TDF’11 Week Two Wrap: Crashes, Surprises, A Hero

After a crash filled, emotion fueled week, which saw lots of tears off the gladiators who had been built up to challenge for the Maillot Jaune, something had to give. Surely the second week of this year’s Tour couldn’t be as exciting with as many spills and surprises? How wrong we were.

Contributed by Ben Goddard

The week started with Tuesday’s Stage 10 and a big shock after an attacking day, which saw the yellow and green jersey in a late break away. A sight to behold at the time, but very unconventional as the HTC train started going through the motions it looked to be all set for Mark Cavendish again for his third win.

But everything was not right, HTC had worked too hard to get their target man to the finish and Cavendish had to use his skill to work off the other sprinters in the run in to Carmaux. His usual jump was not enough and Andre Greipel came sprinting past to the utter disbelief of the HTC leader (and many of us watching). The former apprentice had mastered the leader and the facial expressions of both riders told the tale.

Stage 13 on Wednesday saw the heavens open upon the riders on the road into Lavaur and the sun of the opening week seemed a long time ago. The stage once again got everyone talking and looking towards the arch rivalry between Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel – would this produce another great showdown? With the flatter finish this time the HTC train were drilled like an army unit and no one out the bunch was aloud past the yellow and black train.

Each rider did his job to perfection, then the General Cavendish attacked and this time no-one came even close to him. Greipel’s grapple for second was an authority battle that the Manx rider won by a mile. His celebration was more relief that he was still the king of the sprinters and he took the green jersey to prove it.

Thursday’s Stage 14 saw the first showdown between the favourites on Luz Ardiden on a hot day after already going over two mountain passes. The action started unexpectedly on the first mountain decent of the tour of the Hourquetter d’Ancizan, when the break’s Geraint Thomas got the full effect of wet tarmac on carbon wheels as his back wheel went away causing him to slide into a parked vehicle.

The peloton followed and within seconds they were all on the floor like a pack of dominoes. But all was forgotten by the bottom of Luz Ardiden, as the favourites lined up with Thomas Voeckler following like a sheep not knowing how far he would get.

The Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez didn’t wait for the favourites and road away at the bottom as the rest all sat behind Voeckler looking for a weakness like a pack of wolves. One after another the Schleck brothers attacked towards the end until Frank broke away while the other riders watched each other. But he couldn’t catch Sanchez until the very end then the flying Spaniard took one look at him and put in the winning surge.

He road to the finish in a sea of Basque flags while behind, Frank Schleck gained 20 seconds on Ivan Basso, Andy S. and Cadel Evans. But Contador showed a chink in his armour and lost another 13 seconds, not massive but a big psychological blow.

Friday’s Stage 15 saw another shock and one of the famous individual rides of the Tour as Thor Hushovd went away in the break causing many to think: What is he doing? With the Col d’Aubisque over half way into the stage the World Champion had a real job on his hands weighing double against most of the break away. At the bottom of the Aubisque, Hushovd launched an attack while the rest of the break looked at each other in disbelief. He did get caught and passed by Jeromy Roy and David Monchutie but only lost 2 minutes by the top to Roy and had 50KM to go mostly downhill.

Hushovd descended like a stone and like a true champion didn’t flinch when David Moncoutie refused to work to catch Roy on Bastille Day. With 2km to go he had more or less caught Roy and then just road away from first Moncoutie then Roy on the ride into Lourdes – neither of them had the roar power of the World Champion. In a place historically linked to miracles, Hushovd had pulled of the biggest of the tour on one of the hard Pyrenean days.

Saturday’s Stage 16 saw another potential showdown between the GC favourites with a tough day with five categorized climbs before the finish on Plateau de Beille. The day was dominated by Leopard Trek who sat on the front like mountain goats wearing down the bunch in a war of attrition. By the time they got to the bottom of Plateau de Beille there were only the favourites left all staring at each other again wondering who would make the first move.

Like two days before the Schleck’s launched their attacks but unlike Ardiden, neither were strong or wise enough to break away. This left the door open to young Jelle Vanendert who snuck up the road and got a quick lead while the others just watched and waited. Like a game of chess, each of the favourites launched a move, then decided they weren’t strong enough. It carried on like this to the top and young Vanendert took his first ever professional win. He thought he was in a dream land coming over the line and barely knew what to do with himself.

Thomas Voekler showed no weakness as he followed the favourites’ every attack, and put his loyal lieutenant Pierre Rolland on the front when things got too slow. By the top he was still with them and with that became an even bigger French hero – if he wasn’t already. The question of could he win this year’s tour was in everybody’s mind.

Sunday’s Stage 17 gave another chance for the sprinters to have their say after struggling over the past two days. A change on the front of the peloton came with the dark blue jerseys of Leopard Trek replaced with the yellow ones of HTC. After nearly being eliminated the day before could Cavendish return with a bang?

From early on the HTC train controlled everything from who was in the break to how far they got away. Each rider took his turn like they had done into Lavaur with exactly the same outcome in mind. This is exactly what happened with Cavendish’s last line of defence Mark Renshaw making room for him. Then the missile launched with precise timing and Cavendish won again, much to the chagrin of Garmin’s Tyler Farrar who felt compelled to question Cav’s ‘remarkable’ recovery after being well off the back in the previous stage.

It’s gonna be a fun final week, with big days in the Alps leading to a hilly time trial on Saturday. Keep it Pez’d for all the action!

Current Top 10:
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar in 61:04:10
2. Frдnk Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 1:49
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at 2:06
4. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 2:15
5. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 3:16
6. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3:44
7. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Sungard at 4:00
8. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 4:01
9. Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin-Cervelo at 5:46
10. Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick-Step at 6:18.