TDF Stage 13/Stage 14 Preview

17 Jul

Stage 13 covered some of the prettiest countryside of this year’s Tour. As far as the racing, it was sort of boring until the last climb when it was redeemed with an exciting and hard fought win by Tour veteran, Alexander Vinokourov (Astana).

Teams HTC-Colombia and Lampre did the work up front, keeping a fast tempo all day chasing back the 3-man breakaway – to give their sprinters, Mark Cavendish and Alessandro Petacchi respectively, a chance for a win in a bunch sprint.

The plan seemed to be working to perfection when at 10km the charging peloton caught the 3-man breakaway. However, on the last climb, a 1.9km category 3, Alessandro Ballan (BMC) attacked, riders Nicolas Roche (AG2R) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre) followed him but all 3 failed in their attack. Near the summit, Vinokourov attacked hard, Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) and Tommy Voeckler (Bbox) pursued.

Sanchez cracked first, but Voeckler eventually cracked too under the vicious pace by Vinokourov as he continued to widen the gap on the chasing peloton. No team in the peloton took control to chase Vino down. Likely, by that time the sprinters teams having chased and caught the original breakaway, had nothing more to give.

Vinokourov with the red number on his back for most aggressive rider yesterday, took the stage win in dramatic fashion, fighting off the advancing sprinters and peloton.

Lance Armstrong always seemed to race better, when he was angry, and anger no doubt helped to fuel Vinokourov on his gutsy ride to the finish. Vinokourov narrowly lost the stage yesterday when his team leader, Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez, overtook him near the finish on the steepest climb of the Tour. To make matters worse for Vino, Rodriguez took the win. Vinokourov slammed his fist on his handlebar unable to contain his disappointment and anger.

After today’s impressive win, Contador congratulated Vino and the two men hugged. There seemed to be no hard feelings over yesterday’s loss – all forgiven with the sweet win today.

Vinokourov has always been a strong rider and a rider that takes chances to go for wins – always fun to watch. Today was an impressive stage win for him.

As I stated earlier, Stage 13 was a boring stage, but don’t mistake that for easy – it wasn’t. With three strong riders in the breakaway – all previous Tour stage winners – HTC and Lampre had to drive the pace hard to chase them down. Fortunately, for Tour leader Andy Schleck, his Saxo Bank squad did not have to take the lead so got to “rest” a bit in the peloton.

There were no changes in the top of the GC because the main contenders all crossed the line together.  Andy Schleck is still in Yellow and Contador is still just :31 back.

Mark Cavendish answered the question of whether he could still sprint without his ace lead-out man, Mark Renshaw. The answer is an emphatic yes! He seemed to have no trouble beating out the other sprinters to take 2nd place in the stage. Petacchi came in ahead of Green jersey wearer, Thor Hushovd, so Petacchi will be in green tomorrow. The Green jersey point’s competition will likely last until the final sprint on the Champs Elysees.
*pictures are from Getty Images

Stage 14

Tomorrow starts out flat and easy.  As you can see by looking at the race profile – it doesn’t end that way.

Stage 14 is the first of four stages in the Pyrenees.  Generally speaking, the stages in the Pyrenees are more difficult than those in the Alps because the Pyrenees tend to be steeper.  The climbs are steep, the descents are too.  An arduous climb on HC category Port de Pailhères and then what will be a very fast descent before starting the last climb, the category 1 Ax-3-Domaines, where the stage will finish.

In keeping with their theme to make this Tour one of the most difficult in years, Tour organizers have saved the brutal Pyrenees for the last week – hoping to settle things once and for all between the contenders.  Namely, between Schleck and Contador for the win, but also between a host of other’s vying for the 3rd place podium.

Will Lance Armstrong manage to salvage something from his last Tour de France in the Pyrenees?  Only time will tell, I would love to see it.  Tomorrow’s stage should suit Schleck well – and if it’s steep it suits Contador.  No doubt, Schleck and Contador will attack and counter attack all the way through the Pyrenees.

I can hardly believe we only have one week of the Tour left. It should be one hell of a week though with four back to back stages in the Pyrenees!

*Pictures are from Getty Images

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