Stage 11 was a tough stage albeit short, at least by Tour standards – 92 miles long, but 40 of those miles were uphill – 15,000 feet of climbing on the 2 HC (beyond category- most difficult) climbs, a category 2 and a category 1. Just another day at the office for most of these guys.
There were attacks and counter-attacks from the start. A break of 26 riders had formed at 30 kilometers out on the first climb, the Col de la Madeleine . Several of the teams had more than 1 rider in the break, there were big names there like yesterday – Gesink, Valverde, Horner, Leipheimer and BMC riders, Burghart and Gilbert. It was good to see Garmin-Sharp’s climber, Martin also there.
Team Europcar had 3 riders in the break and immediately went to the front to set the pace, presumably for the guy most likely to win the stage – Rolland. Once they went to the front and turned up the pace, riders started dropping off the back – among them Gesink, Rabobank’s leader and Gilbert, BMC’s disappointment.
Meanwhile back in the peloton, Boasson Hagen was at the front driving the Sky train. By the looks of the size of the main group the pace wasn’t too high. Sprinter extraordinaire, Sagan was also there to soldier on for his Liquigas leader, Nibali. If a sprinter can hang on a HC climb, even Sagan, the pace isn’t blistering fast.
It was too fast however, for the polka-dot jersey wearer, Voeckler, who was struggling to maintain contact with the main field.
At the summit of the Madeleine, Astana’s Kessiakoff, previous mountain jersey holder, raced Peter Velits to the top for the points – Velits crossed 1st (25pts), Kessiakoff 2nd (20), and Kern 3rd (16). On the descent Kessiakoff and Velits opened a small gap but a small chasing break including Rolland, Valverde, and Scarponi quickly caught them and then they were all caught by the remainder of the break (minus a few riders).
Then it was on to the next climb, the Col de la Croix de Fer, another HC category. The race was taking its toll, three riders abandoned – Westra (Vacansoleil), Mollema (Rabobank) and sprinter, Renshaw. As predicted, Cancellara did abandon prior to the start.
At the front of the leading group Europcar was driving a hard pace. If you didn’t know it before it was certainly clear now – they were setting Rolland up to win the stage. I mentioned Rolland in my predictions for Stage 11 yesterday.
The main group descended the Madeleine with Tour leader Bradley Wiggins and teammates in front, there was no attack by Evans or Nibali. As they started the 2nd climb, Wiggins had 4 teammates protecting him. Cadel Evans (BMC) 2nd overall, must have been happy with 3 teammates along side of him.
With 64k to go, Evans and teammate Van Garderen attacked Wiggins. Van Garderen went first and Evans followed. Neither Nibali nor Sky pursued but Sky turned up the pace causing riders to drop off the back – and the peloton got smaller.
It was a great plan and execution, but Evans didn’t have the legs to follow through. He had difficulty staying on Van Garderen’s wheel and it became obvious, they were going nowhere except back under control of the Wiggins group.
Evans rejoined Wiggins, et al, with perhaps the thought that he would save any remaining matches he had for an attack on the last climb of the day. Van Garderen appeared to be in no difficulty on the attack, but he stayed alongside Evans (as he should) as they continued up the Col de la Croix with the Wiggins group.
While all the excitement was occurring with the heads of state, there was a tightening of the screws by Europcar’s Kern as he was just relentless setting a high pace where only a few riders in the break could stay with them (among them Horner and Martin) – further selection occurring both in the break and the peloton. That is the nature of a day like today.
Rolland and Kessiakoff sprinted to the summit, Kessiakoff narrowly edged Rolland for the first points and the bonus of 5000 euros for the highest finish. Initially Rolland was awarded first because referees felt Kessiakoff interfered with Rolland but they reversed their decision and Kessiakoff received first.
On the descent Rolland went down in a turn, but quickly remounted and with moves that would have scared his mother to death, caught the two leaders (Kiserlovski and Kiryienka) near the start of the last climb.
Rolland and Kiserlovski were caught by Sorensen and Velits, the gap to the main field of Wiggins and company was coming down – under 3 minutes at that point.
Worried that they would be caught by the peloton Rolland made a hard attack quickly getting a gap on the remaining riders about 14k from the finish.
Back in the Wiggins group, Vanden Broeck, Brajkovic and Pinot attacked and got a gap. Nibali soon followed and put several seconds into Wiggins before they caught him and pulled him back.
Nibali attacked again, Froome and Wiggins pursued, Evans and Van Garderen stayed with them. Momentarily it was too much for Froome, he dropped off which left Wiggins to take care of himself. Finally! Wiggins was isolated, or so it seemed.
Wiggins pursued Nibali on his own with Evans and Van Garderen in tow, but quickly Froome managed to get back to the front, relieving Wiggins of having to do his own work pursuing Nibali. With Froome at the front Evans couldn’t hold the pace. As he dropped off the back, Van Garderen fell back to pace his leader back. Evans was gone though, he just couldn’t pace back to the group.
About that time Wiggins told Froome (at least that’s how it looked, I haven’t heard any interviews) Evans was dropped and to pick it up. They quickly caught Nibali, et al, and then the regenerated Froome took off – without his leader – and quickly got a gap. There was however the minor problem that his teammate and yellow jersey wearer couldn’t follow and was caught out. Oops.
Next thing the cameras showed was Froome getting a call from the team car telling him to “cease and desist” which he did. It was funny, but it showed that the guy with the yellow just might not be the strongest rider on the team. Froome in that move exposed Wiggins’ vulnerability more than any one else has at any other point in the Tour. I would love to have been on the Sky bus after the stage.
Rolland pushed on to the finish in what was a brilliant effort and took another stage win for team Europcar - back to back stage wins for this small but mighty team.
The yellow jersey group of Wiggins, Froome, Pinot, Vanden Broeck and Nibali finished next, Pinot narrowly edged Froome for 2nd place. When Wiggins finished he patted Nibali on the back, Nibali reciprocated. It appeared Wiggins said something to him – perhaps apologizing for being a jerk yesterday at the finish line. Evans finished 11th on the stage, currently in 4th place overall at 3:19. Hindsight is of course 20/20, if Evans hadn’t attacked you have to wonder would he still hold 2nd? Perhaps not, but he would probably be in 3rd. Nibali who now sits in 3rd is :56 ahead of Evans. There’s still time for Evans to recapture 3rd if he has the legs and mindset to do it. And what about Froome, will he stay the faithful lieutenant to Wiggins or make another move like he made today… now that would make for a really exciting Tour. Stay tuned, Stage 12 preview will be posted a bit later today.
- 1. Pierre ROLLAND, Europcar in 4:43:54
- 2. Thibaut PINOT, FDJ-BigMat +55
- 3. Christopher FROOME, Sky +55
- 4. Jurgen VAN DEN BROECK, Lotto-Belisol +57
- 5. Vincenzo NIBALI, Liquigas-Cannondale +57
- 6. Bradley WIGGINS, Sky +57
- 7. Chris Anker SÖRENSEN, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank +1:08
- 8. Janez BRAJKOVIC, Astana +1:58
- 9. Vasil KIRYIENKA, Movistar +2:13
- 10. Frank SCHLECK, RadioShack-Nissan +2:23
- 11. Cadel EVANS, BMC Racing +2:23
- 1. Bradley WIGGINS, Sky in 48:43:53
- 2. Christopher FROOME, Sky +2:05
- 3. Vincenzo NIBALI, Liquigas-Cannondale +2:23
- 4. Cadel EVANS, BMC Racing +3:19
- 5. Jurgen VAN DEN BROECK, Lotto-Belisol +4:48
- 6. Haimar ZUBELDIA AGIRRE, RadioShack-Nissan +6:15
- 7. Tejay VAN GARDEREN, BMC Racing +6:57
- 8. Janez BRAJKOVIC, Astana +7:30
- 9. Pierre ROLLAND, Europcar +8:31
- 10. Thibaut PINOT, FDJ-BigMat +8:51