After years spent riding in the service of others, Carlos Sastre got his chance today and took the phrase “Carpe Diem” to heart. The 33 year old Spanish climber from El Barraco has been waiting for today for his entire 11 year pro career and Sastre didn’t disappoint. His perfectly timed attack at the foot of l’Alpe d’Huze proved perfect, as he rode hom both stage 17 winner and new Maillot Jaune. An emotional Sastre explained post stage “We saw a great stage today and a team that worked perfectly together. Without the support of Frank and Andy (Schleck), this moment would not have been possible. I am happy for many things. To have riders close to me like the colleagues I have is very special; men like Fabian, Stuey, Nicki, Kurt, Vladdy, Jens Voigt and the Schleck brothers is, I think, something very special. For sure, it’s a nice moment for me and a time to enjoy for the whole team and this jersey and the white one worn by Andy are for the team. All of us are really happy today.”photo Roberto Bettini
Sastre’s generous comments reflected the way CSC has ridden all Tour long, with strength, precision and domination. He continued, saying “I don’t know about my gains and how it is for the time trial on Saturday. Now, I just want to enjoy the moment and celebrate with my team-mates because they did such a fantastic job. The best thing we can do is enjoy the yellow jersey, the white jersey and the stage victory because we have been working really hard for this.”
Climber Sastre scaled the 11.3km ascent in under 40 minutes and said “I was suffering a lot, man. That climb was hard! They say that when you’re suffering it’s hard to enjoy the moment but when you are gaining time on your rivals, there’s a lot of satisfaction that comes from that. It helps you push as much as you can and try to go as fast as you can. So I’m satisfied because the team has given me everything. Big riders like Fabian have sacrificed everything for us to afford our dream. The media has to talk about something and I’m happy that Frank took the pressure off me before. I just hope that everyone appreciates what the CSC-Saxo Bank team has been able to do. The victory celebration maybe cost me one second. But this moment is something that happens once in your lifetime if you’re very, very lucky and I wanted to enjoy it at the time.”
Although he lost his Maillot Jaune to Sastre today, Franck Schleck was clearly pleased that they had kept the race lead in the CSC family. The long, lean Luxemburger said after Stage 17 “We had planned all along that Carlos would attack at the beginning of the climb and that I should attack afterwards, but he got away and he took it all the way to the line and deserves everything that he’s earned. I’m not at all disappointed. I’m happy that he’s taken the yellow jersey; that’s the only way that we can win the Tour.”
Schleck explained how the race unfolded, saying “I didn’t get any orders on what to do. We are professionals and we are friends so I didn’t need to be told how to ride. Things went exactly according to plan and it happened right from the start of the crucial phase. We were prepared to back up an attack from Carlos with one from me, then one from Andy until we made the other leaders tired. We’ve seen a beautiful stage today from CSC and I’m proud of our boys.”
As for next steps towards winning this Tour, Schleck senior was not speculating much. “I don’t want to talk about the time gaps we need over Cadel Evans; next thing I’ll be asked how many seconds I need to stay on the podium… come on, we had to play our tactics today and we’ll consider what needs to be done next. One step at a time. For Cadel we hoped to try just a series of small attacks and see if he would show any weaknesses or if he would blow at one point. It would have been different. But he never blew so we had to play it this way.”
With two transitional stages Thursday and Friday, Saturday’s penultimate Tour stage, a 53km ITT in Saint-Amand-Montrond will likely be the decider in the 95th Tour De France. Cadel Evans is currently sitting in 4th on GC, 1’34” behind Sastre and the Aussie’s superb time trialing skills may bring him a Tour De France win next Sunday in Paris. But don’t underestimate the determination of Sastre, who could end up holding Evans off for the win. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. How It Happened
On a hot, sunny morning in a beautiful sere setting along the Durance River, Stage 17 of the 95th Tour De France from Embrun to l’Alpe d’Huez started at 11.40am, with 151 riders in the race as sprinter Sébastien Chavanel (FDJ) abandoned the previous day, while another sprinter, Francesco Chicchi finished outside the time limit. There was a small climb on the menu du jour, Cat 3 cote de Saint-Marguerite after 31km), then three ‘Hors Categorie’ monsters; the 2,645m. Col du Galibier (featuring the ‘Souvenir Henri Desgrange’ eur 5.000 prize) at 79km, scaled from the easier, southern slope via the Col du Lauteret, the 2,067m Col de la Croix de Fer after 156km and the mythical final ascent to l’Alpe d’Huez (1.850m.) the last climb (195km).
After 3km, French climber Di Gregorio (FDJ), U23 World Champion Velits (MRM) and Perez (EUS) got a gap on the wide open road that headed northeast along the Durance. Yesterday’s most aggressive rider Schumacher (GST) bridged across after 15km and while the peloton allowed the advantage to grow, CSC kept a solid tempo that kept the escape close. After 42km in Briancon, the gap was 4’10”, while average speed for the first hour was 44.6km/hr. At the base of the Galibier, the peloton was at 5’45” and atop the pretigious summit, Schumacher claimed the ‘Souvenir Henri Desgrange’ with peloton 5’00” at the summit. On the long descent, Perez overshot a corner early on but quickly remounted and then set the tempo for the breakaway on the descent.
Di Gregorio couldn’t keep up on the descent and was dropped from the break on the descent of the col du Telegraph after 110km mark, The break went through the feedzone in Saint Julien, 6’50” ahead of the CSC led group Maillot Jaune, but by the foot of the Col de la Croix de Fer climb with 85km to go the gap had grown to 7’20”, the max lead. Stuey O’Grady, who had been on the front for two hours handed off to Spatacus Cancellara took over the pacesetting duties at the base of Col de la Croix de Fer.
Perez was dropped from the lead group with 20km from the summit, while Cance cranked up the chase pace behind. The CSC effort to make Stage 17 as hard as possible was working as therewere 40 riders left in the groupe Maillot Jaune as Nibali, Popovych and many others were shelled by Cancellara’s diabolical pace.
Up front, Velits upped the pace and dropped Schumacher 6km from the summit, who was quickly reabsorbed before the summit of the Croix de Fer. At the summit of the ‘Hors Categorie’ Croix de Fer, the audacious young Velits led by 1’10”, with just 18 riders in the groupe Maillot Jaune; Franck & Andy Schleck, Evans, Aerts, Sastre, Arvesen, Valverde, Arroyo, Siutsou, Froome, Fofonov, Efimkin, Goubert, Valjavec, Kohl, Menchov, Weening, Casar, Moncoutie and Vandevelde. Soon after the summit, Pineau caught and then attacked the groupe Maillot Jaune and bridged to Velits with 30km to race, with the CSC led peloton at 1’50”.
As the final 13.8km ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez commenced, Pineau and Velits were 1’10” up and their gap was falling like a stone. at the start of the final climb. Shades of US Postal; CSC had six riders on the front and when Cancellara pulled off, Carlos Sastre attacked hard, rode past Pineau and Velits and was never seen again. Menchov tried to follow Sastre but came off in a few hundred meters and was dropped, but got back to the groupe Maillot Jaune with 7km to go.
The chase group was controlled by Maillot Jaune Franck Schleck and his brother Andy in the Maillot Blanc of Best Young Rider. With them were Evans, Kohl, Vandevelde, Valverde, Goubert, Efimkin and Valjavec. There was no sustained chase and Sastre continued to gain ground Evans took over the chase with 4km to go. He led the pursuit of Sastre and tried to limit his losses to the CSC Spaniard.
Sastre won Stage 17 atop l’Alpe d’Huez for his biggest career win ever, and his 2’13” gap over Franck Schleck put him in the Maillot Jaune. Evans tried to minimizing his loss to Sastre, who started Stage 17 fourth, 49” behind Maillot Jaune Schleck and ended, 1’24” ahead of Schleck.
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Thursday 24 July
Stage 18: Bourg-d’Oisans–Saint-Étienne—197km
This stage looks like just another transitional stage headed due west out of the Alps, across the Rhone River valley and across the climbs of the monts du Forez to finish in the grimy industrial bourg of Saint-Étienne. An early attack should go on the steep 5.3km ascent of the Col de Parménie, but watch for a late counter-attack on the final 13.7km climb of the La Croix de Montvieux.