95th Tour de France
Stage 12 - Lavelanet to Narbonne - 168.5 km (104.5 mi)
17 July 2008
The story so far of this Tour has been the incredible chrysalis of the younger riders of the peloton. Just three stages ago we were all extolling two riders as the class of the first half of the 2008 Tour. Both again played widely divergent roles in how the race played out today and throughout the rest of the route to Paris. Both have won multiple stages; only one, however, crossed the finish line today in Narbonne.
Before the riders even assembled at the starting line in Lavelanet, Riccardo Ricco -- the winner of stages six and nine and the leader of both the King of the Mountains and best young rider classifications -- was taken away by the authorities after his stage four drug test revealed erythropoietin in his system. But this was not the recombitant EPO prevalent in the nineties and early part of this decade; this is a far more nefarious drug of which we speak. What Ricco had in his sytem was a Continuous Erythropoiesis Receptor Activator (CERA) which was first manufactured by Swiss pharmaceutical corporation Roche to treat anemia resulting from chronic kidney diseases. Unlike the more standard form of rEPO developed by Amgen and used to boost red blood cell counts for a short period, CERA works for a far longer period and was presumed to be undetectable by tests.
This proved not to be the case. The World Anti-Doping Agency has stepped up its work with pharmaceutical companies developing new molecular strains, and received samples of Micera (the market name for CERA) from Roche in advance of the Tour. Tests were developed and implemented, and have proven effective -- Ricco's B-sample came back positive. The leader of two classifications and a team which had won three stages already in the first half of the Tour now finds itself out of the race. Ricco left with the French police; Saunier Duval, his team, pulled out voluntarily once their leader was gone. Last year for this team it was Iban Mayo bringing scandal; now, a new generation takes up the mantle of ignominy.
But not all was lost for the 168 riders which did line up in the village of Lavelanet for the start of stage twelve. Early breaks failed until two Frenchmen gained a one-minute advantage around the fortieth kilometer. The two cyclists -- Arnaud Gerard (Francaise des Jeux) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) -- saw that gap increase to 3:40 by the fiftieth kilometer as they neared the only climb of the day, the fourth-category Col du Camperie. Dumoulin led Gerard over the summit, with Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) breaking out of the peloton to take the third-place points at the top just under four minutes later.
Heading down the climb and toward the Mediterranean coast out of the Pyrenees, the breakaway duo approached the first sprint point in Saint-Paul-de-Fenouillet. Gerard traded places with Dumoulin and took the lead through the sprint, with Oscar Friere extending his hold on the green jersey another two points by taking third in the bunch. The feed zone in Maury came soon thereafter. The peloton, having charged hard into the sprint, came through the feed zone only fifty seconds behind the two leaders; however, a leisurely pace to avoid crashes allowed the gap to string back out to ninety seconds by the hundred-kilometer point of the race.
The two would not stay away to the end, though... the sprinters and their teams were certain to see to that. Nearing the fifty-kilometers-to-go point, with the gap only a half-minute, Juan Jose Oroz (Euskatel-Euskadi) bridged the distance and joined forces with the two Frenchmen. The gap, with the added power of the Spaniard, was soon back up to a minute and a half. Dumoulin tried to break free to solo in just before the second intermediate sprint at Thezan-des-Corbieres, but Oroz and Gerard managed to keep on his wheel. The gap kept growing and receding, the peloton stringing out the leaders like a child with a yo-yo.
The break met its ultimate doom with nine kilometers to go. The sprinters' teams, led by Columbia for Mark Cavendish, Quick Step for Gert Steegmans and Credit Agricole for Thor Hushovd, started jostling for position on the run-in to Narbonne. In the end it was the shrewd Brittish youngster who came through to narrowly take the win from Sebastien Chavanel of Francaise des Jeux. Cavendish, in only his second Tour, is the polar opposite of Ricco, offering fans a glimpse of a cleaner future. Cavendish is a stern anti-doping advocate, a member of a team at the forefront of internal testing and cooperation with the authorites, and the fastest thing going on two wheels at the moment. He now, already at such a young age, holds the British record for most stage wins in a single Tour -- and could easily win one or two more by Paris. The ugly face of cycling reared its head today and struck down some myths about the next generation of cyclists... but at the same time it also ended with an offering of hope that the superstars of the peloton in the coming decades can win clean...
Results - Stage 12
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 3.40.52 (45.77 km/h)
- Sebastien Chavanel (FRA) Francaise des Jeux
- Gert Steegmans (BEL) Quick Step
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank
- Francesco Chicchi (ITA) Liquigas
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole
- Leonardo Duque (COL) Cofidis
- Julian Dean (NZL) Garmin-Chipotle
- Heinrich Haussler (GER) Gerolsteiner -- all s.t.
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 50.23.05
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +0.01
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle -- +0.38
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- +0.46
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank -- +0.57
- Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC -- +1.28
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- +1.56
- Vladimir Efimkin (RUS) AG2R La Mondiale -- +2.32
- Mikel Astarloza (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi -- +3.51
- Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas -- +4.18
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 162 pts
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 138
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 136
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 123
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 121
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 96
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 95
- Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis -- 88
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 76
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 75
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Sebastian Lang (GER) Gerolsteiner -- 58 pts
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- 56
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 46
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 31
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 30
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- 30
- Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Cofidis -- 27
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 27
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank -- 24
- Vladimir Efimkin (RUS) AG2R La Mondiale -- 24
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- 50.27.23
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +2.42
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +2.49
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +4.16
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- +13.57
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- +25.35
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +32.30
- Remy Di Gregorio (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- +34.57
- Trent Lowe (AUS) Garmin-Chipotle -- +46.48
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- +52.00