95th Tour de France
Stage 6 - Aigurande to Super-Besse - 195.5 km (121.0 mi)
10 July 2008
Well, this year's Tour de France chose not to welcome the Astana team of 2008 Giro d'Italia winner (and defending Tour champ) Alberto Contador... but Saunier Duval brought along the second-place finisher from Italy's grand tour, Riccardo Ricco. Today Ricco's selection paid dividends for the Spanish squad as the Italian rider captured the sixth stage of the 2008 Tour with a spectacular uphill sprint finish at Super-Besse. Originally considered a dark-horse contender for the general classification, Ricco continued to bleed time throughout the week. Yet all the while he asserted that his main goal at the Tour was to capture a mountaintop stage win. Today, Ricco reached his goal and touched the heavens first at Super-Besse.
Today's stage started in Augurande, just south of yesterday's finish in Chateauroux. Heading south-southeast into the Massif Central and the heart of La France Profonde, 176 riders began the stage under skies clearing from the ominous precipitation-laden clouds which punctuated most of the opening week. Sylvain Chavanel, again playing the instigator role, broke free just a few kilometers into the stage, and soon two others -- Freddy Bichot (Agritubel) and Benoit Vaugrenard (Francaise des Jeux) -- bridged the gap from the peloton to form yet another all-French breakaway. Several, including stage two breakaway leader Danny Pate of Garmin-Chipotle, tried to join forces with the trio. None were able to cross the distance between, though, and the leaders went through clear at the first intermediate sprint in Chatelus-Malvaleix. Chavanel took the sprint, and the trio pushed forward toward the next sprint in Cressat. By the thirty-fifth kilometer, they had already gained over two minutes' advantage over the peloton.
Several kilometers after the second intermediate sprint at Cressat, which was taken by Bichot, the lead had ballooned to nearly five minutes. Soon thereafter, the roads turned back upward after several relatively flat days in the Tour. The fourth-category Cote de Bellegarde-en-Marche loomed ahead. Chavanel, attempting to wrest the polka-dot jersey from his countryman Thomas Voeckler, punched the pedals and took the maximum points at the summit. The breakaway had five minutes at the top; they would not see that gap increase any further.
The second categorized climb on the day, the fourth-category Cote de Crocq, saw Chavanel again sprint away from his companions in the breakaway to take the three points and edge closer to taking the lead in the King of the Mountains competition. The peloton pulled itself over the 740-meter (2428-foot) summit of the climb 4:15 back. Gerolsteiner was starting to ramp up the pace in defense of Stefan Schumacher's yellow jersey; by the time the fead zone at Herment came at the one-hundred-eleventh kilometer on the road, the gap had been reduced to 3:20. Florent Brard (Cofidis), one of the most aggressive riders of the first week in breakaways, fell while grabbing his bag at the feed zone, but remounted without any apparent injury and rejoined the peloton.
Cadel Evans, the general-classification favorite from Silence-Lotto, had a mechanical malfunction seventy-five kilometers from the summit at Super-Besse. A replacement bike was soon brought forth, and six of his teammates waited behind to tow their leader back to the main group. Evans was soon back with the other contenders, awaiting the first climb of the day. However, the final sprint point needed to be passed through in La Bourboule before the roads turned seriously skyward. Vaugrengard took the points, the three breakaway companions splitting the spoils equitably. Soon after the sprint, the climb began.
This was a far-harder climb than these riders had seen in any previous stages, enough so that the Tour directors had rated this the first second-category climb of the 2008 Tour. The Col de la Croix-Morand, near Puy-de-Dome in the Massif Central, rises to a summit of 1401 meters (4596 feet). The three riders in the lead group arrived at the base of the climb with only two minutes advantage on the peloton. Chavanel broke free from his companions to attempt to solo toward the top around six kilometers from the summit; Vaugrengard soon fell back to rejoin the peloton, while Bichot continued defiantly on Chavanel's wheel. In the main group, Thomas Voeckler sprinted for the third-place points to try to defend his jersey, leading the peloton over the climb only fifty-six seconds after Chavanel and Bichot first passed through.
Only twenty-five kilometers from the finish, the gap was down to only a half-minute. Bichot tried to drop Chavanel, but the veteran rider was having none of this and hung on his compatriot's rear wheel. However, recognizing the futility of this endeavor, Chavanel soon sat up and allowed Bichot to continue on alone in his effort. The contenders for the yellow jersey started to take survey of their competitors as the first mountaintop finish of the race was soon to commence.
Several groups of riders tried to break away and bridge to Bichot, but each attempt was quickly pulled back by the bulldozing peloton. These were men on a mission, and no one was going to split this field before the serioius ramps began. The teams were beginning to congregate around their leaders. Caisse d'Epargne went to the front of the pack for their leader Alejandro Valverde, turning up the pace and dropping riders off the back. Other teams countered as the attacks continued, everything swallowed up by the charging cyclists. The kilometers melted away on the climb. With a kilometer to go, 2006 Tour winner Oscar Pereiro peeled off from the train and deferred to his team captain Valverde, and the subsequent swerve caught the peloton enough so that the yellow jersey hit the tarmac.
This brought to light a little-known rule. In most stages, if a rider crashes within three kilometers from the finish he receives the same time as the group he was riding with when he crashed. This rule, however, does not apply to mountaintop finishes, and the time lost checking and remounting his bike and then trying to regain his momentum on the steep climb was enough to thrust Schumacher out of the jersey. Kim Kirchen would end up taking over the race lead... and Schumacher was none too happy, asserting that it was Kirchen who caused his crash. "It's like a bad movie for me," Schumacher said. "It's not fair to give the jersey away like that. I don't know why Kirchen moved into me. I felt really good. After that accident, I had no chance anymore."
But the best part was saved for last. Valverde appeared poised to take his second stage win of the Tour, Caisse d'Epargne setting up their leader perfectly throughout the climb to finish off his adversaries. Evans, too, looked on form and his Silence-Lotto team had his well-positioned to spring for victory as well. However, it was the less-heralded Ricco who got the jump on the two prohibitive favorites with 250 meters remaining. Both responded, but neither could catch the Italian mountain goat as Ricco soloed in a second ahead for the victory. Now his focus must be decided: Does he want to go for more stage wins, or should he start thinking of himself as a potential threat for the overall? Only time will tell...
Results - Stage 6
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- 4.57.52 (39.38 km/h)
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +0.01
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +0.04
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +0.07
- Moises Duenas (ESP) Barloworld
- Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank
- Leonardo Piepoli (ITA) Saunier Duval -- all s.t.
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 24.30.41
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- +0.06
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner -- +0.16
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle -- +0.44
- David Millar (GBR) Garmin-Chipotle -- +0.47
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- +0.54
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank -- +1.03
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +1.12
- Stijn Devolder (BEL) Quick Step -- +1.21
- Oscar Pereiro (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- s.t.
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 97 pts
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 88
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 85
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 72
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 71
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 60
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 53
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 51
- Romain Feillu (FRA) Agritubel -- 49
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 49
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Cofidis -- 27 pts
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 27
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval-Scott -- 20
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 18
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 16
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 14
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 12
- Freddy Bichot (FRA) Agritubel -- 12
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- 10
- Bjorn Schroder (GER) Milram -- 9
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- 14.05.28
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +0.46
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +1.04
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +1.36
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA Liquigas -- +2.07
- Iouri Trofimov (RUS) Bouygues Telecom -- +2.20
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- +2.58
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- +4.00
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- 6.03
- Remy Di Gregorio (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- 9.48