2012 Tour de France-Stage 7

7 Jul

Only 181 riders started the Tour de France this morning for Stage 7, that’s 14 fewer than started Stage 6. As expected yesterday, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) abandoned the race as did his teammate Robbie Hunter. Oscar Freire (Katusha) had to abandon with broken ribs and a punctured lung; somehow he managed to finish Stage 6. These guys are incredibly tough and courageous.

It was also reported that Andre Greipel (Lotto) suffered a dislocated shoulder yesterday but is continuing in the Tour.

Sky

Now for Stage 7 – there were no crashes, but between the brutal pace and the steepness of the last climb there was carnage amongst the peloton.

A 7 man breakaway formed just after the start with riders of teams with no hope for a high GC finish, except for possibly Quickstep who has Levi Leipheimer. There were 2 category 3 climbs with the sprint just before the first climb and then the monster last climb, a category 1.

The breakaway took the first 7 places of the sprint points, Peter Sagan (Liquigas) and Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) raced for the (peloton) sprint points with Sagan easily beating Goss and adding to his lead in the green jersey competition.

Initially teams BMC and Sky set the pace for the peloton and their respective leaders Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins.

Unexpectedly, and in my mind unexplainably, the decimated team Garmin-Sharp came to the front and set the pace for several miles with Dave Zabriskie, David Miller and Christian Vande Velde. Presumably it was for their remaining climber, Dan Martin. This is a team with 6 of 9 riders left, from a strategic standpoint it made absolutely no sense so I’m guessing it was for team morale.

When the peloton got to the base of the final climb with Sky driving a hard pace riders started coming off the back. Team Radio Shack’s Cancellara, Frank Schleck and Chris Horner lost touch as did Leipheimer, Robert Gesink, Sylvan Chavanel, and Evans’ lieutenant in the mountains, Tejay Van Garderen.

The plan for BMC was to keep Van Garderen with Evans in the mountains – he would be the last rider to support Evans before Evans had to go it alone. Van Garderen sat in 4th place at the start of the stage. Hopefully it was just a bad day because he will be key if Evans is to have a chance to win.

It could very well be that many of the riders that struggled today won’t tomorrow. The first stage in the mountains is always difficult. It’s hard for riders to go from flat, fast (accident prone) sprint stages to the mountains, and although this wasn’t the hardest mountain in the Tour it was very steep in places and before some of the riders have found their climbing legs.

One group of riders that had their climbing legs was team Sky. They looked like Lance Armstrong’s Postal train back in the day the way they drove the pace and stayed with Wiggins.

At 1.6 miles from the summit and finish there were a handful of riders besides Wiggins, Christopher Froome and Richie Porte (Sky) and Evans. Denis Menchov (Katusha), Pierre Rolland (Thomas Voeckler’s lieutenant last year, now captain of team Europcar), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) were hanging on.

When Froome went to the front for Team Sky, Rolland and Menchov were dropped. Evans made a move at about .5 miles from the finish and Froome quickly followed it and passed him like he was standing still. Froome quickly opened up a huge gap and took the win. Evans appeared to be giving it all he had to finish 2nd, Wiggins on his wheel finished 3rd, Nibali came in 4th and Taaramae 5th, 19 seconds back.

It was a perfect day for Team Sky taking the stage win and the yellow jersey. They are a strong team and that will make Wiggins hard to beat. Team BMC, other than Evans did not look good but let’s hope it was just an off day. Even Evans looked to be struggling more than expected. When Evans was out of the saddle doing everything he could to close the gap and his time loss, Wiggins sat on his wheel and seemed to pedal easily.

In addition to a change in the yellow jersey competition with Wiggins now leading, the polka-dot jersey is now worn by stage winner, Froome. The white jersey for best young rider had been held since the beginning Prologue by Van Garderen, is now in the hands of Taaramae. Super sprinter Sagan has a tight hold on the green.

The overall classification after Stage 7:

1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in 34:21:20
2. Cadel Evans (BMC) at 0:10
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) at 0:16
4. Rein Taaramae  (Cofidis) at 0:32
5. Denis Menchov (Katusha) at 0:54
6. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack) at 0:59
7. Maxime Monfort  (RadioShack) at 1:09
8. Nicolas Roche (Ag2r) at 1:22
9. Christopher Froome (Sky) at 1:32
10. Michael Rogers (Sky) at 1:40

I was completely surprised at the damage done by the pace that Sky set. Usually the peloton isn’t shattered on the first day in the mountains. Maybe it’s due to the toll the crash infested first week took, certainly that’s true for Garmin, but a lot of riders went down – some multiple times – plus the related stress caused by the crashes had an impact. I don’t know, but I didn’t expect to see so many of the climbers and GC hopefuls getting dropped so soon in the first mountainous stage.

One thing is for sure, the biggest factor is Team Sky and the way they took control of not just the stage but the race. In the last several years the first stage in the mountains was about checking out your main rivals, testing the legs some, but not putting the hammer down. Sky’s tactic is the same tactic employed by Johan Bruyneel in the years Postal decimated the field, Team Sky appears to be that kind of strong.

It will be interesting to see how things unfold in the next several mountains stages (and the next TT on Monday). Right now, it looks to me that Wiggins will win unless something unforeseen occurs.

Stage 8 Preview:

There are 7 climbs tomorrow, a category 1, 4 category 2, and a 3 and 4 category. There is no summit finish nor reportedly anything as steep as today. I said this yesterday about today, but I’ll stick my neck out again, Stage 8 seems like a stage for the likes of Sylvan Chavanel, Alejandro Valverde, Sammy Sanchez or maybe even Vinokourov. Gesink and Jurgen van den Broeck will hope to make up time too. I keep wondering about Super-Sagan…

And Radio Shack-Nissan – let Horner ride for himself!

 

Stage 8 profile

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