Thursday, July 19, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 11

Marseille to Montpellier 182.5 km

Hello. Stage 11 is flat. GNB Sports here. Welcome.

After stop and start breakaways all of which were chased down, a breakaway finally succeeded at 85 km on the day. The break now has 6 min on the peloton with 78 km to go: Gilbert (FDJ), Wegmann (GST), Fofonov (C.A) and Florencio (BTL), and David Millar (Saunier Duval), the most powerful sprinter of the bunch. If the break stays away Millar's the man to watch.

Trivia Question: How many of the 21 Tour Team Managers rode the Tour as riders? Answer: 15. With all the assistant managers it's close to double that number.

The New York Times ran a great article yesterday, The Bicycling Paradox: Fit Doesn't Have to Mean Thin. Want to know why that larger older pear-shaped person dropped you by five miles an hour last week? This explains all. Recommended.

Nothing much happens in these transitional stages. Truly you might as well go back to sleep. Gross fact of the day: One of Vino's injured knees is turning slightly sceptic. The doctors are worried. Given how far behind the leaders Vinokourov is we wouldn't be surprised to see him abandon if his knees get worse. He's here to win; if he can't win, what's the point? Simply to finish? Climb a mountain, ride a course because it's there... We've heard worse reasons.

We started today with 171 riders. Two abandons so far: Sylvain Calzati (A2R) earlier, and Igor Anton (Euskaltel) just now, leaving 169 riders on the road.

The peloton just split in two. Wow, were we wrong with our "nothing much happens in these transitional stages" silliness. Wrong wrong wrong. The riders have dropped the hammer and are trying to screw each other over big time. They're using the wind to great advantage, which is pounding in to the peloton from the left-hand side at 20-25 knots. While the peloton wasn't paying attention, just la-de-da riding along, Vinokourov's Astana team -- and that's the second time we've been wrong today -- clearly not thinking of quitting but of winning, organized up front, slid into an echelon paceline to let them slice through the wind and starting hauling ass. They and the front of the peloton grabbed a solid 30 seconds on the back of the peloton before the rear riders woke up enough to figure out what the hell what happening.

Christophe Moreau has been dropped. Moreau has been dropped. Oh my Gods Moreau is dropped. Vino's strategy worked. The peloton has split solidly. Moreau (AG2R) was caught out of position and didn't make the jump to the front. One of the leaders of the Tour (6th overall) is stuck with just three riders from his team and no one else willing to work with him in the trailing half of the peloton which is falling further behind with each pedal stroke.

The leaders are 2 minutes ahead with 51 km to go. The main peloton has 1:50 on Moreau's group. This is going to cost him the Tour de France. Either he finds a way to bridge back to the field or it's all over for Christophe Moreau. His Tour is on the line this afternoon this easy transition stage when nothing much is going to happen. Damn. You truly can never stop paying attention. You'd think we would know that. *sighs*

The break is down to 55 seconds; the peloton will catch them shortly. The peloton moves fast. Moreau's group is far behind and nothing is likely to help them now. The referees have let team cars into the gap between them and the main peloton which continues to widen the gap now up to 2:30 with 40 km to the finish, the break now only 30 seconds clear of the field. The break is more or less sitting up and waiting for the peloton to catch them. David Millar has taken on a zillion bottles of water from his team car so he can pass them out to his mates as he is caught. What great team work. Here comes the catch...and now the peloton is back together having caught the break which got a full seven minutes away at its aphelia.

Passing a beautiful walled city on a pretty day. France is so beautiful. Half the Tour has been split off and rides 1:38 behind the peloton including many sprinters, all of them caught out when Vinokourov's Astana team dropped the hammer on Christophe Moreau who was at the back of the field. He was back visiting the doctor for road rash from a fall. The fall earlier today was with his AG2R teammate Simon Gerrans; both riders had minor road rash. The riders wouldn't attack anyone, let alone a race leader who was visiting the doctor; it simply isn't done. But then Moreau stayed in the back of the field and didn't move forward immediately after being treated. That made him fair game. Now we've got a real race being played out 1:40 apart between two roughly equal half's of the Tour, the front train working hard to win the stage, the rear peloton racing to not get left out, and Moreau trying desperately to not get knocked out of competition for a podium finish.

The gap is going up. With 15.5 km to go the trailing peloton is a full 2:00 minutes behind. Moreau and some sprinters are stuck. The only leader's race this will impact is the GC race and short of a major mistake by someone else this takes Moreau out of the race for Yellow. Headlines and special editions will cry out all over France this evening.

The finish today is not ideal for the sprinters: at 750 meters to go there is a hard right-left-right turn, then off the final right with just 400 meters left the barriers narrow by half; get stuck on the outside and you'll get put into the wall.

Six kilometers to the finish. The trailing group is a full three minutes back and totally out of the hunt. The sprinters are moving to the front. Quickstep is moving to the front trying to set up Tom Boonen. AND THERE GOES ALEXANDER VINOKOUROV! He's trying to win it alone. What courage, the bandages on his knees clearly visible. But they've clawed him back. Under 2 kilometers the riders in a long string through the tunnel and the pace very very high and under the one km kite. CRASH! And down the stretch they come. We can't see who has crashed but the riders are still coming. Tom Boonen isn't visible. Robbie Hunter dodging in and out. 500 meters to go around the final corner. Robbie Hunter is heading to his first Tour victory if he can hold on. He's got it on the line. He's got it. Victory for Hunter! South Africa's first ever stage win. Tom Boonen and Erik Zabel, Freddie Rodriguez and Julian Dean are down on the crash.

Here comes the Moreau group racing past the riders still picking themselves up after the crash. It's going to be more than three minutes on the line. A silly fall with a team mate. A moment's inattention. Crossing the line 3:20 down for the French former top-ten rider.

Remember: when a crash happens in the last 3 km of a stage, UCI rules give all the riders who are together at the time of the crash the same time. Placement still matters for time bonuses and sprint points but not for time over the line.

Tomorrow we have three cat-4 climbs, a tough category-2 and then a nice fast descent to end the day. A breakaway could succeed. And Saturday is the first Time Trial. This is GNB Sports. See you tomorrow.

Stage 12 LIVE in the U.S. on Versus: Friday, July 20, 8:30 - 11:30 AM ET/5:30 - 8:30 AM PT.

Today's video highlights -- Great Tour coverage at VeloNews

A Feast on Wheels: Behind the scenes Tour coverage by correspondent Bonnie DeSimone of ESPN, Boston Globe and the Oregonian.

TDF Stage 11 Results -- Top 10:
Robert Hunter has become the first South African to win a stage of the Tour de France. The top 10 in the 11th stage is:
1. Robert Hunter (RSA) BAR - 186.5km in 3h47'50" (48.061km/h)
2. Fabian Cancellara (SUI) CSC
3. Murilo Fischer (BRA) LIQ
4. Filippo Pozzato (ITA) LIQ
5. Alessandro Ballan (ITA) LAM
6. Paolo Bossoni (ITA) LAM
7. Claudio Corioni (ITA) LAM
8. Philippe Gilbert (BEL) FDJ
9. William Bonnet (FRA) C.A
10. Kim Kirchen (LUX) TMO

TDF: Standings after Stage 11

1 058
RASMUSSEN, Michael DEN RAB 53:11:45.000 00:00:00.000
2 018 VALVERDE, Alejandro ESP GCE 53:14:20.000 00:02:35.000
3 207 MAYO, Iban ESP SDV 53:14:24.000 00:02:39.000
4 041 EVANS, Cadel AUS PRL 53:14:26.000 00:02:41.000
5 112 CONTADOR, Alberto ESP DSC 53:14:53.000 00:03:08.000
6 196 KLÖDEN, Andréas GER AST 53:15:35.000 00:03:50.000
7 111 LEIPHEIMER, Levi USA DSC 53:15:38.000 00:03:53.000
8 031 SASTRE, Carlos ESP CSC 53:15:39.000 00:03:54.000
9 027 KIRCHEN, Kim LUX TMO 53:16:44.000 00:04:59.000
10 073 ASTARLOZA, Mikel ESP EUS 53:17:05.000 00:05:20.000