With his powerful CSC-Saxo Bank team in complete control of Stage 15, Frank Schleck was cool, calm and collected today on the final ascent of Prato Nevoso to take the Maillot Jaune from a battered but unbowed Cadel Evans. “It feels good,” said Schleck, “I’m really happy. It’s amazing especially after missing out following the work that my team did on the way to Hautacam, to miss out the Maillot Jaune by one second there was a real shame. I said to the team then, ‘I’m really sorry that I couldn’t bring [the Maillot Jaune] back then.’ Well, tonight I guess I can do that. This one is for all the team of CSC-Saxo Bank."
27 year old Frank Schleck gave big props to his 22 year old brother and teammate Andy today, saying “We’ve seen the strongest rider was Andy today. The power he put on the pedals was amazing and he put everybody in the red zone. So finally we could attack. I knew that if I would attack, Cadel was just going to be right on my wheel. So I had to do it in the last kilometer. That was also the perfect thing for Carlos Sastre; he got away and he made a really good improvement in the overall classification so we now have two cards
to play with."
Frank Schleck continued, saying “I always said that I would give my best in the Tour de France and I did a lot of sacrificing and went through a lot of pain for that but I didn’t know how it could come. Just to wear the jersey, I said to myself, would be amazing and finally I’ve got it. The strategy of the three CSC-Saxo Bank riders all attacking on the final climb… that was great wasn’t it? Already at Hautacam we had that plan and it was working out perfectly so we said, ‘Hey, why not do it again?’ What we’ve seen today is one big show.”
Gerrans Wins At Prato Nevoso: Roberto Bettini Photo
Stage winner Simon Gerrans brought Credit Agricole their 2nd atage win of the 2008 Tour De France, always welcome as the French squad is looking for a sponsor for 2009. The 28 year old from Melbourne explained “When we started that final climb with such an advantage on the peloton I thought we could hang on. It was only then that I began to think it was possible to stay away but it wasn’t until the last couple of hundred meters that I thought I could win. I was really in trouble but once I caught [Danny] Pate and [Egoi] Martinez again, I did what I could to hang on. In the few stages leading up to today, I thought they suited a breakaway and I was trying and trying and trying to get in the move. It just wasn’t happening for me. A big mountain stage like today is not one in which I’d usually back myself to go for the win but I thought, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose, there’s a rest day tomorrow…’ and I gave it everything to get in the break."
"Once I was there it was just a matter of racing with three other guys and not the whole peloton." The happy Aussie said “It was only in the last kilometer that I started believing that I could get the better of the other guys. They were climbing better than me that’s why I wasn’t giving them much support at the finish but under the red kite I realized I was in with a real crack at the win. It’s been my aim at every Tour de France to try and win a stage; this is my fourth Tour and it’s taken until now to finally pull it off but it’s better late than never, huh?”
Austrian hardman Bernie Kohl had a career day with 3rd on the stage, second on gc 7" behind Frank Schleck and the Maillot Pois of Best Climber. Kohl said post race “During the race, you don’t think about time, you just do the work, but in the last kilometers I did allow a thought about the yellow jersey to come into my head. ‘Oh maybe it’s possible…’ but Frank Schleck is very strong and the whole team of CSC is impressive. I’m very happy with the second place now and, with the mountains jersey, it’s perfect. Actually I’ve been feeling very good on the climbs. I’ll try and hold on to the mountains jersey but first I have to look at the general classification. When I can take points on the climbs, then I’ll try but I won’t ride really for the polka-dot jersey because it’s too hard with me so high up the overall rankings. I won’t be allowed much room to move. Still, when it’s possible, I will try."
The Gerolsteiner man continued, saying “We’ve seen today that, with the Schlecks and Sastre combined with Menchov, there are many others capable of winning. If I had better legs I would have tried to achieve a little more but the thinking for me was to follow the moves until three kilometers from the line. And when I started to gain time [on Cadel Evans], well everything became different. It’s beautiful. I can’t believe that I’m now second in the Tour. It’s difficult to understand. Perhaps I’ve never had a stronger day, it’s one of those special moments. We really need to have the rest day and then see what happens in the other days in the Alps.”
How It Happened
156 riders signed on Sunday morning for the 183km 15th stage of the 2008 Tour de France from from Embrum to a mountaintop finish Prato Nevoso in Italy. MarK Cavendish (COL) did not start on the cold, rainy morning as the etape commenced at 12.59pm. Originally slated as a 215km stage, Tour officials changed the start of Stage 15 in May to Embrun because of unstable geology on the original climb of Col de Larche. The menu du jour now had three climbs featured, the ‘hors categorie’ Colle d' Agnello, a 20.5km ascent rising to 2,744m after 58km which was also the point of the border crossing from France to Italy. This long ascent was scaled from the easier western side. Next was a mere speed-bump, the Cat.3 Colle del Morte after 157km, soon followed by the days final 11.3km climb of Prato Nevoso, a 1,440m high ski station at the end of the stage. There were two intermediate sprints in Guillestre after 14.5km and in Rossana at 114.5km.
As always, there were many attacks from the start but after 12km before the first sprint in Guillestre as the rain poured down, Euskaltel's Egoi Martinez made his move and was joined by Danny Pate (GAR) and Arrieta after 12km, while Simon Gerrans (C.A) bridged at 16km to make it four away. As the rain tapered off, the peloton just watched quartet to disappear up the day's first climb, with 9' gained after 30km. Gerrans's Aussie teammate Mark Renshaw abandoned as well Devolder, the Quickstep team leader who quit the Tour before the summit of the Colle del Agnello. First over the top and across the border was Martinez, 11’50” over the peloton and the rain had started again.
Pereiro Crash: Photo Roberto Bettini
On the tricky, twisting descent of the Agnello, Pereiro (GCE) had a terrible crash after 80km on the wet road. He hit a guardrail on the right side of the road and tumbled five meters down onto a stretch of tarmac that looped back after a sharp right hairpin bend. Pereiro abandoned with suspected fractures of a shoulder and femur and the cautious descent of the Agnello allowed the escape to increase their lead to 17’10” at the feedzone in Melle after 102km. With 47k to go in Cuneo, there was a big crash on a slick traffic circle, where 20 riders crashed, including Vandevelde, Millar, Cunego, Ballan and Nibali.
Lampre and Silence-Lotto hit the front to chase then took responsibility of the pacesetting. At the feedzone (102km), the deficit was 17’10”. Eventually CSC took charge of the chase with O’Grady, Sorensen and then Arvesen chasing ahead of Silence-Lotto riders and the gap was reduced to 12’50” on Colle del Morte with 25km to go. The gap was too large for the chase to bring the break back, but CSC's huge effort took it's toll on Silence-Lotto and all their rivals. As the final ascent to Prato Nevoso began, the front four had 9’16”. Martinez attacked the lead group and dropped Arrieta early on, but the heroic Pate came back to the Euskaltel man three times, while Gerrans was gapped but not dropped. With 5km to go, the tough little Aussie fought back to the other two and hung on like a limpet. They stayed together through the final kilometer, where Gerrans attacked to win the stage over Martinez and Pate.
Meanwhile, back in the group Maillot Jaune, the fireworks were about to start. CSC-Saxo Bank had put down a hellish pace leading up to the foot of the Prato Nevoso ascent, which had diminished the group Maillot Jaune to 10: Evans, Frank and Andy Schleck and Carlos Sastre, Menchov, Vandevelde, Valverde, Kohl, Sammy Sanchez and Roman Kreuziger. Andy Schleck rode brilliantly today, setting the hard pace that enabled his teammate Sastre to make several good attacks. With 8km to go, Menchov accelerated off the front but crashed on the wet, slippery road which stopped his attack, but Menchov got back on.
With 3km to go Sastre and Kohl surged and were followed by Valverde, while Evans and Frank Schleck marked each other. Kohl flew the last kilometer to finish 4th, but 45" behind, Frank Schleck accelerated in the final 500m and dropped Evans definitively, riding into the Maillot Jaune by seven seconds. Frank Schleck is the second rider from Luxembourg to lead the Tour this year after Kim Kirchen, but did so in a more impressive manner. Cadel Evans lost time and dropped to third, one second behind Kohl and eight seconds behind Frank Schleck. American Christian Vandevelde rode a smart race in the finale to follow the right wheels. Although the man from Lemont, Ill lost two places on the gc ranking, he gained 6" on Evans, but lost 21" to Menchov, which could be crucial on next Saturday's 53km ITT.
Evans Loses Maillot Jaune: Photo Roberto Bettini
Kohl had a career day, moving into 2nd place on gc, 7" behind Franck Schleck and took over the Maillot Pois of Best Climber. Alejandro Valverde had good legs today to place 5th on the stage and rode up into 9th on gc, 4'11" behind the CSC rider. With the top 6 riders within 49", the 2008 Tour De France is one of the closest in recent memory.
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Monday 21 July: Rest Day #2, Cuneo, Italy
Tuesday 22 July
After the Tour’s second rest day in Cuneo, there are just six days of racing remaining to decide the 2008 Tour de France. At 157km, Stage 16 is short and intense and heads from Cuneo, up and over the 21.2km, seven-percent gradient of the Col de la Lombarde back into France, then up the barren slopes of the Col de la Bonnette-Restefond (the highest pass in Europe: 2802 meters) and finishes with a 24km long, twisting descent to the mountain village of Jausiers in the Durance River valley.