie (BMC) +01:29:55
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) - 115 Points
- Jerome Pineau (QST) - 92 Points
- Thomas Voeckler (BBO) - 82 Points
Best Young Rider
- Andy Schleck (SAX) - 72:50:50
- Robert Gesink (RAB) +04:53
- Roman Kreuziger (LIQ) +07:50
Complete Standings on LeTour.fr
187.5K (116.5 miles) - Monday July 19
- Bagnères-de-Luchon has been a stage town 50 times
- The last 20K of this stage presents a very technical descent with tricky corners
- Sprint Points at: Clermont, Fronsac
- Mountain Passes: Côte de Carla-Bayle located at 30 kilometers - 3.1km climb to 4.1 percent grade - Category 4; Col de Portet-d'Aspet at 105 kilometers- 5.8km climb to 6.8 percent - Cat. 2; Col des Ares at 126.5 kilometers - 6.1km climb to 4.7 percent -- Cat. 2; Port de Balès at 166 kilometers - 19.3km climb to 6.1 percent - Category H
Image courtesy of www.letour.com
Image courtesy of www.letour.com
Two hundred kilometers, two Category 1 and two HC climbs will tear the legs off the racers Tuesday as day three in the Pyrenees delivers a near controversial stage. The riders will have to tackle Category 1 Peyresourde from the start with no flat or rolling warm up. Next up, the Category 1 Col d'Aspin, then the famous Col du Tourmalet and finally Col d'Aubisque. After the four major climbs, two intermediate sprint points and a 60 kilometer descent take the riders into Pau.