CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07
Stage 7 - July 14th, Bourg-en-Bresse to Le Grand-Bornand, 197.5 km
Allons, Enfants de la Patrie
Happy Jour de la Bastille to all our French readers. As anyone who has been in France on Bastille Day (July 14th ) knows, today is the biggest holiday on the French calendar. Nobody works today and in the evening in towns and villages all over France , parades, fireworks and street parties celebrate the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution.
It is not hard to imagine how important it is for a French rider to win the stage of the Tour that falls on this very special day of national celebration. Success will send the country into raptures of euphoria and the rider will become a national hero.
Bastille Day is a National holiday in France. History lessons tell us that Kings and Queens often used the Bastille (a prison in Paris) to lock up the dissidents. To the people of France the Bastille was a symbol of all the bad things done by their Kings and Queens. On July 14, 1789, a large force of French citizens stormed the Bastille and claimed independence for the people. Today, July 14th symbolizes the end of Monarchial rule in France. It is an Independence Day and the beginning of a new form of government.
Almost every year the Tour de France organizers schedule a stage on Bastille Day. For a Frenchman to win that stage is very prestigious. The following is a list of Bastille Day stage winners.
Laurent Jalabert a Bastille Day winner in 1995 and 2001
Today will be a tall order for a French rider to succeed, not because the Tour lacks quality French riders but because today is the first important incursion into the high mountains. Until now the GC contenders have kept it cool but today they will come out to play. The faces that we have seen in the breaks and populating the big bunch sprints thus far will be replaced by a whole new cast of characters. We should at last see who intends to stand on the final podium in Paris . Most of them will not play their cards at this early stage in the race but it will be important to be with the elite selection up front at the end of the day.
The stage itself is a relatively modest introduction to the big mountains. However the key word is ‘relative'. The first climb at 35kms is the 6.4km Cat 3 Côte de Corlier which will warm up the climbers legs while starting to make the sprinters feel very uncomfortable. A long ride of about 122kms will then lead the peloton on to the 7.1km Cat 3 Côte de Cruseilles rising at a ‘big ring' 4.4%. After the descent to the valley it is immediately on to the Cat 4 Côte Peguin which goes up for a little over 4kms at 4.1%. By this time some hard riding will have fractured the peloton and the ‘autobus' will follow the lead group for the next 50kms to the star climb of the day, the 16km Col de la Colombière (1618m) with an average grade of 6.8%. After cresting the summit it is all down hill for almost 15kms into the finish in Le-Grand Bornand.
If you get the chance to ride the Colombière make sure to leave time for a meal at the top. The climb itself is classic Alps and it does not include any extreme grades. On the summit there is a rustic restaurant and tourist gift shop. The restaurant is really worth the stop. Having made the climb on your bike you will be more than ready for some great ‘mountain country' food. Here you can choose from local cheese
like fondue and raclette or cook your own meat and vegetables on a small table top coal grill! The accompanying wine or beer is also excellent but don't drink too much if you intend riding back down to the valley!
As the riders prepared to start today one could not but help be reminded of the fight between the Black Knight and King Arthur in Monty Python's Holy Grail. With Vino trussed up like an Egyptian mummy one could imagine a Pythonesque dialogue playing out between him and the peloton:
Peloton: We command you, as King of the Kazachs, to stand aside!
Vinokourov: I move for no man.
Peleton: So be it!
Vino: [climbs painfully on to his bike]
Peloton: Now stand aside, worthy adversary.
Vino: ‘Tis but a scratch.
Peloton: A scratch? Both knees, an elbow and your bleeding arse hanging out of your shorts!
Vino: No, it isn't.
Peloton: Well, what's that then?
Vino: I've had worse.
Peloton: You liar!
Vino: Come on, you pansies!
On first climb of the Cat 3 Côte de Cruseilles Vinokourov was seen to be comfortably riding with the bunch while Yellow Jersey ‘King' Cancellara was dropped. In fact he fell back by about one minute before he managed to get back with the bunch. Meanwhile Tom Boonen had taken the first intermediate sprint (to bolster his leadership in the Green points competition) with Erik Zabel right on his rear wheel. A group of 15 riders then rode clear to gain in excess of 8 minutes. This was a difficult situation as most teams were represented. However none of the favorites were with them so as the big climb of the day approached the peloton initiated a serious chase.
Most visible at the front of the chase was the Predictor Lotto team who now were working, not to bring Robbie McEwen into town for a big sprint finish, but to ensure that their GC hope Cadel Evans does not lose a lot of time to an opportunistic break. Over at CSC, and in a role reversal Fabian Cancellara, knowing that his time in Yellow is over, became ‘super domestique' and between the Cat 4 Côte Peguin and the Col de la Colombière injected some serious pace into the peloton's chase. The gap to the leaders at this point was over six minutes and there was about 50kms to the base of the Col de la Colombière.
Cancellara led the main field on to the Colombière about 4m 30s behind the break. Within minutes attacks started in the break while back with the chasers Cancellara became one of the first victims of his own torrid pace. His time in Yellow was now at an end.
Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile), Dmitriy Fofonov (Crédit Agricole), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and José Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) quickly asserted their claim as the strong men of the break and made a clean break from their erstwhile companions. The peloton, about 4mins behind them, were en masse playing a cautious game as the usual non-climbing suspects slipped back.
Like spring snow the peloton, without any aggressive accelerations, was quickly melting down into a select group of 35 riders or so. Up front Gerdemann and Fofonov were on their own about mid-climb with the rest of the former break strung out between them and the peloton. Working hard under the blue sky and hot sun jerseys were flung wide open as the two leaders maintained their advantage to the fast moving peloton. Vinokourov appeared to managing the climb with relative ease but one can only imagine how the sweat was playing havoc with his wounds.
Fifteen kms from the summit Gerdemann made a serious effort to claim the stage as his sudden acceleration left Fofonov wallowing in his wake. In the peloton it was Rabobank (for Menchov and Rasmussen) and Lotto (for Evans) now very much in control as the incredible pace continued to shed riders. But still all of the pre-race favorites, including Vinokourov and his teammate Kloeden, were clinging together.
At the summit Gerdemann had 18 seconds advantage over Inigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) who had worked his way past all of his earlier break companions. Three minutes later former Tour KOM winner Michael Rasmussen led the charge from the now mini-peloton who were about 10 seconds behind him.
Gerdemann was in none of the pre-Tour predictions but now he was screaming down the mountain heading for a certain Yellow Jersey and, providing that he could hold off Landaluze, a stage win. He not only got both but he also grabbed the Young Rider White Jersey as he finished 40 seconds ahead of Landaluze and 3m 38 ahead of the peloton.
Gerdemann is just 24 years old in his second season as a pro. Staunchly anti-doping, he leads the vanguard in a team dedicated to fighting the drug problem head on. Over the finish line it was clear that he was totally wasted. His reign as Yellow Jersey wearer may be brief but his performance today augers well for his future.
Stage Winner Linus Gerdemann [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
The 30 or so riders in the chase peloton contained all of the pre-race favorites who were essentially playing polka as none of them attempted to attack. They all have three minutes plus to make up on the new race leader. Tomorrow's monster climbing stage will be the place to start rectifying that. Happily the badly banged up Astana duo of Kloden and Vinokourov ‘comfortably' held their place amongst all the other favorites. In fact as Vinoukorov crossed the line he was heard to say to them all “you pansies”.
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