96th Tour de France
Stage 19 - Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas - 178.0 km (110.0 mi)
24 July 2009
In the end, it took the 24-year-old from the Isle of Man but three tries at the Tour de France to surpass the legendary compatriot who spent the better part of two decades setting his record. In a breathtaking sprint finish into Aubenas, Mark Cavendish persevered after so many expected him to fail. Cavendish found a way to survive in the front group over the second-category Col de l'Escrinet, his Columbia teammates George Hincapie, Tony Martin and Maxime Monfort all draining their reserves to pace the Briton over the summit. And then the Manx Missile did the rest from there, barreling along the slightly-rising Pont d'Aubenas to beat out stage favorites Thor Hushovd and Oscar Freire.
This win was perhaps the biggest of Cavendish's career, as much for the difficulty of the course as for how it brought his career tally to nine to break his tie with Barry Hoban atop the all-time British Tour stage winners list. After catching his breath, he told the assembled press, "[George, Tony and Maxime] gave it everything for me to win. Then for me to go with 260m on a slight uphill, it was hard to do that. That was one of the hardest sprints I???ve ever had to do. That made it quite emotional at finish." He proved his resilience in reaching the battle royale; he sealed his preeminence as this generation's top sprinter by pulling off a wholly-unexpected victory.
Cavendish will now bide his time in the peloton during tomorrow's Stage 20 slog up the infamous Mont Ventoux, dreaming of one last stage victory on Sunday on the Champs-Elysees. Further, with his win, Cavendish opened up once again the (albeit remote) possibility that he might still overtake Thor Hushovd in the race for the green points jersey. But even if the young rider can't overtake his veteran competitor, Cavendish has still already succeeded in asserting his position as the fastest man in cycling over the final few hundred meters of a race.
The stage appeared poised to welcome yet another breakaway success. But when we've predicted bunch finishes, a breakaway stayed clear... so it should come as no shock, in the end, that in this unpredictable Tour de France yet another unexpected finish took place. With twenty-two riders now dropped out of the race, the 158 remaining cyclists took to the road on a scorching day in Bourgoin-Jallieu. Triple-digit temperatures were on the horizon for the riders, providing little respite between yesterday's time-trial effort in Annecy and tomorrow's ride up the legendary Giant of Provence.
The route provided little respite, either, as the riders were greeted upon leaving Bourgoin-Jallieu with a short climb up the fourth-category Cote de Culin. Thierry Hupond (Skil-Shimano), dreaming perhaps of a fourth French stage victory and the first for his team in its inaugural Tour de France, bolted free from the pack to ride solo up the climb. Staying clear until the summit, Hupond captured the King of the Mountains points at the top before being swept up by the pack on the descent. Dream deferred, he returned to his customary position in the peloton.
Soon after the reintegration, another larger breakaway developed. In it was the Tour's runner-up in both 2007 and 2008, Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), who after a dismal ride in this year's edition was deemed too innocuous to chase by the GC contenders. Assembling before the town of Chatonnay, Evans joined up with nineteen other riders -- Yaroslav Popovych (Astana), Jose Luis Arrieta, Nicolas Roche and Christophe Riblon (AG2R-La Mondiale), David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream), Kim Kirchen (Columbia), Luis Leon Sanchez, David Arroyo and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Carlos Barredo and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Leonard Duque (Cofidis), Simon Spilak (Lampre), Geoffrey Lequatre (Agritubel), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Stijn Vandenbergh and Nicolai Trussov (Katusha), Jonathan Hivert (Skil-Shimano) and Ruben Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi) -- just a dozen kilometers into the stage.
The group, as assembled, would gain a maximum advantage of only three minutes by the feed zone in Bourg-de-Peage, 83 kilometers into the stage. Driving the main field, stage-hungry Rabobank and Milram shaved the time down steadily. Noting the futility of the current configuration, David Millar bolted free with Arrieta, Gutierrez, Duque and Popovych before the day's final sprint point in Saint-Julien-en-Saint-Alban. But with their former breakaway companions soon swept up, the quintet were doomed. Their 40-second advantage would soon evaporate, as they could not hold off the inevitable catch before the opening pitches of the second-category Col de l'Escrinet.
On those lower slopes, Laurent Lefevre (BBox-Bouygues Telecom) had the same idea as Hupond at the beginning of the stage, taking off solo with visions of some podium time in his near future. He would be joined by Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), showing off the rainbow stripes of his world road champion's jersey, about four and a half kilometers from the summit. The two crested the climb just thirteen seconds clear of the bunched field, which surprisingly contained all the sprinters. With the speedsters gnashing their teeth for a chance at a full-fledged bunch sprint, it was highly unlikely that Ballan and Lefevre would stay clear. In the end, the two were caught just 1300 meters from the line. From there, it was just a matter of winding up the sprint and watching the fastest man win...
So now we are faced with an interesting situation heading into the penultimate stage, whereby both podium positions and the green jersey could come into play. Thor Hushovd and Mark Cavendish are separated by but twenty-five points with two stages left. With two intermediate sprint points in play tomorrow before the summit finish, along with two more on the final stage before the sprinters get one last go on the Champs-Elysees. Cavendish is the odds-on favorite to win the Parisian stage, but Hushovd can still finish right behind him and still claim his jersey.
The general classification, though, will be decided tomorrow. The stage covers one fourth-category and three third-category climbs before they pass through the final sprint point in Mormoiron. Then, they take that turn north to Bedoin, where they take one long turn back east and hit the slopes of one of cycling's most mythic climbs -- Mont Ventoux. This is the climb where Tom Simpson, jacked up on amphetamines and alcohol as was the custom at that time in the world of performance enhancement (in all sports, though steroids were getting a toehold as well by this point), collapsed on its slopes in 1967 and heralded in the new era of anti-doping testing controls. Since 1951 the grueling slopes of the lunar, plant-bare mountain have been toiled upon by riders thirteen times in the Tour; this will be just the eighth time the climb has hosted a summit finish. Winners upon the summit of Mont Ventoux mark a list of legends: Charly Gaul, Raymond Poulidor, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Thevenet, Jean-Francois Bernard, Marco Pantani, and Richard Virenque. Tomorrow, a new rider will write his name upon that list of legends.
With so much left to be decided, it is likely that the winner will come from amongst the group of six riders still in position for a podium spot. Maillot jaune Alberto Contador has already won a mountain stage in this Tour, at Verbier back on Stage 15. If he is attacked, he could easily accelerate on the middle third of the climb, where the roads ramp up to between nine and ten percent grade -- the steeps are where the Spaniard excels. Saxo Bank's Andy Schleck (in second, 4:11 back) will be working with his brother Frank (in sixth, 5:59 back) to try and counter the Astana trio of Contador, Lance Armstrong (in third, 5:21 back) and Andreas Kloden (in fifth, 5:38 back). The wild card in all of this will be Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream (in fourth, 5:36 back). If the former track specialist can prove his transformation into all-around general classification beast is complete and stick with the more-heralded climbers on this ride, he could easily be looking at a podium place of his own if the Schlecks can manage to drop Armstrong and Kloden again as they did in Stage 17. Of course, Wiggins was also dropped in those accelerations, so there's no guarantee of that taking place on the fearsome climb up Mont Ventoux. One way or another, we're going to see a winner and a loser definitively after tomorrow's stage...
RESULTS - STAGE 19
- Mark Cavendish (Columbia) 3:50:35
- Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam)
- Gerald Ciolek (Milram)
- Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto)
- Oscar Freire (Rabobank)
- Jerome Pineau (Quick Step)
- Fumiyuki Beppu (Skil-Shimano)
- Nicolas Roche (Agritubel)
- Christophe Le Mevel (Francaise des Jeux)
- Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Slipstream)
- Alberto Contador (Astana) 77:06:18
- Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) +4:11
- Lance Armstrong (Astana +5:21
- Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) +5:36
- Andreas Kloden (Astana) +5:38
- Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) +5:59
- Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) +7:15
- Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Slipstream) +10:08
- Christophe Le Mevel (Francaise des Jeux) +12:37
- Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +12:38
- Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) 260
- Mark Cavendish (Columbia) 235
- Gerald Ciolek (Milram) 148
- Jose Joaquin Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne) 126
- Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) 122
- Oscar Freire (Rabobank) 119
- Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) 110
- Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) 96
- Alberto Contador (Astana) 88
- Andreas Kloden (Astana) 85
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) 196
- Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 135
- Pierrick Fedrigo (BBox-Bouygues Telecom) 99
- Alberto Contador (Astana) 98
- Christophe Kern (Cofidis) 89
- Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 86
- Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux) 84
- Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 79
- Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Silence-Lotto) 76
- Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) 68
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 77:10:29
- Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) +3:04
- Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas) +9:57
- Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale) +27:34
- Pierre Rolland (BBox-Bouygues Telecom) +27:43
- Brice Feillu (Agritubel) +28:14
- Peter Velits (Milram) +38:39
- Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank) +40:32
- Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d'Epargne) +50:58
- Tony Martin (Columbia) +51:28
- Astana -- 229:55:00
- Garmin-Slipstream -- +16:14
- AG2R-La Mondiale -- +23:45
- Saxo Bank -- +24:32
- Liquigas -- +43:52
- Euskaltel-Euskadi -- +47:49
- Cofidis -- +50:52
- Francaise des Jeux -- +52:54
- Katusha -- +57:32
- Milram -- +1:07:08