It was a very rough day in the Alps for the riders in the 2010 Tour de France, who got their first real taste of the mountains today, when they faced a 204.5 km (127 mile) stage that wound from Morzine-Avoriaz to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, crossing over multiple mountain passes, including two Category 1 and a Beyond Category climb, in the process. The stage ended with a blistering downhill run that took skill and courage to fly to the finish line.
The winner of today’s stage was Sandy Casar who was part of a break away that managed to survive the grueling climbs, although the group was run down by a pair of front runners in the GC. Casar was closely followed by Luis-leon Sanchez and Damiano Cunego, Lampre, while 39-year old Christophe Moreau, who had a fine showing today.
The real story however is the showdown for the Yellow Jersey, which got very serious today. We started the morning with Australian Cadel Evans in Yellow, but the questions remained as to whether or not he could defend it in the days ahead or if he’d have his traditional mid-Tour meltdown that would send him reeling back into the ranks of the Peloton. Today, we saw that sadly Cadel was indeed unable to defend, and he had the meltdown a bit early.
On the final climb of the day, a Beyond Category monster, the peloton began to split, with stragglers up and down the hill. Out in front were the GC contenders, with Evans already struggling to keep pace. At one point, Andy Schleck, who sat in second place at the beginning of the day, made a move and was closely followed by last year’s winner Alberto Contador. Contador could ill afford to lose more time to Schleck, who he currently trails by 41 seconds, so he gave chase.
What followed was a game of cat and mouse up the Col de la Madeleine, in which the two best climbers in the Tour stayed on each other’s wheel, and when they topped out, they both raced down the other side. Contador is a far better descender than Schleck, but Andy was game for the chase, and he stayed on Contador’s tail all the way to the finish line. In the end, Schleck would don the Yellow Jersey, Contador would move into second place, and the battle lines would be clearly drawn. Which one of these men will ride into Paris in Yellow will likely be decided in a week an a half on the Tourmalet, in what is sure to be an epic battle.
As for Cadel, he finished more than 8 minutes behind the leaders, his Tour dreams smashed once again. He was clearly emotional in putting on the Jersey yesterday, and again today when he had to give it up. But Andy Schleck is worthy of wearing Yellow, and will defend it as best he can. Today he proved that he can ride without brother Frank and that he and Contador are likely to continue this dance for many years to come.
Tomorrow, the riders will have an easier day. It’ll still cover 179 km (111 miles) from Chambéry to Gap, but the slopes won’t be nearly as challenging. There is one each of a Category 1, 2, and 3 climb, and another challenging descent, but it is a bit of a reprieve until the Tour hits the Pyrenees.
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