Even an undone shoe 500m before the finish could not deter a charged Mark Cavendish from claiming his 18th stage victory yesterday. The Manxman made contact with Romain Feillu (whom he had accused last week of dangerous behaviour) in the final sprint and his adjustable buckle came undone, but such is his form that he was able to bend down, reinsert the strap and continue to win comfortably ahead of André Greipel.
“My most dangerous point is my acceleration.” Cav said later, and his statement is seemingly justified by the green jersey he earned after yesterday’s efforts. Based on his current form, he is well on target to overhaul Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 career stage victories on the Tour. But that’s not on the mind of the HTC man right now.
No British rider has finished in green since the jersey’s introduction in 1953 – Cavendish himself has failed on two previous occasions – but with just two sprint stages remaining, he is definitely in the driver’s seat. However he needs to be vary of Philppe Gilbert and Jose Joaquin Rojas right behind him, who with their better all round abilities are very much in the fight.
Yesterday was a short and flat stage not of much interest to any top contenders (except the sprinters ofcourse). FDJ’s Mickael Delage was part of the initial breakaway and earned the status of the rider who has spent most time charging away from the peloton. At the end of yesterday he has been part of various attacks for 392km of the total 1,794km covered. Sadly he wins no awards for the achievement apart from troubling the statisticians.
The only withdrawal on the day was the Frenchman John Gadret (AG2R). He has struggled right from day one and cited exhaustion as the reason for his pulling out of the Tour. Maybe his fourth placed finish in the recently concluded Giro d’Italia had to do with the fatigue that forced this decision.
Tougher side of life was on display elsewhere too as stage 10 winner André Greipel was seen ferrying water bottles for his team-mates. Such is the nature of this unique event that irrespective of your personal achievements, everyone has to surrender his ego to the team’s cause and only the leader is spared such mundane duties.
Apart from the last dash there was nothing out of the ordinary on the stage, making it one of those days where you can relax and admire at the stunning French countryside. By you I mean the viewers, cause the riders don’t get that luxury until the final ceremonial stage leading to Paris. However the grumpy weather conditions snatched even that joy from us and toward the end the field had to wade through a torrential downpour.
Today is much more interesting though. Finally comes the day of serious climbs where one can hope for an attack by a top contender. The stage features three major climbs in the final 60km, two of which are of the severest Hors catégorie. Col du Tourmalet is steeped in history and was the backdrop for the captivating Schleck vs Contador battle during stage 17 last year.
In that edition the Spaniard came out second best (on the given day), but with the conditions that were, the way both riders destroyed the peloton battling solo till the summit was stuff of legends. The weather looks pretty similar to last year and should give the mysterious aura, however matters do not end there. Having scaled this mammoth peak, riders move on for a last test on the day.
The finish on Luz-Ardiden is one of the nastiest this year and any rider who struggles today can forget to dream of glory in Paris. There may not be major attacks as this is only the first mountain stage, but it will be a tough ask of Thomas Voeckler to hang on to the maillot jaune by the end. He accepted the fact in his comments yesterday, “I will try, but I honestly expect to lose the jersey tomorrow. That doesn’t mean that I won’t fight. We’ll see…”
While I cannot say the Tour has been short of action in the first 11 days, however today marks the beginning of the main battle. Do not move away from your screens, as the climbs on Le Tour seldom disappoint. I have my allegiances towards Andy Schleck, but cannot discount Cadel Evans for a moment considering his current form. Alberto Contador might be injured, but one never rules out a three-time winner of the Tour and their three-way battle is bound to be invigorating. So till tomorrow then…
ps: For all who want to bathe in the wonder that is Col du Tourmalet, here is a breathtaking archive of images released last year to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the climb’s introduction into the Tour.
Jersey holders: General Classification:
Maillot Jaune – Thomas Voeckler Thomas Voeckler – 45h 52’ 39” Maillot Vert – Mark Cavendish Luis-Leon Sanchez – 45h 54’ 28” Maillot à Pois Rouges – Johnny Hoogerland Cadel Evans – 45h 55’ 05” Maillot Blanc – Robert Gesink