95th Tour de France
Stage 17 - Embrun to L'Alpe d'Huez - 210.5 km (130.5 mi)
23 July 2008
If Frank Schleck, the winner of last year's finish at L'Alpe d'Huez, was to lose his yellow jersey today on the twenty-one fabled switchbacks of the day's summit finish, he did it in the best manner possible for his team. With a select group of contenders contesting the finish up the hors-categorie climb (the third of the day), Schleck's CSC teammate Carlos Sastre sprinted clear of the group with thirteen kilometers remaining and gained a two-minute gap over his nearest challengers to emerge atop the general classification. Schleck remains in second behind his teammate, 1:24 behind with four stages left to race.
Sastre has been among the contenders in the Tour de France the past several years after emerging from the shadows of better-known former CSC riders like Ivan Basso and Tyler Hamilton -- both of whom have or are currently serving time for doping infractions. While people before the race expected a lot from the Schlecks -- Frank in his fourth Tour after taking the L'Alpe d'Huez stage in 2006; Andy in his rookie Tour after taking second in his first Giro d'Italia last year -- but so many pundits discounted the Spanish climber's chances with all the team members at Bjarne Riis' disposal. Yet Riis knew better, saying in the Official Tour de France Guide published by VeloNews before the race, "Carlos is the captain of the team. Frank will be there in the key moments of the race. For Andy, we have to wait to see what happens. It's his first Tour. He's there to learn."
How prescient Riis turned out to be. The former Telekom rider, who won the 1996 Tour tainted on EPO, is now a respected team director of the world's number-one team three years running. His team employs some of the strictest in-house independent doping controls in cooperation with the World Anti-Doping Agency and UCI. He has groomed Giro d'Italia winners, champions of most of the sport's pinnacle one-day classics... but the Tour has always eluded him since those alchemic days a dozen years ago. First it was his teammate, Jan Ullrich, taking the Tour crown from him in 1997; then it was the reign of Lance Armstrong; still later, it would be his two team leaders defecting or getting fired and later being suspended for doping offenses. Riis' ability to read a race, however, has not changed since the days when he had a little more hair and rode in the saddle rather than in the lead car. And this year Team CSC is rolling to perfection.
Why would the team not protect Schleck's hold on the jersey, one may ask? Well, just look at the general classification. This masterstroke of a move provided the team with a one-two combination at the top of the general classification with over a minute of buffer rather than a handful of seconds. It also served to bolster the younger Schleck's hold on the white jersey of the best young rider. Team CSC is looking for group spoils, and it looks to be setting up the race to perfection to hold onto those spoils once achieved. Sastre might not have the position to hold his lead through the time trial, with stronger specialists of the discipline situated well within a passable time range, but Schleck is in an equally-advantageous situation... and is a stronger rider in time trials.
Riis finally appears to have created a team which, despite not having one highly-touted rider, is still formidable enough to control the peloton and win this edition of the Tour de France. As we have seen, despite the addition of Yaroslav Popovych, Silence-Lotto is simply not strong enough yet to completely hold the race in check for its leader Cadel Evans. Evans was seen today again suffering alone at the front while CSC drove the pace. Unable to attack, merely responding to the aggressions of a superior team, is no way to win the Tour de France... and despite being only 1:34 back of Sastre, Evans looks as though he is wholly depending on the time trial to save his chances of taking yellow onto the Champs-Elysses...
The race today saw the Tour go over three hors-categorie climbs after yesterday's assault on two others. The Galibier was the first peak to be navigated; the second was the Col de Croix de Fer, a tough slog fifty kilometers from the finish. Then, the final climb up L'Alpe d'Huez, as it so often does in the Tour, shook up the standings. Just as the Tour de France Guide predicted before the race, the climb favored Sastre better than Evans, the lanky Spanish climber dancing upward on the pedals to take minutes out of the Australian. They both were fighting for yellow; Sastre will now be looking for the best time-trial form of his life to hold onto that yellow and keep the Spanish victory streak in the Tour alive and extended to three years...
Results - Stage 17
- Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC -- 6.07.58 (34.32 km/h)
- Samuel Sanchez (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi -- +2.03
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +2.13
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC
- Vladimir Efimkin (RUS) AG2R La Mondiale -- +2.15
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- all s.t.
- Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC -- 74.39.03
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +1.24
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- +1.33
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- +1.34
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank -- +2.39
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle -- +4.41
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +5.35
- Samuel Sanchez (ESP) Euskatel-Euskadi -- +5.52
- Tadej Valjavec (SLO) AG2R La Mondiale -- +8.10
- Vladimir Efimkin (RUS) AG2R La Mondiale -- +8.24
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 219 pts
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 172
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 167
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 145
- Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis -- 137
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 123
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 110
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 105
- Romain Feillu (FRA) Agritubel -- 94
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 93
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- 125 pts
- Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC -- 80
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 80
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 65
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- 61
- Sebastian Lang (GER) Gerolsteiner -- 60
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 58
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner -- 54
- Remy di Gregorio (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- 52
- Egoi Martinez (ESP) Euskatel-Euskadi -- 50
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 74.49.18
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +1.58
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- +15.24
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +24.33
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- +1.04.36
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- +1.15.17
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- +1.19.58
- Remy Di Gregorio (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- +1.20.55
- Peter Velits (SVK) Milram -- +1.37.06
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +1.43.18
Tomorrow: Stage 18 - Bourg-d'Oisans to Saint-Etienne (196.5 km)
This transitional stage out of the Alps and toward the Massif Central will afford the contenders an opportunity to relax a little before Saturday's time trial. With no climbs harder than the category-two Croix de Montvieux on tap, this undulating course could afford an opportunity for a breakaway to succeed. The sprinters might not be able to fend off the attacks, with the Croix de Montvieux coming thirty-three kilometers from a largely-downhill finish into Saint-Etienne. An aggressive rider could easily nab a stage victory here. Don't expect any fireworks from guys like Sastre or Evans or Menchov or Vande Velde... they will be content to sit in the peloton and keep the gap manageable while thinking ahead to that time trial which should decide the ultimate complexion of the podium in Paris...