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TdF’10 St.17: The Andy & Bert Show!

Race Report: “Assassins!” …the other riders could have shouted at Contador and Schleck today on the murderous climb of the Tourmalet. 10 kilometres to the summit and they were off to fight their battle in the mists of the Pyrenees. The others? Some are still finishing as we go to post!

Today’s Course
From Pau to the Summit of the Tourmalet is 174 kilometres of pain and torture. 100 years ago Octave Lapize crossed the summit of the Col d’Aubisque; he hurled his famous oath at the commissaires: “You are all assassins!”. Bikes and roads have changed since then, but with the Col de Marie-Blanque and the Col du Soulor to cross before the mammoth Tourmalet I think there will be a few riders thinking the same…

The Start
For the first time on this Tour we see the riders wearing long sleeves, there had been a storm during the night with torrential rain, thick fog in the valley, a little clearer at the finish, but the temperature is only 10єC.

After 16 stages of battle, and only 8 seconds between the two leaders, today was billed as THE day of action and there’s a lot to lose or gain for everyone in the top five positions.

Overall At The Start Of Stage 17:
1. Alberto Contador (Astana) in 78:29:10.
2. Andy Schleck (Saxo) at 0:08 secs.
3. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) at 2:00.
4. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) at 2:13.
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega) at 3:39.

It was all Andy & Bert in the last 10kms, the two evenly matched all the way.

The Action
An early break of seven riders headed off up the road in the first kilometres with Astana controlling the bunch. Edvald Boasson Hagen and Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Remi Pauriol (Cofidis), Kristjan Koren (Liquigas), Sebastien Minard (Cofidis) and Alan Perez (Euskaltel) soon gained time and had 3 minutes by the small climb of the Cфte de Renoir (4th Cat) after 13.5 kilometres.

Bits of a battle started in the bunch as RadioShack were protecting their team position, but things settled down to an Astana-run peloton. There was a very bad crash in the bunch involving Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel, it looked very serious as he didn’t move for a long while, and five of his team mates stayed with him.

While the yellow jersey Contador calmed the peloton, Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) rode away to catch his team mate Ignatas Konovalovas. As the bunch dawdled waiting for Samu Sanchez to rejoin, the gap to the break to stretched to 6 minutes, Sastre and Konovalovas at 3. Sanchez seemed worried about his right shoulder as he talked to Carlos Barredo of Quick-Step, many of the riders were coming back to the Spaniard to see how he was, Robbie McEwen got a little laugh out of him, but this could affect how he climbs later in the stage. He had to go to the doctor’s car for treatment to his elbow and an examination of his shoulder.

Sastre and Konovalovas were going not getting anywhere, but Sastre pressed on by himself as he had dropped his Lithuanian team mate.

The Col De Marie-Blanque (1st Cat)
First over the top was Flecha of Sky, followed by Koren and Perez with still over 8 minutes in hand on the peloton. Carlos Sastre came over the top nearly 2 minutes behind the break who had got back together on the descent, and the rain had started to come down again.

Through the feed zone in Asson with 86 kilometres to go, the seven up front were 3:41 ahead of Carlos Sastre and 8:23 before the peloton.

The Col Du Soulor (1st Cat)
The Soulor kicks up from Ferriйres after 105 kilometres and Omega with Saxo Bank were helping Astana with the half-hearted chase. The leaders’ advantage was starting to come down, at the base of the climb it was 7:55 and Carlos Sastre was half way between break and bunch, 4:40 behind the seven. The climb of the Soulor is steep, but of a medium length at 12.5 kilometres, the group split a little and had lost time to the chasers, they crested the top in thick fog with a lead of 4:15 to the bunch and around 3 minutes to Sastre. Astana had four riders leading Contador with Matt Lloyd close at hand for Van Den Broeck, as a flock of sheep interrupted the bunch.

From the top of the Soulor there’s a 20 kilometre descent to the valley floor before the main climb starts around the village of Luz Saint Sauveur with 20 kilometres remaining. At the sprint in Adast, Boasson Hagen was first of the seven and Sastre was now 4 minutes back and the peloton at over 5. Following the race today was French President; Nicolas Sarkozy, likely inspired by his country’s 3 victories in the last three stages.

Carlos Sastre had used a lot of energy trying to catch the seven up front and it all came to nothing as the bunch pulled him back with 25 kilometres to the finish, leaving just the seven riders 4 minutes and 6 seconds ahead.

Ryder Hesjedal’s presence has inspired a new flag appearing on the slopes of the Tour climbs – the Canadian Maple Leaf.

The Tourmalet And The Summit Finish (HC)
The roads were starting to dry at the bottom of the climb as Alberto took his rain jacket off readying himself for the last decisive mountain of this Tour.

As the gradient kicked in, Boasson Hagen was the first to be jettisoned from the leaders, Burghardt and Kolobnev pushed on leaving the others floundering in their wake. Meanwhile Saxo were setting up the play for Andy Schleck. Cancellara, followed by Chris Sorensen and then Fuglsang layed down a blistering pace sending many riders out the back; Basso and Evans the most notable, later to be followed backwards by Vinokourov!

Kolobnev jumped away from Burghardt, hoping to stay out for as long as he could. Omega’s Van Den Broeck had Matt Lloyd at the front, Schleck had Fuglsang, but Contador had no support in the 20 or so riders left in the yellow jersey group which was 1:30 behind Kolobnev with 10 kilometres to the summit.

THE Attack!
Schleck makes a tentative move coming out of the village Barйges, Contador is on his wheel in a flash; Menchov, Sanchez and Van Den Broeck are lost in the mist. The two leaders sweep past a tired Kolobnev as Sanchez, Rodriguez, Menchov, Horner, Kreuziger, Gesink and Hesjedal get together, but are not moving at the same pace as the yellow and white jerseys up front.

All the pressure was on the young Luxembourger, he had to lead Contador, Schleck needs time in hand for the time trial, but with only 5 kilometres to the line he was running out of road to make his move. The gap between the Schleck/Contador tandem and the hopefuls was creeping over 1 minute.

Nico Roche was yo-yoing just behind the chasers, showing how just how fast the climb was being ridden (and how good he is!). Schleck wanted Contador to come to the front, but that was not going to happen and then at 3.8 K’s Contador shoots past, but Schleck counters and rides up to his shoulder.

Looks were exchanged between the two that would have killed lesser mortals.

Through the mist and the mad crowd the two battle on, as they come to the 1 kilometre flag and the barriers to give them a clear road to the line. 500 metres and Schleck is still on the front as both struggle towards the finish. Out of the darkness Contador comes next to Schleck, but he crosses the line half a wheel behind the young rider.

The others trickle over the line in ones and twos. Katusha’s winner at Mende, Rodriguez, emerges from the mire a minute+ later, followed shortly by the rather unexpected Canadian Ryder Hesjedal – The Pez must be beside himself with joy back at HQ.

The yellow jersey is safe and there is now just the time trial to go before another Grand Tour goes to the only man in the peloton who has won all three – that is unless Schleck can pull off something astounding. Contador is congratulated by Nicolas Sarkozy and Miguel Indurain before the podium presentations.

Tomorrow will be a battle for the green jersey and then on Saturday we will see the riders fight for the podium. Stay Pez for the action to Paris.

TdF Stage 17 Result:
1. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) in 5:03:29
2. Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) same
3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) at 1:18
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) at 1:27
5. Samuel Sбnchez Gonzalez (Euskaltel) at 1:32
6. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) at 1:40
7. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) same
8. Christopher Horner (Radioshack) at 1:45
9. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) at 1:48
10. Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) at 2:14

Overall After Stage 17:
1. Alberto Contador (Astana) in 83:32:39
2. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) at 0:08
3. Samuel Sбnchez Gonzalez (Euskaltel) at 03:32
4. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) at 3:53
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) at 05:27
6. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) at 06:41
7. Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) at 07:03
8. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) at 09:18
9. Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo) at 10:12
10. Christopher Horner (Radioshack) at 10:37

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