They don’t call him “god of thunder” for nothing. And thunder struck poor Jérémy Roy, pouring cold water over his – and all French – hopes of a stage victory. Thor Hushovd pulled in a gap of over 90 seconds on the descent after the Col d’Aubisque, treating us with one of the most captivating finish (to an otherwise mundane stage) in recent times.
The Norwegian attacked on the Hors catégorie climb – an unexpected move for any sprinter – and managed to survive till the summit in third place. From thereon it was all downhill and flats (except a slight climb of the Col du Soulor) guiding him towards the stage victory he had targeted since the beginning of the Tour.
“I said throughout the first week that although I had the yellow jersey, I wanted to win a stage while wearing the rainbow jersey. Now that’s happened. Now I’m content,” said the Garmin-Cervelo man. His ninth victory in the Tour de France added a mountain stage to the already existing time trial, sprint wins, escape victories and the pave stage of last year. That is an envious record in itself, even without considering his current (road race) world championship honour.
His chase on those final kilometers would go down in the annals of sport as one of the most thrilling. It will not have an impact at the top end of the general classification, but as far as nail-biting moments go, its right up there with the best attacks. It was a roller coaster ride as Hushovd’s chase seemed to have faltered in the final 15km and Roy managed to keep the gap steady at round 15 seconds, but the big man was only biding his time.
Despite getting no help from David Moncoutie (who probably did not want to become the villain in his nation, helping the Norwegian spoil a French victory), Thor kept pumping solo and made his move with 3km to go. Jumping on the pedals he left Moncoutie for dead and within 800m was up on Roy’s wheel. There was no catching him from there, and even if Roy had not been as exhausted as he was, the Frenchman would never have matched Hushovd in the final sprint.
But one has to feel for the FDJ rider who attacked for the second day in succession. Roy was part of the first breakaway this year and has also led the climb over almost all major summits in this edition. He won the polka dot jersey and most aggressive rider’s award yesterday, but that was scant consolation for losing out on a stage victory.
His pain (both emotional and physical) was clear as he crossed the line in third place, almost apologetic to the vociferous local supporters who were anticipating the first home victory this year. As he tapped his heart with a dejected expression, one wished that the sport could allow for two victors on such days.
“The disappointment is too great. I’ll find it difficult to digest. It doesn’t matter if you win by a little or a lot because it’s only the win that counts. I did not really care about the polka-dot jersey when I went in the break, I wanted the stage win. I know I’m not a great champion and I have to do what I can with my ability, so I try and it still failed.” Despite these comments, he has earned a lot of respect in the past couple of weeks, and along with Philippe Gilbert has been one of the revelations of this year.
Not much else happened on a stage where the top contenders were mostly recuperating from stage 12 and preparing themselves for the rigours of stage 14 today. Attacks were not expected from any team and as things went to plan, Thomas Voeckler managed to stay in yellow for the fourth day running.
There were a few withdrawals, the most high-profile being Andréas Klöden, who dropped out after 30km, unable to continue due to the damage sustained in multiple crashes in the previous days. Also dropping out were Geert Steegmans, Denis Galimzyanov, Vladimir Isaichev,and Lars Boom, leaving the tour with 171 survivours.
The intermediate sprint saw green jersey holder Mark Cavendish caught unawares and pipped to the line by Jose Rojas. The Manxman was not impressed and gesticulated at the Movistar rider to display his frustration of having lost a point to his nearest rival.
There was no further action till the sluggish peloton pedalled over the Aubisque, though on the descent Philippe Gilbert launched yet another attack. Catching the leaders was not a possibility, but the Belgian aimed to collect a few extra points for the green jersey classification. He made it home in tenth place inching closer to Cavendish, and going by the omens, its highly likely we will see the fight for the green jersey right till the final sprint stage in Paris.
But the sprinter everyone is talking of right now is the two-time winner of the maillot vert, Thor Hushovd, who finished miles ahead of his corresponding rivals. Even Cavendish himself admired the world champion’s efforts, “Thor is winning some incredible races now. He’s an incredible rider. You could see he was aggressive all day, even at the beginning when the race was full on, he was always in the breaks and then he finally got away and although the climb wasn’t for him – it was going to be hard – but with the shape he’s in it wasn’t going to be too difficult for him.”
Today will not be a day for him, nor Cavendish, and maybe not even for the current maillot jaune. It is the last of the big Pyrenean stages and the ground for the GC battle to resume – with enhanced vigour. There are six tough tests: the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, the Col de la Core, the Col de Latrape, the Col d’Agnes, the Port de Lers and the finish at the Plateau de Beille.
While none of these has the venom of the Tourmalet or the upcoming Galibier, however their cumulative effect will ensure that only the sternest survive. The finish of Plateau de Beille holds a special place, as every rider who has previously won here has gone on to win the Tour that year.
We should witness similar destruction as caused on the Tourmalet by Leopard Trek. But this time the hard work might be done by Saxo bank as Contdaor needs to pull time back soon. It will be a tough day for everyone, particularly for the team of the GC contenders, who will have to sacrifice themselves trying to break the other teams.
Based on current form Cadel Evans and Frank Schleck look the strongest of all, but I would not be surprised if both Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador have kept their cards close to the chest. All I can hope is for history to repeat itself and the man coming out ahead today go on to win the Tour. I say so to prevent the possibility of a repeat of last year, where Contador won overall honours without having a single stage to his name. Most of all I hope that unlike the chess-moves of Thursday, today should be the day of a classic Tour attack. So till tomorrow then…
Jersey holders: General Classification:
Maillot Jaune – Thomas Voeckler Thomas Voeckler – 55h 49’ 57” Maillot Vert – Mark Cavendish Frank Schleck – 55h 51’ 46” Maillot à Pois Rouges – Jérémy Roy Cadel Evans – 55h 52’ 03” Maillot Blanc – Arnold Jeannesson