July 9, 2009
Tour de France Stage Seven: Barcelone to Andorre Arcalis
224 km (139 miles)
In a phenomenal breakout performance, newly-minted professional Brice Feillu rode away from eight break-mates today to cross the line alone at the top of Andorre Arcalis. After looking a bit haggard toward the bottom of the final climb, the rookie 23-year-old Agritubel rider delivered a career-making attack and accelerated away from the lead group to take the win. He’d been riding in the break for more than 200 kilometers.
Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r) crossed the line 26 seconds later. He had been the highest placed rider in the break at the start of the day (32nd place on the GC, 3:13 down) and managed to cross the line with a wide enough margin to catapult him to the front of the general classification and make him the first Italian in 9 years to wear the coveted maillot jaune.
The bigger race, however, was happening behind the breakaway finishers as Astana’s Alberto Contador attacked the front of the chase group, putting 21 seconds into his nearest challenger, teammate Lance Armstrong. The ride moved Contador from 3rd to 2nd overall, two seconds ahead of Armstrong, going into another big mountain stage tomorrow.
Cavendish remains in green for 7th straight day, Tony Martin 7th in GC
Today wasn’t a day for the sprinters, but Cavendish got a little help from the boys in the break and maintained control of the Points Classification. Members of the breakaway claimed all of the intermediate sprint points along the way, ensuring that sprinting rival Thor Hushovd didn’t snag any of them to move into the lead in what’s shaping up to be an epic battle for the green Points Classification jersey. Cavendish remains in the lead for today and will wear the maillot vert again tomorrow for the 7th day running.
Columbia-HTC’s 24-year-old Tony Martin had a fantastic ride today, finishing 16th and retaining his lead in the Best Young Rider’s Classification. The effort was also good enough to keep him in 7th place in the GC, just a minute behind the new race leader Rinaldo Nocentini.
How it unfolded
177 riders (to date, 3 have abandoned due to broken bones) rolled out today amid clear blue skies, towering mountains and 75 degree temperatures. Conditions could not have been better as they made their way toward the third highest point that the Tour has ever visited – a mountain top finish on Andorre Arcalis (2240m / 7349 ft).
A break of three men escaped early and they were soon joined by six others. The nine-man group included Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Christophe Kern (Cofidis), Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Brice Feillu (Agritubel) and Johannes Frohlinger (Milram). Among them, Rinaldo Nocentini was placed highest in the overall classification (32nd place, 3:13 off the pace of the race leaders).
The group of nine opened up a considerable advantage on the field and with 40km remaining, the gap was still 12 minutes. But by the 15k-to-go mark, it had dropped to only 7:40 as Astana rode pace at the front of the main field. As the peloton approached the final climb of the day, it looked as though the break might be caught in the final few kilometers.
Andorre Arcalis is an hor catégorie climb (HC – beyond category, the most difficult) - a 10.6 km grind to the finish, with an average grade of 7.1 percent. As the riders hit the bottom of the grade, the leaders still had a 6 minute advantage, with Astana driving hard to close down the gap.
Race leader Fabian Cancellara couldn’t match the blistering pace set by the climbers and popped off with 5.4k to go. He continued to battle, mouth agape, yellow jersey unzipped, but ultimately lost over 9 minutes, and the maillot jaune along with it.
Up the road, the young Frenchman, Brice Feillu had dropped the hammer and was riding away from his breakaway companions to take the stage victory at the summit, with his nearest challenger 5 seconds behind.
The pace at the front of the main field was eerily steady (and fast) until 1.7k to go when Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) launched an initial attack that created a flurry of activity off the front. Evans’ attack didn’t stick, but the action that followed brought a massive acceleration from Astana’s Alberto Contador, who opened up an impressive gap on the field.
GC contender Andy Schleck (Saxo-Bank) chased with Armstrong on his wheel, but was not able to pull the Spaniard back. Ultimately taking 21 seconds out of teammate Lance Armstrong, the effort was just enough to move Contador 2 seconds ahead of the Texan in the overall classification, but it was not enough to put him in yellow.
That honor fell to an Italian – Rinaldo Nocentini – the AG2R rider who had spent the day in the breakaway. Now sitting just 6 seconds ahead of Contador, Nocentini will wear the maillot jaune as the race heads back into the mountains tomorrow.
But the Italian will have to produce another leg-shattering ride if he hopes to stay in yellow for more than a day – with Contador and Armstrong breathing down his neck, the pressure will be on.
Looking ahead to Stage Eight
Andorre-la-Vieille to Saint-Girons - 176.5 km (109.6mi)
Stage 8 greets the riders with another grueling day in the mountains and covers three major categorized climbs.
This second of three stages in the Pyrenees starts off right away with the 2,408m (7900 ft) Port d’ Envalira which is the highest surfaced pass in the Pyrenees. After a very long descent back into France the riders will pass through Ax-les-Thermes and Tarascon before tackling the 12km Col de Port at 1,249m (4097 ft).
Their last obstacle, 44km’s from the finish, is the 12km Col d’ Agnes which reaches 1,570m (5150ft). It will no doubt be another day of fireworks as the Astana boys go at it again and their trailing rivals attempt to gain precious seconds.
Stage 7 Results: Top Five Individuals
1. FEILLU Brice 174 AGRITUBEL 6h 11' 31"
2. KERN Christophe COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 00' 05"
3. FRÖHLINGER Johannes TEAM MILRAM + 00' 25"
4. NOCENTINI Rinaldo AG2R-LA MONDIALE + 00' 26"
5. MARTINEZ Egoi EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 00' 45"
Top Ten Individual Standings (GC) after Stage 7
1. NOCENTINI Rinaldo AG2R-LA MONDIALE 25h 44' 32"
2. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 00' 06"
3. ARMSTRONG Lance ASTANA + 00' 08"
4. LEIPHEIMER Levi ASTANA + 00' 39"
5. WIGGINS Bradley GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM + 00' 46"
6. KLÖDEN Andréas ASTANA + 00' 54"
7. MARTIN Tony TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC + 01' 00"
8. VANDE VELDE Christian GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM + 01' 24"
9. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK + 01' 49"
10. NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS + 01' 54"
Columbia-HTC Individual Standings after Stage 7
7. MARTIN Tony 122. GRABSCH Bert
12. MAXIME Monfort 154. EISEL Bernhard
20. KIRCHEN Kim 157. RENSHAW Mark
36. HINCAPIE George 164. ROGERS Michael
121. CAVENDISH Mark