CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07
Stage 9- July 17th, Val-d'Isère to Briançon, 159.5 km
Shamed into Action
"Dedicated to the glory of Henri Desgrange (1865-1940), former director of L'Auto newspaper, creator of the Tour de France." So reads the inscription on the huge stone monument at the summit of the mighty Col du Galibier. On this very spot “ le patron ” of the Tour would wait for ‘his racers' to record their times as they crested the climb. But it was not only times he was interested in for in the early years when these roads were not much more than ancient tracks some riders would find creative ways to avoid such diabolical challenges. Some would find a railway train to take them from one stage town to the next or hide themselves in team cars. So Desgrange was not only taking times but he was also on the look out for dirty tricks!
Desgrange cross armed watches in 1913
The Desgrange monument high on the Galibier
The Galibier is intimately tied to many Tour legends and the names associated with them literally represent a who's who of cycling. At 8,678 feet, the Galibier is not the highest climb of the Tour. This year that honor belongs to the Col de l'Iseran (9,085 feet) which was crested just 15kms into today's stage. At one time or another all of cycling's great Tour names have left their mark on these rugged slopes. In 1952 Fausto Coppi was at his imperious best and won the Galibier stage by over seven minutes on his way to winning the Tour by over 20 minutes.
The great Fausto
Coppi on the Galiber in 1952
In 1993 Miguel ‘Big Mig' Induráin hauled his large non-climbers frame over the Galibier in a show of champion's panache and race strategy. He controlled the climbers on the way up the Galibier and then in a tactical master-stroke allowed Swiss rider Tony Rominger to win the stage into Serre-Chevalier. Even the French sports newspaper l'Équipe referred to the Spaniard as "the master of the cols" after that display.
Induráin was of course known as a fearsome time trialist and all five of his Tour wins were built on his prowess in the ‘race of truth'. But in the mould of a great champion Big Mig was able to frustrate the pure climbers in their own territory. This ‘role reversal' is a key to winning a Grand Tour and Michael Rasmussen will need to learn from Induráin. ‘Chicken legs' will have to continue to take time on his adversaries in the mountains but then contain everyone in the time trials. If he succeeds then this will be a role reversal in the manner of Big Mig.
The action today started right from the gun with the race departing on the slopes of the Col de l'Iseran (9085 feet). Fifteen kms later the race topped the mountain with Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel), Laurent Lefèvre (Bouygues Telecom), Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), Anthony Charteau (Crédit Agricole), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel), Francisco Pérez (Caisse d'Epargne), Christophe Moreau (Ag2r Prévoyance) and Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom) leading the charge.
A very long descent followed by flat roads covered 70kms before the serious business of the day started on the Col du Télégraphe which itself feeds straight on to the Galibier. Attacking riding on the Télégraphe saw the lead group fragment and at the top Astarloza was alone but soon followed by Popovych. The peloton with all of the primary GC hopefuls were about two minutes back at that point.
A small group of riders split off from the break to reach the early slopes of the Galibier first. For a brief while they looked solid until Columbia 's Mauricio Soler powered up to them and then blasted straight through. Popovych managed to get up to the flying Columbian and now the remains of the break struggled to keep ahead of the Yellow Jersey led peloton who were about two minutes back.
Juan Maurizio Soler concentates as he breaksaway up the Galbier [ Images ©: www.gazzetta.it ]
Soler's intense pace cracked Popovych and this was to be the last anybody saw of the Columbian before Briançon. Finally behind him the GC hopefuls suddenly exploded into a frenzy of attacking action. Evans attacked, Moreau was dropped and the rest groveled to stay on terms. Behind them the next group contained a struggling Vinokourov as well as former Yellow Jersey wearer Linus Gerdemann suffering with his White (Young Rider) Jersey completely unzipped.
The struggling Alexandre Vinokourov visits the doctor's car early on the clmb of the Telegraphe [ Images ©: A.S.O. ]
Evans and then Valverde made frequent attempts to ride clear but Rasmussen and most of the others in this now small elite group managed to stick together. Suddenly with just over 3kms to the summit Alberto Contador shot out of the Yellow Jersey group like a rat up a drain pipe. He made short work of dropping everyone and then bridging up to his teammate Popovych. Bruyneel had engineered a beautiful Discovery team move because in addition to his two riders challenging the lone leader he also had Liepheimer sitting in the Yellow Jersey group.
Contador and Popovych reached the summit of the Galibier 2m 4s after the magnificent Soler who was now about 4m ahead of the Rasmussen group. About 26kms of mostly heart stopping descent followed by a nasty kilometer or so of final climb in Briançon itself provided the final act for the day.
Soler held everyone off for a brilliant win. But cooperation in what was now the lead peloton was ragged as riders started to sit up and start gesticulating. For no apparent reason Rasmussen and four other riders rode away from the rest who just dumbly looked at each other. We were now looking at a Tour stage that resembled a Cat4 race. Even team managers were driving up and conducting screaming matches with their petulant riders. Eventually everything got back together. Contador and Popovych were caught by the Yellow Jersey group and in turn the rest of the elite peloton caught them. All this messing around may have helped Soler but whatever happened behind did not detract from the quality of Soler's victory. He won by 38 sec. from Valverde, Evans, Contador, Mayo and Rasmussen in that order.
Soler wins the stage in Briancon while the French President Nicholas Sarkozy looks on [ Images ©: Reuters ]
Soler's win was significant on several fronts. At 24 years of age, and in his first Tour, he is yet another talented young rider bubbling to the top in this race. For his team the win condones their ‘wild card' selection. Also this young team represents yet another fresh challenge to the old guard as it is based in South Africa .
The GC was shaken up today but Rasmussen remains firmly in the lead. Many of the favorites finally showed us their ‘goods' but unfortunately a tearful Vinokourov saw his dreams evaporate when again today he lost over three minutes.
The Alps are now behind the riders as they face three relatively flat days followed by the critical 54km time trial on Stage 13. Stage 14 then introduces three very nasty climbing days in the Pyrenees . We still have a lot of tremendous racing to look forward to.
Today the race was truly worthy of the mighty Galibier even if some of the players were finally shamed into action.
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