On yet another day of high drama in the Tour de France, Astana’s Alberto Contador and Team Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck, the new race leader, emerged as the two men who – barring another sensational twist in what has been an unpredictable race to date – will battle for the yellow jersey over the next fortnight. Cadel Evans the man in yellow going in to today's stage blew up on the relentless slopes of the Col de la Madeleine and surely said goodbye to his chances of a podium spot in Paris.
The stage itself was won by Sandy Casar of Francaise des Jeux, but Schleck and Contador almost ended up contesting the sprint themselves as they sped under the flamme rouge and surprised the last survivors of the day’s breakaway, which at one point had held an advantage of more than six minutes over the group containing the main contenders.
Evans, who had fallen 10 minutes behind the stage leaders, clawed a couple of minutes back on the way to the finish but appeared both physically and emotionally crushed after crossing the line. The BMC rider had been dropped by the group containing the main contenders some 8km from the top of the 27.5km Hors Categorie Madeleine, the day’s last climb, and continued to lose time on the rest of the ascent on a day when his hopes of clinching the overall victory in Paris all but disappeared.
As Evans fell away from the group, Contador, the defending champion, and Schleck, winner of the best young rider’s white jersey the last two years but now looking like the Spaniard’s only real rival for the maillot jaune this year, took control of the race, the pair jumping off the front with only Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi managing to get across to them.
Sanchez, too, was quickly dropped as Schleck and Contador headed up towards the summit, arriving some 40 seconds after them, and although the Olympic road race champion tried to use his incredible descending skills to get back to Schleck and Contador, the effort of the climb had obviously taken its toll and by the time he passed under the 10km to go banner it was clear he wasn’t going to catch them.
By that point, Schleck and Contador had swept up Christophe Moreau of Caisse d’Epargne, who had fallen behind the remains of what had been an 12-strong escape group, and the 39-year-old, who announced yesterday that he would retire at the end of this season, was happy to take a tow from the general classification contenders.
Riding into the finishing straight behind the Astana and Saxo Bank stars allowed Moreau, a past wearer of the maillot jaune himself, to clinch fourth place on the stage behind Casar. Moreau’s team leader, Luis Leon Sanchez, the best placed of the escapees in the overall standings, had been bidding to win a stage of the Tour for the third year in a row, but had to be content with moving up to eighth in the general classification after spending much of the day as virtual yellow jersey.
The 12-man break had got away early on in the 209km stage from Morzine-Avoriaz, to Saint-Jean-de Mauriene and also included mountains classification leader Jerome Pineau, who scored points in the day’s first four categorised climbs before he fell away on the Madeleine, cresting three of those in first place.
Moreau who has polka dot jersey ambitions himself, had sprinted to get over the top of the second climb, the Colombiere, ahead of Pineau, and appeared to be warned by his team manager afterwards to hold back and let the Quick Step rider take the points on subsequent climbs.
Despite Pineau's efforts though, it was another of the escapees, Anthony Charteau of Bbox Bouygues Telecom, who moved the top of the mountains classification tonight, taking third place on each of the day's first four climbs and then being the first rider over the Madeleine.
Another rider who had slipped into that early break was Thor Hushovd of Cervelo TestTeam, who took the day’s opening sprint to consolidate his lead at the top of the points classification. However, the Norwegian crashed shortly afterwards and fell back through the field during the rest of the stage.
Top 20 Tour de France 2010 Stage 9
1. CASAR Sandy FDJ 5h 38' 10" 2. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 00' 00" 3. CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - FARNESE + 00' 00" 4. MOREAU Christophe CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 00' 02" 5. CHARTEAU Anthony BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM + 00' 02" 6. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 00' 02" 7. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK + 00' 02" 8. SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 00' 52" 9. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin TEAM KATUSHA + 02' 07" 10. LEIPHEIMER Levi TEAM RADIOSHACK + 02' 07" 11. GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 02' 07" 12. VOIGT Jens TEAM SAXO BANK + 02' 07" 13. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 02' 10" 14. DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 02' 50" 15. BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 02' 50" 16. PLAZA MOLINA Ruben CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 02' 50" 17. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 02' 50" 18. ARMSTRONG Lance TEAM RADIOSHACK + 02' 50"
19. KREUZIGER Roman LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 03' 48"
20. VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA + 03' 48"
Top 20 on General Classification after Stage 9
1. SCHLECK Andy TEAM SAXO BANK 43h 35' 41" 2. CONTADOR Alberto ASTANA + 00' 41" 3. SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 02' 45" 4. MENCHOV Denis RABOBANK + 02' 58" 5. VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO + 03' 31" 6. LEIPHEIMER Levi TEAM RADIOSHACK + 03' 59" 7. GESINK Robert RABOBANK + 04' 22" 8. SANCHEZ Luis-Leon CAISSE D’EPARGNE + 04' 41"
9. RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin TEAM KATUSHA + 05' 08"
10. BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 05' 09"11. KREUZIGER Roman LIQUIGAS-DOIMO + 05' 11"
12. HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - TRANSITIONS + 05' 42"
13. VINOKOUROV Alexandre ASTANA + 06' 31"
14. ROGERS Michael TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA + 07' 04"
15. SASTRE Carlos CERVELO TEST TEAM + 07' 13"
16. WIGGINS Bradley SKY PRO CYCLING + 07' 18"
17.ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE + 07' 44"
18. EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 07' 47"
19. LÖVKVIST Thomas SKY PRO CYCLING + 08' 03"
20. KLÖDEN Andréas TEAM RADIOSHACK + 09' 05"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.