Monday 14 July
Stage 10: Pau–Hautacam: 156km
After a long career, Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Scott) finally won a stage at the Tour De France on 14 July, France’s national holiday. It was fitting that the tiny 36 year old climber, won atop Hautacam, perhaps the most difficult climb in this year’s Tour De France. Piepoli, who has been a support rider most of his 13 year pro career, has won climbing stages at the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta A Espana, but today’s win, his 32nd career victory may be the sweetest ever for the laconic scalatore (climber) who’s nickname is “The Flying Trullo”.
Born in Switzerland to an Italian family who emigrated from the deep south of Italy near Bari, the enigmatic round trulli are a feature of the Apulia countryside where Piepoli has his roots. For much of his career, the diminutive rider who lives in Tuscany has raced on Spanish teams, with five years at Banesto and was an original team member of Saunier Duval in 2004. Known as an introspective and articulate member of the peloton, a clearly delighted Piepoli told RAI-TV after the stage win “our tactics were not that good today but it ended up OK. I've waited for this win all my life...and I'm happy now! OK, I've said before that if I win a Tour stage I can retire. I'm really satisfied...I'm in 7th heaven. I've been with (Saunier Duval) from the beginning and it's been great to see the young riders develop like Cobo and Ricco' ".
Once Piepoli's Saunier Duval-Scott teammate Ricco' finished Stage 10, the two embraced in a touching display of genuine emotion. Piepoli has mentored Ricco' as a rider and the two share a close bond. Once things calmed down, the exuberant Ricco' said "We did it! I said yesterday we wanted Piepoli to win and he did. Did you see what a great team we have?" Ricco' finished 6th on the stage at 2'17", but his superb riding propelled him into two special jersey; the Maillot Pois of Best Climber and Maillot Blanc of Best Young Rider. "I'm really happy the way things worked out", said Ricco', but I didn't attack because I was a little tired from yesterday. Leonardo told me to hang tough at the beginning of the final climb and I did." Riccò moved up to 12 spots to 9th on gc, 2'29" behind Evans, while his teammate Juan Jose Cobo, runner-up to Piepoli today leaped 18 places on gc to 8th, now 2'10" behind the Maillot Jaune. To add to Saunier Duval-Scott's total domination today, they also took the team gc lead from CSC-Saxo Bank, something that is bound to get team boss Bjarne Riis motivated to strike back.
Finally after a long, long progression since his first Tour De France four years ago, Australian Cadel Evans
(Silence-Lotto) took the Tour lead by the slim margin of one second today, becoming the first Australian since his Silence-Lotto teammate Robbie McEwen to wear the Maillot Jaune. Evans rival Frank Schleck tested him today, escaping with Saunier Duval riders Piepoli and Cobo with 7km to the summit of Hautacam, but despite his injuries from a crash yesterday, Evans chased courageously all the way up the ascent and in the end was rewarded with the most precious symbol in the sport of cycling. After the stage, Cadel explained “I’m only in the lead by a very small margin but, tactically every second counts. It’s a long way to the finish and our goal has always been to have the yellow jersey in Paris but as we saw yesterday, anything can happen in this race. One day ago I was counting every pedal stroke to the finish and today I was counting the seconds to try and calculate if I’d take the lead or not. That’s cycling; it can be cruel but sometimes it can be fair."
Evans explained “I nearly got dropped on the first category-three climb today and then I just said to my teammates, ‘Guys, stay calm, be cool and hopefully I’ll get better.’ Thankfully it all came together at the end. The main difficulty was accounting for the numbers that CSC and Saunier Duval had. In that situation I have to watch three guys and they all know that; so it’s very hard to control." Cadel illuminated his difficult tactical decisions, saying “I opted to keep an eye on Menchov, Sastre and Frank Schleck. I had to chose my guys and play my cards right. Finally Menchov saw the light and we worked together. That’s going to work to his advantage later on. I think (the other riders) might have figured out that I was suffering after the crash in stage nine. From the amount of blood that they would have seen yesterday, they’d be stupid if they didn’t know I was in a little bit of pain today."
Looking at his chances to win the 2008 Tour, Evans was pragmatic, saying “We may not be the strongest team but we’re trying to be the smartest team. We’re using our strengths as intelligently as possible and CSC still has a lot to gain. They’re only just out of the lead by one second and they’ve got the weight of numbers." After his dramatic crash on Stage 9, Evans said today “Yesterday I was on the road honestly thinking that my Tour was over. I was scared to get up and move because I thought I’d broken a bone and to find myself in Yellow now is just great. I don’t quite believe that I’ve got the jersey yet. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and realize what I’ve done. It’s a long way from being over but it’s a step towards where we want to be.”
CSC's Frank Schleck had a superb ride today on the road to Hautacam, making the decisive attack with 7km to go and eventually finishing 3rd at :28, missing out on the Maillot Jaune by just one tick of the second hand. Garmin's leader Christian Vandevelde continued to impress with his consistency and determination at the 2008 Tour. The Vandeman finished in the Tour contenders group at 2'17" and has moved into 3rd on gc,
38" behind Evans. If the Lemont,Illinois native can stay consistent and not have a bad day, he has an excellent chance to finish on the Tour De France podium in 13 days.
Columbia's Kim Kirchen lost his Maillot Jaune today atop Hautacam, but he deserves "chapeau" for his dogged effort. Kirchen's Columbia team support imploded again today, revealing the ugly sight of the Tour leader isolated and then dropped on the day's final ascent. But the tough Luxemburger suffered heroically and ended up only losing 2' to most of his rivals (save Frank Schleck) and is sitting a solid 7th on gc, 1'56" behind Evans. We have not see the last of Grim Kim at this year's Tour.
Italian hope Damiano Cunego (Lampre) looked terrible on the penultimate 17km ascent of the Tourmalet, but the fiesty rider from Verona fought back on the ascent to Hautacam to come home 18th, losing 3' on other Tour favorites. Cunego only dropped one place on gc today to 16th, but lost plenty of time on the others. Chasing over the last 30km was Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde. After his Maillot Jaune start on Stage One in Plumelec, Valverde has been in reverse gear since then. Dusted on the Tourmalet, Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team came back to help him, but the man from Murcia was kaput. He finished right behind Cunego at Hautacam and fell from 6th on gc at 1'12" to 14th at 4'41".
Valverde's bid for the 2008 Tour is over, but don't count him out for another stage win or two before the Tour gets to Paris. A resigned Valverde said after Stage 10 "It's obvious that today was not my our best day, but it wasn't that bad. Sure, some riders, and teams like CSC and Saunier, were very very strong today. I had some bad moments in the Tourmalet, but I was ok while climbing Hautacam. I was more than two minutes behind at the foot of Hautacam, so it was impossible to come back. Now we'll analyze the race situation. There are many stages left before Paris, but I think that from now on, we'll concentrate on stage wins rather than on the general classification.?
Hero of the day for the hundreds of thousands of French cycling fans was FDJ's Remy DiGregorio. The skinny young French climber, who crashed out of his maiden Tour voyage last year with broken ribs was out front solo the last half of the stage and was reeled in with just 20km to race. DiGregorio explained ""It was a great day today. I wanted to get in a break today and succeeded and managed to stay out front most of the day. I had a good ascent of the Tourmalet with a 2' lead at the summit. It would have been nice if things were different, but CSC was riding hard behind and that finished me. But it was a great day for me and I was thinking of last year when I was watching the Tour at home with a broken rib. It was a great comeback for me".
How It Happened
On 14 July, France's national holiday to commemorate the liberation of the Bastille in 1789, 170 riders took the start at 1:06pm in the beautiful city of Pau. Stage 10 contained four climbs on the menu du jour, the Cat.3 cote de Benejacq at 38.5km and Cat.3 Loucrup ascent after at 67km, with two ‘Hors Categorie’ ascents to follow; Col du Tourmalet after 106km and the final mountaintop finish at Hautacam.
The attacks started from the get-go in Pau and after 10km, a big group of 24 formed after the counter of Cheula who was joined by danger-man Popovych (SIL), Cancellara (CSC), Gutierrez (GCE), Burghardt (THR), Augustyn (BAR), Pozzato (LIQ), Le Mevel (C.A), Tosatto (QST), Dupont (ALM), Fothen, Lang and Wegmann (GST), Feillu and Vogondy (AGR), Freire (RAB), Fedrigo (BTL), Chavanel, Di Gregorio and Roy (FDJ), Bertogliati and De La Fuente (SDV) and Duque (COF).
The big group pounded hard on the rural roads that led through the beautiful French countryside south of Pau and 10km later, the gap was already 1’40”. Milram and Garmin-Chipotle chased as they realized that Popovych was too dangerous get away and on the days second GPM of Cat.3 Loucrup after at 67km, the bg move disintegrated, while Freire, Roy, Di Gregorio, Fothen, Cancellara, Dupont and Duque managed to stay away.
At the base of the Col du Tourmalet with 72k to go, CSC-Saxo Bank's Cancellara’s and the six other frontrunners were 9’40”. up on the chasing peloton and climber Di Gregorio attacked after 2km of the ascent. CSC was chasing hard, with first Gustov, then a teeth gnashing Vogt pounding the group Maillot
Jaune to bits on the Tourmalet. The hard effort from Bjarne's boys popped Valverde, Pereiro and Cunego among many others, but Maillot Jaune Kirchen was hanging tough. Di Gregorio went over the summit with 2' on his chasers, while the group Maillot Jaune of 14 riders (Voigt, Sastre, Menchov, Cobo, Evans, Efimkin, Kohl, Schleck, Schleck, Ricco, Piepoli, Kirchen, Vande Velde and Duenas Nevado) were at 6’ and closing.
On the 34km descent from the Tourmalet summit to the base of the Hautacam climb, Cancellara was absorbed up by the group Maillot Jaune and he and Vogt, two of the strongest riders in the world powered away, pulling back time from Di Gregorio, who led by 40” at the base of the final climb. Cunego and Valverde's group were a further 2' back of the 24 strong groupe Maillot Jaune and constantly losing time. Once Di Gregorio was reeled in after 2km of the Hautacam ascent, Saunier Duval hit the front and the inevitable accelerations began popping riders right and left, including Maillot Jaune Kirchen.
Piepoli and Cobo followed Frank Schleck's move with 7km to go and this trio quickly gained ground, while
Evans and then Menchov did most of the chasing as Vande Velde and Sastre watched. For a few kilometers, Frank Schleck was virtual Maillot Jaune, but the Saunier Duval duo popped him with 3km to go and ride home for a 1-2 finish. Schleck had cracked, while Evans kept up a valliant chase and eventually managed to grab the Maillot Jaune by 1" from Schleck, 2’17” behind Piepoli in one of the most thrilling Tour De France stages in recent memory.
For Complete Tour De France Results, Click HERE
Tuesday 15 July: Rest Day / Pau
Wednesday 16 July
Stage 11: Lannemezan–Foix: 166km
This transition stage through the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees is on small, hilly, twisting roads. Attacks will be by riders looking to make up time lost in previous mountain stages. The major climb of the day, an 11.6km ascension of the steepish (7.1 percent) Col de la Crouzette, will certainly make a selection in this stage, where Agritubel rider Nico Jalabert could score a surprise stage in the Ariège town of Foix.