95th Tour de France
Stage 9 - Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre - 224.0 km (139.0 mi)
13 July 2008
The young guns have shown up at the 2008 Tour de France ready to assert their ascent to the top of the sport. One day after fresh-faced sprinter Mark Cavendish swooped across the line in Toulouse to become the first multiple-sprint winner of this year's race, another young rider completed a daring solo breakaway to take his second stage of the Tour. 24-year-old Riccardo Ricco, already a podium finisher at the Giro d'Italia, used the first-category Col d'Aspin to take his second career Tour stage victory a minute ahead of the peloton. In a move reminiscent of his childhood idol Marco Pantani, Ricco has proven increasingly capable of challenging for the yellow jersey just as his idol did back in 1998. Yet, Ricco contends that he did not come to this Tour with general-classifications but rather stage victories. Now barely into the second week, he has already claimed victories in two of France's mountain ranges -- the Masssif Central and the Pyrenees -- and now all that remains to be seen is whether he can complete the triad and take an Alpine stage this year.
This emergence from the youth of the sport can only harbor good things for its future. While the aging stalwarts of cycling continue to get caught attempting to artificially enhance performance, the younger riders entered the professional ranks already highly accustomed to in-competition testing, out-of-competition testing, internal third-party testing instituted by teams. Earlier this week, when Manuel Beltran was ejected from the Tour and suspended by his Liquigas team, the cry from the press and jaded American sports fans was one questioning why the message is failing to read loud and clear among these athletes. Reality remains, the message IS being heard loud and clear -- it is simply hard to teach an old dog new tricks.
In recent years, it hasn't been the Contadors or Riccos or Cavendishes of the sport who have been testing positive; rather, it is the Beltrans and the Floyd Landises and Alexandre Vinokourovs... guys who had already been plying their trade for a decade or more by the time they were finally caught. The reason these older cyclists fail to get with the times is simple -- that which has worked so well and gone so undetected in the past must still be good now. This logic pervades even as the testing gets more stringent and the stakes become higher...
For the riders who remain in the Tour, Stage 9 began with a long neutral start through the streets of Toulouse. The peloton was taking it easy at the start, recognizing that this time before race director Christian Prudhomme dropped the start flag would be perhaps their last chance to relax for the next few days through the Pyrenees. Sure enough, the breakaway attempts began right from the drop, King of the Mountains leader David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) springing ahead to protect and pad his lead on the polka-dot jersey. Five riders went along for the ride, hanging off the front for a couple kilometers before the will of the pack overtook them. Around the twenty-second kilometer, though, a far more innocuous break -- Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) and Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel) -- found a gap and increased it to a minute. Lang, the highest-placed of the breakaway riders, was already down twenty-two-plus minutes on the general classification... so the Columbia team of race leader Kim Kirchen was content to give the trio a lead and control the counter-attacks.
The first sprint point, at Saint-Suulpice-sur-Leze, was won by Kuschynski; the peloton passed through 1:40 later. Soon the first two of seven categorized climbs loomed on the day -- two fourth-category climbs only four kilometers apart. By the time the three leaders reached the foot of the first, the Cote de Saint-Pey at 42 kilometers, their lead over the peloton had grown to 7:30. Lang took the summit ahead of his companions, and did the same again at the top of the second climb, the Cote de Sainte-Quitterie. By the time the peloton reached the second summit point of the day, the breakaway had already gained 13:30 over the field.
The breakaway hit its high-water mark soon thereafter... the gap would never grow beyond 14:20, and the peloton soon began to churn up the gap as the Pyrenean roads turned upward. By the foot of the fourth-category Cote de Mane, the gap was back down just above the ten-minute point. Lang powered ahead of his breakaway partners, once again taking the maximum points. The action was tight inside a 32-kilometer stretch beginning with this climb. The feed zone at Pujos came 13 kilometers after; then, the second intermediate sprint of the day came soon thereafter at Sengouagnet. Once the sprint was taken by Jalabert ahead of Kuschynski, the last of the day's four fourth-category climbs was already beginning. Lang, smelling polka dots on the horizon, punched it again up the Cote de Buret... and came away having amassed twelve points in the King of the Mountains competition to that point. After a short descent, the third-category Col des Ares was sending the riders toward the heavens anew.
Lang inevitably took the points, now sitting on sixteen, and the descent dropped the riders toward the town of Luchon. Behind in the peloton, several riders had come to grief. Among their ranks was included prohibitive Tour favorite Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto, who appeared to have tumbled when a bag became lodged in his wheel spokes and arrested his momentum, pitching him over the handlebars. His helmet cracked, his jersey torn, his elbows bloodied, Evans worked his way back up to the peloton with the help of his teammates. He was later seen being attended to by race doctor Gerard Porte and then maintaining his position near the front of the pack.
Luchon came, marking the base of the 2008 Tour's first category-one climb, the mythic Col de Peyresourde. It was this climb, among others, which saw riders voice their displeasure with the absurd hardships of the Tour when the Pyrenean climbs were first introduced in 1910. From Lucon, the climb rises for 15.27 km (9.47 mi) and gains a total of 939 m (3081 ft) in elevation. The average gradient going in this direction is 6.1%, with pitches of 9.8% at points. A truly brutal climb, the gap was at ten minutes flat when the breakway reached Luchon and started their slog upward.
Jalabert, succumbing to the strains of the slopes, dropped back first; five kilometers from the summit, Lang was riding alone to the top, Kuschynski having dropped back as well. Lang took the maximum fifteen points, now holding 31 on the day, and plummeted down the steeper western side of the Peyresourde toward Arreau. Counterattacks began down the descent, riders trying to break free to join ranks with the splintered lead group and drive forward ahead of the favorites. Lang reached Arreau and the start of the day's final climb, the Col d'Aspin, with two minutes on Kuschynski, five on a chase group containing Jalabert and KOM David De La Fuente, and six minutes on the peloton.
Up the climb, the attacks began back in the peloton when Lang's teammate Stefan Schumacher started the accelerations. Saunier Duval trio Ricco and Leonardo Piepoli countered and began to put serious pressure on the pack. Only the combined efforts of Columbia for Kirchen and Silence-Lotto for Evans could keep the field from splintering... until Ricco accelerated again. Soon he was clear of the peloton, picking his way up the mountain like Pantani, his hands on his drops and riders and meters melting away below him. Soon he was passing even Lang, a kilometer from the summit, and driving his own solo breakaway to glory. Lang hung on to take the second-place points, but was soon swallowed by the peloton.
Ricco took the descent all the way to Bagneres-de-Bigorre for his second stage victory of the Tour. He also managed to take a minute out of race leader Kim Kirchen and vault himself into twenty-first in the general classification, only 2:35 from the lead. But when asked if he was yet thinking of the yellow, Ricco remained effusive. "I'm not a rider who came here with special preparation for the Tour. I still say I came here to win a stage. Okay, now I've won two. I'm taking it day by day with respect to the GC. Tomorrow is an important stage, but I want to help Piepoli to win a stage. Tomorrow is perfect for a rider of his characteristics."
Results - Stage 9
- Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval -- 5.39.28 (39.59km/h)
- Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale -- +1.04
- Cyril Dessel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale -- +1.17
- Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Credit Agricole
- Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram
- Maxime Monfort (Bel) Cofidis
- Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
- Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas
- Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre
- Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Silence-Lotto -- all s.t.
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 24.30.41
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- +0.06
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle -- +0.44
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner -- +0.56
- 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
- Samuel Sanchez (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi -- +1.27
- Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC -- +1.34
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 123 pts
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 119
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 105
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 96
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 92
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 86
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 82
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- 75
- Romain Feillu (FRA) Agritubel -- 64
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 62
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- David De La Fuente (ESP) Saunier Duval -- 61 pts
- Sebastian Lang (GER) Gerolsteiner -- 57
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval-Scott -- 50
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 31
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- 30
- Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Cofidis -- 27
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 27
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- 22
- Aleksandr Kuchynski (BLR) Liquigas -- 22
- Nicolas Jalabert (FRA) Agritubel -- 19
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 38.09.17
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +0.09
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +0.22
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- +0.37
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- +1.03
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- +4.33
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- +5.26
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +12.35
- Iouri Trofimov (RUS) Bouygues Telecom -- +28.37
- Trent Lowe (AUS) Garmin-Chipotle -- +28.55