Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 7

Bourg-en-Bresse to Le Grand Bornand 197.5 km

Welcome to the Alps & Stage 7 of Le Tour. GNB Sports, hello.

Two sprint points, and the climbs: the category-3 Cote de Coriler at kilometer 35.5, followed by the cat-3 Cote de Cruseilles, at km122.5, the cat-4 Cote Peguin at km 134 and then very near the end of the day the mofo climb cat-1 Col de la Colombière, followed by a screaming decent to Le Grand Bornand far, far below.

The average speed so far has been 44 km an hour. These boys are flying, not waiting for anyone. Hot, sunny conditions and the breakaway with fifteen riders from thirteen teams is out front by 6:30 with 88 km to go. The break started immediately after the first climb and got as far as ten minutes out front.

Correction: Enrico Degano is still in the race. Degano who crashed yesterday in the feed zone and currently holds the position of Lanterne Rouge or "The Red Lantern" of the Tour, meaning he is in last place after the Red Lantern on a railroad caboose, did not abandon yesterday as we announced during live coverage. His team manager, Claudio Corti said this morning, "It will be difficult for him in the mountains today but hopefully we’ll have other riders who can perform in the mountains like the Colombians Felix Cardenas and Juan Soler." GNB Sports regrets the error and we're glad to see Degano is still in the race.

There are currently 180 riders in the race including some who abandoned overnight. We'll see more abandons every day from now on through the mountains; we won't possibly catch them all, so we won't be giving you their names. What we will give you is the number starting each stage. Today it was 181 and we've just got word that Degano has abandoned today after starting the race so now we're down to 180. He was dropped on the first climb, a cat-3 and with the entire rest of the day ahead wasn't going to make it back to the safety of the peloton and that was that.

Tomorrow will be much tougher than today incidentally. Today we might see the likely leaders of the Tour testing each other looking for weakness, for example, seeing how Alexander Vinokourov is doing. Vinokourov is a strong rider however, and has said that even though yesterday was incredibly painful he isn't ready to pack it in just yet. At 33 he knows this may be his last chance to win the Tour.

None of the big challengers have made any moves so far. They've simply ridden in the pack, hidden in the slipstream, saved energy. Today they may also sit back and wait it out, or they might test each other. If there is any testing to be done it will happen on the last climb of the day, the category-1 Col de la Colombière. More likely nothing will happen today except the peloton will split into two on the final climb -- the leaders plus the riders who can hang with them, and the gruppetto, the trailing group of riders banding together to come in all together before the time cutoff. Normally a strong experienced rider such as Tom Boonen leads the gruppetto. It isn't uncommon to see 50, even 100 riders having spent themselves for their leaders plus the sprinters, now all needing to survive together.

To give you a sense of what makes a category-1 climb, today's final climb is 9.9 miles at a 6.8% average grade. Of course some stretches will be steeper; the final 7 km are almost 9% and worse, there's a headwind today which will slow everyone down. Those of you whom are cyclists need no explanation of how difficult this is; for the rest of you, a 7-9% grade is steep. Racing up almost 7% for 10 miles then finishing at 9% for 7 klicks into a headwind is, well it's insane. And today is considered an easy day by Tour mountain stage standards. Fundamentally the Tour is three marathons per day for 20 days. Sometimes these marathons are run over mountains. This is the sixth year we've watched the Tour and we still can hardly believe the endurance, the suffering, and the pure physical accomplishment of the riders.

The peloton is losing ground to the breakaway which is 6:45 ahead with 50 km to go. There's a good chance one of the 15 riders of the breakaway will survive to take the stage. In any event there should be a new Yellow Jersey tonight for the first time since the start of the Tour. The question is, will it be someone from the breakaway -- they have two riders within 60 seconds of Yellow -- or one of the other top 10 riders? Cancellara will not be able to hold on to the leading group over the final climb, even with the strength wearing yellow gives a man.

The gap is down to 5:33 with 33.3 km left. The climb is about to start. Soon we'll know whom is on form and who isn't. The wall of a category-1 climb awaits.

The climb starts. The break 4:16 ahead, 28 km to go. Already riders are falling off the back, both from the break and off the peloton. On television because of how the cameras angle their photos, you don't grasp how freaking steep the roads are on the climbs. They are steep. Yet the riders are racing up. The Yellow Jersey, Fabian Cancellara is waving to the camera. He's off the back of the peloton and that's goodbye to him. The Jersey will change hands tonight. He's done his job, carving a way for his team today and will ride home with the trailing group. Well done Cancellara.

The peloton is getting smaller and smaller. Not a lot of riders left, a quite select group. Speaking with TV reporters this morning, American Levi Leipheimer predicted that the climb would create a big selection. “We usually do it the other way,” the Discovery captain said. “I think it’s going to be harder going this way.” It appears he was correct. The peloton is 4:43 behind the lead as we pass the 25 km banner. There are 4 chase groups between the peloton and the lead, being rolled up in turn. The lead is down to 2 riders. The crowds on the road are gaining in size as we get higher on the mountain, leaning in on the road and screaming cheers straight into the faces of their favorite riders.

The lead two riders are climbing so quickly, racing towards the top. Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile) just attacked and is all alone out front ahead of Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole) who can't keep up the blistering pace on the steepest part of the mountain. The peloton remains 5:08 with 19.8 km to go to the finish, only 5 km to go to the top. The peloton is shrinking like butter on a hot skillet but none of the favorites have dropped, all just riding smoothly to the top as suits their position in the GC. Twenty kilometers to go and all the main riders are hanging on to the bus as it accelerates up the mountain. This is why a team has so many riders, so they can be spent freely to pull their leaders up a mountain, then discarded when they're burnt out so the leaders can make it over the climb without faltering. Riding behind someone allows you to spend roughly 60% less energy than riding in front and cycling is primarily about spending your limited energy wisely. And how deeply you are willing to suffer.

Seventeen km to go and the leaders contine to go. Two and a half km to the top with the peleton 4:50 behind the sole leader, Linus Gerdemann, who if he descends like a rock to the town far below may well win this stage. We think just about everyone who matters remains in the peloton as expected. Tomorrow... well tomorrow should be different. Tomorrow you're going to want to watch the live broadcast. Tomorrow the GC classification should get a serious shake. By the end of the race tomorrow some people will likely have their Tour hopes lost, while others may well be firmly in control of the Tour. But that's tomorrow. Right now George Hincapie has been dropped from the peloton and is trying to get back on. Vinokourov remains in the main peloton, seemingly climbing with ease after yesterday's pain. Gerdemann remains 4:00 ahead of the peloton and has a chance to not just win the stage but to end the day in Yellow. Wouldn't that be a coup. He'll spend energy like water for a chance to gain the maillot jaune.

Linus Gerdemann crosses the top of the Col de la Colombière, 13.7 km to go, the peloton 3:26 behind, and with roughly an 18 second advantage over the rider following. Gerdemann will take serious risks to stay ahead; a stage win and Yellow Jersey depend on this decent, the justification for all his suffering. Here comes the peloton over the top, 3:20 behind and it's a rip-roaring technical decent with speeds well over 60 kmh and around hairpin bends. Gerdemann has been gaining time and now has 24 seconds on the rider behind him, is riding in his big chain-ring charging down for the Yellow Jersey, now extending his advantage to 28 seconds and now to 33 seconds, Gerdemann is going to win the stage.

Five km to go and the final hairpin bends being taken by Gerdemann at high spends. He's the story of the day with a 32 second advantage. Gerdemann will be in Yellow tonight, the first time he's ever won a stage in the Tour de France and he's going to win the maillot jaune and the most aggressive rider. Amazing. They'll be celebrating in the T-Mobile suite tonight and indeed, all over Germany. Gerdemann isn't feeling the pain anymore. He's got 2 km to go, one sharp left-hand bend and then the final straight to the finish line. The peloton is sweeping up almost everyone behind him. Gerdemann also takes the lead in the White Jersey competition because he's only 24.75 years of age. He's under one kilometer now and with 36 seconds advantage he's home and safe, coming around the final curve right now and powering home to the cheers of the crowd. He started the day 58 seconds behind the Yellow Jersey and here he comes to the line only a pro for two seasons and now it is finally over, Linus Gerdemann crosses the line and wins Stage 7 of the Tour de France, taking the overall Tour lead and winning the Yellow Jersey, the new proud owner of a maillot jaune.

Seven - eight riders cross the finish across ahead of the peloton and here come the leaders at 3:37, no more than twenty-five riders in the final field including all the big favorites. They all get the same time and that's what's important to them.

See you tomorrow as the GC gets sorted out in a major way. Till then, this is GNB Sports.

Stage 8 LIVE in the U.S. on Versus: EARLY START: Sunday, July 15, 7:00 - 11:30 AM ET/4:00 - 8:30 AM PT.

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

TDF Stage 7 Results -- Top 5:
The top five in the seventh stage of the 94th Tour de France is:
1. Linus Gerdemann (GER) TMO - 197.5km in 4h53'13" (40.413km/h)
2. Inigo Landaluze (ESP) EUS at 40"
3. David de la Fuente (ESP) SDV at 1'39"
4. Juan Mauricio Soler (COL) BAR at 2'14"
5. Laurent Lefevre (FRA) BTL at 2'21"

TDF: Standings after Stage 7

1 025
GERDEMANN, Linus GER TMO 34:43:40.000 00:00:00.000
2 076 LANDALUZE, Inigo ESP EUS 34:45:04.000 00:01:24.000
3 205 DE LA FUENTE, David ESP SDV 34:46:25.000 00:02:45.000
4 125 LEFEVRE, Laurent FRA BTL 34:46:35.000 00:02:55.000
5 219 SOLER HERNANDEZ, Juan Mauricio COL BAR 34:46:45.000 00:03:05.000
6 196 KLÖDEN, Andréas GER AST 34:47:19.000 00:03:39.000
7 113 GUSEV, Vladimir RUS DSC 34:47:31.000 00:03:51.000
8 015 KARPETS, Vladimir RUS GCE 34:47:32.000 00:03:52.000
9 073 ASTARLOZA, Mikel ESP EUS 34:47:35.000 00:03:55.000
10 054 DEKKER, Thomas NED
RAB 34:47:37.000 00:03:57.000