There have plenty of great stage 17’s at the Tour de France in recent times. Often it contains the final mountain top finish of the race so has the potential for plenty of drama. So I had to choose two stages for today:
Stage 17 of the 2008 Tour de France had all the ingredients to turn it into a classic. It was was one of the closes races in years, only 8 seconds separated Frank Schleck in 1st and Cadel Evans in 3rd and the top five were all within 1 minute 13 seconds of each other. It was also the final mountain stage with its finale taking part on Alpe d’Huez. Perfect.
The battle to win the Tour that day was going to be between the climbers and the time trialists. Frank Schleck, his CSC teammate Carlos Sastre and Bernhard Kohl knew they needed to put time into Evans and Denis Menchov as the penultimate stage that year was going to a 53 km test against the clock. It was reckoned 2 minutes would have done the trick.
Schleck and Sastre had the advantage of having the strongest team. They had been aided well in the mountains by Frank’s younger brother. Andy Schleck was taking part in his first Tour and held the white jersey. There is a little mentioned story that tells of Frank Schleck proclaiming to some journalists: “If you think I am good then wait till you see my brother”. Andy was living up to his hype. Cadel Evans’ Silence-Lotto team by contrast had been letting him down every time the road went up.
Looking over the editions of the Tour de France which I have followed has shown me that stage 4 is the most dull stage of each Tour, though yesterday was very much the exception to the rule. Hardly anything has happened on a stage 4, which have either been flat sprinters stages or some form of time trial. No significant crashes or abandons, no drugs violations, they are the type of snooze fests which leave you having to listen to Carlton Kirby witter on about different types of sheet metal for hours.
2011’s stage from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne was thankfully slightly different though as it was in one of the editions in which the organisers tried to spice things up in the first week. Stage 1 had already seen an exciting hilly finish won by Philippe Gilbert and he was hoping to be in contention on a similar end climb up ‘The Wall of Brittany’.
He would though be up against a strong GC field trying to steal time over their rivals. Contador, Evans, the Schlecks, Wiggins and Jurgen Van Den Broeck were all at the race and all in with a shout of winning.
The day played out in much the same way as a sprint stage would only the dash was up a hill. Contador and Evans were the two fasted at the finale. The Spaniard thought he had it and performed a semi celebration but the photo finish showed that ‘cuddles’ had won.
Just a routine stage, only 8 seconds separated the top 40 riders in the end but the significant thing was it showed that Evans was ready to win the Tour. He had two 2nd place finishes in 2007 and 2008 where he gained a reputation as a bit of a wheel sucker. After then he started riding more aggressively, trying to animate the race rather than follow others, and became more in control of his own destiny. He won the World Championships in 2009 and whilst in the rainbow jersey added La Fleche Wallonne to his palmares then won the epic ‘White Road’ stage at the Giro. This stage, his first road stage at the Tour, was the final piece of the jigsaw which revealed him to be someone ready to win the Tour de France.
On Sunday Nairo Quintana crossed the finish line in Trieste, North East Italy, wearing the Maglia Rosa, the jersey of the leader of the Giro d’Italia to become the first rider from outside Europe, Australia, North America and Kenya to win one of cycling’s Grand Tours. How was this victory achieved and what other stories were told during three weeks of exciting and at times utterly boring racing?
Before the race was in actual Italy there were three days racing in Northern and Southern Ireland. Visiting the island was deemed a success as huge crowds lined the roads to watch the race. Those wishing to see the three home riders would have been disappointed though as Dan Martin who represents Ireland crashed out after a matter of minutes, sliding on a drainage cover and taking out half his team, so only Irishman Nicholas Roche and actual Irishman Philip Deignan were left in the peleton. Australian team Orica Green Edge had a successful start with victory inthe stage one time trial and two different riders wearing the leaders jersey. The undoubted King of Ireland was however Marcel Kittel who took two stages with some powerful sprinting. Continue reading →