Tour 2011: The God of Thunder Roars!

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Today’s stage in the Tour de France was not expected to bring many changes to the General Classification, as it featured only one big mountain climb in the middle of the course, with a long descent and a fairly flat run to the finish line, which was in Lourdes for the first time in more than 60 years. True to form, there were no changes in the standings of the GC, but there were still plenty of dramatics to be had.

Early in the day a group of riders attempted a breakaway. That group included Jérémy Roy, David Moncoutie, Alessandro Petacchi, Maarten Tjallingii, Edvald Hagen, Lars Bak, Thor Hushovd and a few others. Over the course of the ride, most of them fell away, and when they reached the Col d’Aubisque, the lone Beyond Category climb of the day, it was down to Roy, Hushovd, and Moncoutie. Roy crossed the summit first and began a fast descent, with Thor and Moncoutie in pursuit. Working together, the two chase riders were able to close the gap. With a little over 2km to go, Thor put the hammer down and blasted past a quickly fading Roy, and cruised to the stage win. Moncoutie took second, and a clearly dejected Roy coasted through in third. It was a fantastic chase, and you couldn’t help but feel bad for Roy, who was so aggressive all day long.

As mentioned, the GC remains the same with Thomas Voeckler in Yellow for at least one more day. He’ll be sorely tested tomorrow on another big mountain stage, but if he comes out of it still in the maillot jaune, he’ll take it to the Alps late next week. With few sprint points on the line today, Mark Cavendish kept the Green Jersey, and he’ll be looking to just survive tomorrow before the sprinters get a chance to do their thing into next week. The Polka Dot Jersey was the consolation prize for Jérémy Roy today, who picked up enough points to take the King of the Mountain title away from Samuel Sanchez. The standings are close however, and that one will be decided in the Alps as well. Finally, Arnold Jeannesson kept the White Jersey as the Tour’s best young rider as well.

Tomorrow will be another one for the ages, and the high Pyrenees once again loom. The 168.5km (104.69 mile) course between Saint-Gaudens and Plateau de Beille features a series of tough climbs, with several Category 1 and 2 peaks to be overcome before the final challenge of the day, a tough slog up an uncategorized climb with the finish line at the summit located at 1800 meters (5905 ft). The GC contenders will be fighting it out on that slope, with the Schlecks, Frank and Andy, hoping to put more time into Cadel Evans, and hopefully finally pulling the Yellow Jersey off Voeckler.

As for defending champ Alberto Contador, he almost certainly has to try something on this stage, as it is imperative that he draw back time on his rivals. He’ll have to attack on the climb up to the Plateau de Beille if he hopes to win this year, but judging from his form thus far, it’s hard to say if he has it in him to make such an attack with any hope of success.

Either way, tomorrow is another “don’t miss it” stage in the 2011 Tour. It is going to be a good one.

Kraig Becker