Thursday 21 July 2011

Tour de France: Stage 18 Debrief - fading star turns supernova!

"If you don't risk, you don't win. That's my attitude." (Andy Schleck)
If you missed the stage today beg, borrow, steal or even pay good money for a recording otherwise you  risk missing one of the greatest stages in modern times.

Andy Schleck, the man for whom so many of us had given up hope, attacked on the second climb with 60km to go - and never stopped, dropping all before him and leading up the mighty Col du Galibier; crossing the finish line more than two minutes before the next rider, brother Frank.

If he can do the same tomorrow, the time trial may as well not be raced - he'll not only have won the Tour but achieved possibly the greatest victory since Eddy Merckx.

Meanwhile, it looks like the road to the finish was also the road to the end for Alberto Contador. The champion tried in the early stages but he was simply unable to match Andy's superior skill and strength, leaving it down to Cadel Evans to go on the hunt. Cadel reduced the gap - at one point four minutes - to a little over two, but when it came down to it his enormous brute strength and power couldn't compete with Andy's graceful pedaling style. As the finish line drew near, Frank swung out from the back of the chase group and overtook, coming in 2'07" behind his little brother. Cadel was 8" later and was followed across by Ivan Basso 3" behind him.

Another star of the day was Thomas Voeckler who, thanks partially to Cadel who dragged him up in his slipstream, retains his yellow jersey for an incredible ninth day making him the greatest Frenchman in the Tour for years.

Only 78 riders in - meaning approximately 90 were at risk of disqualification. However, if 20% or more of the riders finish outside the limit, race organisers have the right under UCI rules to extend the permitted time so as to avoid decimating the competition - this decision was, unsurprisingly, taken with each rider finishing outside the time being docked points equivalent to those on offer for winning the race.

This puts Mark Cavendish in a precarious place - having looked like the definite winner of the points competition, he's now only 15 points ahead of Jose Joaquin Rojas. With Rojas a much better climber, it's now very possible that the Manx sprinter won't be the first Briton to wear the green jersey in Paris after all. Everything depends on his performance in tomorrow's intermediate sprint and Saturday's time trial, if that doesn't work in his favour - which, with the sprint coming towards the end of the stage and after the climb up the massive Col du Galibier which almost finished him off for good today and Cavendish's lack of time trial ability, it likely won't - the final result could even depend on the last stage into Paris. This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting final weeks since the Tour began.
"There was no "letting them have time" today. It was flat out behind....SmartOpard was just better. Period." (Jonathon Vaughters, @Vaughters, manager of Garmin-Cervelo, Twitter)
Stage 18 Results:
1. SCHLECK Andy 6h 07' 56"  
2. SCHLECK Frank + 02' 07"
3. EVANS Cadel + 02' 15"
4. BASSO Ivan + 02' 18"
5. VOECKLER Thomas + 02' 21"
6. ROLLAND Pierre + 02' 27"
7. CUNEGO Damiano + 02' 33"
8. TAARAMAE Rein + 03' 22"
9. DANIELSON Tom + 03' 25"
10. HESJEDAL Ryder + 03' 31"

Overall General Classification results following Stage 18:

1. VOECKLER Thomas 79h 34' 06"  
2. SCHLECK Andy + 00' 15"
3. SCHLECK Frank + 01' 08"
4. EVANS Cadel + 01' 12"
5. CUNEGO Damiano + 03' 46"
6. BASSO Ivan + 03' 46"
7. CONTADOR Alberto + 04' 44"
8. SANCHEZ Samuel  + 05' 20"
9. DANIELSON Tom + 07' 08"
10. PERAUD Jean-Christophe + 09' 27"

Points: Mark Cavendish; Climbers: Jelle Vanendert; Youth: Rein Taaramae; Team: Garmin-Cervelo; Combativity: Andy Schleck.

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