Sunday, July 22, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 14

Mazamet to Plateau de Beille 197 km

The Pyrénées. Stage 14. GNB Sports. Hello.

The riders climb scattered apart up the hors categorie Port de Pailhères (17km at 7.2 percent). Four riders have the lead and go OVER the top, tracking quickly down the fast descent. The peloton scatters behind struggling towards the summit from the Yellow just 2:57 back to Mayo just off the pace to Vino dropped over a kilometer behind. We're nowhere near the final punishing climb of the day, the forboding HC Plateau de Beille (15.9km at 7.8 average grade; the steepest section is 10% in kilometer 10.) The Tour has only finished on the Plateau de Beille three times; all three times the stage winner has gone on to win the Tour -- Lance Armstrong (2002 & 2004) and Marco Pantani (1998). In other words, look for leg-destroying, ego-killing, lung-searing, knock your ass straight out of the Tour nothing held back attacks on the final climb today. *smiles sweetly*

Enough with these freaking Subaru commercials, "I love it when you talk car." Could we patronize women any more? What is this, the 50s?

The riders race downhill at 80-100 kmh (50-60 mph). Vino went over the summit 5:30 behind the first riders. He's having a bad day today after yesterday's all out effort in the time trial. He hasn't many days left to ride himself back into contention.

One rider dropped ovenight, Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval), leaving 165 riders starting today. The peloton has reformed down in the valley back 3:07 from the front four now just 5 km from the left turn onto the ascent. All the leaders back together except Alexandre Vinokourov who is not going to get back. He's out of the action for today, perhaps for the Tour.

The breakaway now five riders but who cares. The action is with the leaders all together as big George Hincapie tows the field to the base of the climb (rumor: on Tuesday's rest day Hincapie will announce he is leaving Discovery next year for T-Mobile) where they will no doubt immediately break apart. Discovery is on the front pacing Levi Leipheimer and Alberto Contador, both GC contenders. Here is the left turn, 16 km to go; the leading group is on the climb, the leaders 2:30 behind. Naturally this means Versus shows a commercial for its own shows. Twice. Naturally this means Versus shows a commercial for its own shows. Twice. (Annoying, isn't it? Media commentary being just one of the many services we bring you here at GNB Sports. No, no need to thank us.)

Up front there were five riders: Guitierrez, Perez, Txurruka, Colom and Barredo. Then Perez cleaved away as did Barredo leaving three Spanish mice racing up the mountains in the stage lead. Colom attacked leaving the others behind. Several minutes behind rides the peloton strung out with leaders starting to pop off the back. Remaining leaders include Kloden, Rasmussen, Leipheimer, Sastre. Under the 10 km sign and down to 9 km. Kloden in difficulty. Popovych is astonishing up front setting the pace. These Discovery boys know how to crack apart the field. Popovych's crushing climb is designed to give Leipheimer and Contador a clear shot and it's working. Less than ten people are left in the final group with 8.5 km to the summit, 1:39 behind the break. Rasmussen will have to attack soon to put time into Cadel Evans who sticks with him tightly up the climb just one minute back in the GC and there's still another time trial on stage 19. Pop; another 2 riders off the back.

Levi attacks. Contador attacks. Rasmussen answers. Evans answers. Rasmussen attacks and Evans grabs his wheel. They easily pass the riders ahead. Just six riders left in contact with each other only 6.8 km to go and these six men are battling it out for the lead of the Tour 1:07 behind the break. Rasmussen goes. He wants to win the stage; he knows his Tour history but Evans just won't drop. They're fighting to win the whole Tour today on the steep slopes of the Plateau de Beille. Attack and counter. Counter and attack. No one breaks anyone. Contador sprints off the front again and here come the five chasers. Evans cracks a bit. Rasmussen catches Contador and passes him. HE HAS DONE IT! RASMUSSEN HAS DONE IT. The Yellow Jersey and Contador are climbing up and away, faster and fast, their attack so immediate, so sudden, so brutal and punishing no one can possibly answer. They leave everyone behind putting 40 whole seconds on everyone else in the General Classification of the Tour and five entire long kilometers to go. How are they doing this? Rasmussen and Contador leave everyone behind as they climb up the slopes of Plateau de Beille with no reserves at all as if this were the last stage of the last day. What must this cost them?

Evans drops. Evans drops. The other leaders drop Cadel Evans leaving him all alone with no one at all on the side of hors categorie Plateau de Beille. Oh my Gods. Evans has five kilometers to go and not a single rider with him. He's in deep trouble.

Rasmussen passes the last rider left in the break. What a ride he's made; congratulations Colom for surviving so long. The crowd screams, SCREAMS at Rasmussen and Contador. Finally with 2 km to go they're inside the barriers and free of the danger of the crowd. It isn't clear who will win at the line. Rasmussen and Contador aren't playing nice. Contador wants to steal the stage for Spain and team Discovery. Under the 1 km kite and Contador keeps refusing to work. Rasmussen pulls Contador up the mountain in the hardest kind of poker. Rasmussen must race to win time over his rivals to win the Tour, not to win the stage. 400 meters and Contador is ready for his move. 300 meters. Here's the sprint. Rasmussen goes. Contador pulls around Rasmussen with 150 meters to go in a pretty cheap shot; no sense of history these puppies and Contador takes the stage on the line while Rasmussen gets the same time. Levi across in fourth. Sastre at 55 seconds. Cadel Evans at 1:52. Vinokourov still out there...somewhere. *sighs*

Levi is up to fourth overall while Evans got bounced back to third. The youngster Alberto Contador is second in the GC while Michael Rasmussen lays aside all doubts he is strong enough to wear Yellow. Two more days in the mountains and Michael may well own enough GC lead to be unbeatable in the final stage 19 time trial. But this is France. The fat lady sings in Vienna. GDP Sports. See you tomorrow for an even tougher day of climbing.

Stage 15 LIVE in the U.S. on Versus: Early Start: Monday, July 23, 7:30 - 11:30 AM ET/4:30 - 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.

Cyclelicious -- What's Your Source of News for Le Tour?

TDF Stage 14 Results -- Top 10:
1. Alberto Contador (Sp), Discovery, 197km in 5:25:48
2. Michael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, s.t.
3. Juan Mauricio Soler (Sp), Barloworld, at 0:37
4. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Discovery, at 0:40
5. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, at 0:53
6. Andreas Kloden (G), Astana, at 1:52
7. Cadel Evans (Aus), Predictor Lotto, s.t.
8. Antonio Colom (Sp), Astana, at 2:23
9. Andrey Kashechkin (Kz), Astana, s.t.
10. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Discovery, at 3:06

TDF: Standings after Stage 14

1 058 RASMUSSEN, Michael DEN RAB 64:12:15.000 00:00:00.000
2 112 CONTADOR, Alberto ESP DSC 64:14:38.000 00:02:23.000
3 041 EVANS, Cadel AUS PRL 64:15:19.000 00:03:04.000
4 111 LEIPHEIMER, Levi USA DSC 64:16:44.000 00:04:29.000
5 196 KLÖDEN, Andréas GER AST 64:16:53.000 00:04:38.000
6 031 SASTRE, Carlos ESP CSC 64:18:05.000 00:05:50.000
7 195 KASHECHKIN, Andrey KAZ AST 64:19:13.000 00:06:58.000
8 073 ASTARLOZA, Mikel ESP EUS 64:20:40.000 00:08:25.000
9 018 VALVERDE, Alejandro ESP GCE 64:22:00.000 00:09:45.000
118 POPOVYCH, Yaroslav UKR
DSC 64:23:10.000 00:10:55.000