95th Tour de France
Stage 14 - Nimes to Digne-les-Bains - 194.5 km (120.5 mi)
19 July 2008
Oscar Freire is a man of contrasts. He is among the fastest sprinters in the peloton, having taken Gent-Wevelgem this spring as well as two editions of Milano-San Remo (2004, 2007) and three rainbow jerseys as world champion (1999, 2001, 2004). However, he has often been injury-prone, derailing his chances of competing in the grand tours. Despite being an eleven-year veteran of the professional peloton, this is only his fifth time racing the Tour de France. The few times before that he has contested the event, he has largely been an afterthought. But not anymore...
Today Freire won Stage 14 at Digne-les-Bains while in the green jersey signifying the leader of the points classification. Freire, who has worn the coveted rainbow jersey more than all but a handful of riders throughout cycling's illustrious history, looks to be on such dominant form that it will be hard for any other sprinter to wrest the Spaniard's first maillot vert from his back. Outkicking Colombian Leonardo Duque of Cofidis and the man who has won more green jerseys than any other in history, Erik Zabel of Milram, Freire extended his lead in the points classification to forty-seven over 2005 winner Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole. More memorably, Freire captured his first stage victory of the 2008 Tour and his fourth career stage -- now once again equal with yesterday's winner, the 23-year-old Mark Cavendish...
But Cavendish would not factor into today's stage which took the riders ever higher through the western foothills of the Alps. Two seemingly-innocuous fourth-category climbs awaited the riders en route to Digne-les-Bains as they set out from Nimes. 158 cyclists comprised the peloton as it spun eastward on another hot day in southern France. A large breakaway group of twenty-one slipped off the front at the fifth kilometer, building a slim one-minute advantage in the next fifteen kilometers. The peloton would not let this break get too much distance -- Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux) and Stijn Devolder were both less than a quarter-hour down on the podium positions.
The breakaway went through the first intermediate sprint point of the day in Saint-Remy-de-Provence with the one-minute advantage still holding steady, Devolder taking the sprint over Will Frischkorn (Garmin-Chipotle) and Bernhard Eisel (Columbia). The gap began to decrease after that, and as the peloton came closer as the second hour of racing began around the fifty-second kilometer, four riders bolted off the front of the lead group to try their luck. The remaining seventeen from the original breakaway were swept up around kilometer 56; in the next twenty kilometers, the four leaders -- Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Bram Tankink (Rabobank), William Bonnet (Credit Agricole) and, somewhat surprisingly, Casar -- gained three and a half minutes on the peloton. The feed zone soon approached in Les Huguets.
In the peloton behind, Fabian Wegmann from Gerolsteiner crashed while getting food, while Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel) abandoned the race. The gap strung further out, to a maximum of six minutes around the hundred-kilometer mark. Liquigas, working for Vincenzo Nibali and Daniele Bennati, took over at the front of the peloton and began to chip away at the advantage. By the time the chasers arrived in the town of Cereste, eleven kilometers from the fourth-category Cote de Mane, the gap had fallen to 3:20. Gutierrez took the summit points, followed by Tankink and Casar and then Bonnet, and then the peloton three minutes after.
Descending the climb, the breakaway arrived at the final intermediate sprint of the stage in Oraison. Gutierrez took the sprint with the other three riders sitting up without contesting. The main field passed through Oraison 2:21 later, with the Col de L'Orme only forty kilometers up the road and the finish in Digne-les-Bains less than ten kilometers from the summit. As the roads began to rise closer to the climb, the breakaway passing between the villages of Saint-Julien d'Asse and Estoublon, Gutierrez broke free from his companions to try to keep the gap up the climb. The field was now just over a minute behind.
The climb shaved the seconds away. Gutierrez, the Spanish time-trial champion, tried vainly to use his skills to stay clear but to no avail. The Spaniard was the last of the breakaways to be caught, getting swept up in the final kilometers of the climb. Bernhard Kohl, second behind Gerolsteiner teammate Sebastian Lang in the King of the Mountains competition, was pipped for the three points at the summit by Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas). The pace up the climb dropped several riders, including four-stage winner Mark Cavendish (Columbia), off the back and into arrears. Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) tried valiantly to solo down the descent into town for the victory, but the sprinters still in the main field would have nothing of a breakaway today.
Freire used his lethal finishing kick into Digne-les-Bains to pip Zabel, the man from whom he "stole" the 2004 Milan-San Remo by millimeters at the line, and less-heralded but no less swift Leonardo Duque of Cofidis. After the podium presentation, Freire told reporters, "This was a perfect stage for me. I came here for stage wins, so I’ve reached my objective. The green jersey would be nice, but I never set out to win it." Then, paying deference to his team, Freire continued, "It would be a bonus, but the yellow jersey is still the biggest goal for the team." With Rabobank teammate Denis Menchov sitting in fifth, only fifty-seven seconds behind maillot jaune Cadel Evans, the Dutch squad could see itself taking home two jerseys in Paris.
Results - Stage 14
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 4.13.08 (46.102 km/h)
- Leonardo Duque (COL) Cofidis
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram
- Julian Dean (NZL) Garmin-Chipotle
- Steven De Jongh (NED) Quick Step
- Alessandro Ballan (ITA) Lampre
- Ruben Perez (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi
- Jerome Pineau (FRA) Bouygues Telecom
- Matteo Tosatto (ITA) Quick Step
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- all s.t.
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 59.01.55
- 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 -- 219 pts
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 172
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 167
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 156
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 144
- Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis -- 137
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 110
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 105
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 98
- Romain Feillu (FRA) Agritubel -- 94
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Sebastian Lang (GER) Gerolsteiner -- 60 pts
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- 59
- 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 -- 59.06.13
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +2.49
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +2.53
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +4.27
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- +13.57
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- +25.33
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +35.35
- Remy Di Gregorio (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- +38.02
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- +52.15
- Trent Lowe (AUS) Garmin-Chipotle -- +52.55
Tomorrow: Stage 15 - Embrun to Prato Nevoso (183 km)
Tomorrow's stage should be an exciting stage. In the first sixty kilometers, the riders will be forced to tackle the hors-categorie Col Agnel... which is a detour from the original course over the Col de Larche from Digne-les-Bains due to the threat of rock slides. The climb tops off at 2744 meters (9003 feet) after 20.5 kilomters of climbing at an average 6.6% gradient. This climb comes too far from the finish to act as a true point of attrition in the race, so don't expect any of the general-classification contenders to punch it up the climb. Over the summit the riders pass into Italy, where they ride across the Piedmonte region, climbing the third-category Colle del Morte along the way before the first-category summit finish at the Italian ski resort Prato Nevoso. This is the first Tour stage to finish in Italy since Lance Armstrong's first-ever mountain stage victory at Sestriere en route to his first maillot jaune... could this climb separate the pretenders from the contenders tomorrow?