Thomas Voeckler today surrendered the maillot jaune after ten thrilling days, but the man who was by his side for most of that time, his Europcar team mate Pierre Rolland, got the win on Alpe d'Huez and with it the best young rider's white jersey following a pulsating day's racing in the Tour de France.
Alberto Contador, dropped on the ascent of the Galibier yesterday, staged a recovery to attack on the Telegraphe and again on the Alpe d'Huez before Rolland caught and passed him 2 kilometres out. Andy Schleck is the new race leader, but with tomorrow's individual time trial in Grenoble to come, Cadel Evans represents the biggest danger to the overall hopes of the Leopard Trek rider, who has finished second in each of the past two years.
Yesterday’s stage, won by Andy Schleck who had attacked with more than 60 kilometres still to ride to the Tour’s highest ever summit finish, had been widely hailed as one of the most exciting in decades. If anything, today’s was even more dramatic.
The race burst into life early on, the attack initiated by the rider who had appeared spent at the finish yesterday, the man many believe should not be taking part in this year’s race, defending champion Alberto Contador, who in less than two weeks’ time will appear before the Court of Arbitration for Sport for the hearing that will determine whether he will keep the title he won last year.
A breakaway group of 14 riders had already headed off up the climb of the Col du Telgraphe when the Saxo Bank-SunGard rider launched his first attack just 17 kilometres into the 109 kilometre stage. Both Schleck brothers quickly got on his wheel, followed by Cadel Evans and, slowest to respond, Voeckler, a portent of how the maillot jaune’s day would unfold.
Contador’s next attack, moments later, saw Frank Schleck dropped from the group, and on his third big dig, Voeckler was finally distanced while Cadel Evans struggled with a mechanical problem and saw vital seconds tick by as he waited for his team car to come through.
The Australian was constrained to rejoin the group containing other riders who had been dropped by Contador’s earlier attacks that besides Frank Schleck included Liquigas Canondale’s Ivan Basso, Lampre-ISD’s Damiano Cunego and Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel.
Halfway up the Galibier, Voeckler’s tenacious grip on the maillot jaune was finally loosened. No-one – least of all the Frenchman himself – expected that he would spend as many days in the jersey as he had done in 2004, when it was the eventual winner, Lance Armstrong, who took it off him after ten days.
After being dropped as a result of Contador’s third attack, Voeckler, aided by Quick Step’s Jerome Pineau, whose uncle died earlier this week, had managed to keep the Spaniard and Schleck within 30 or so seconds but he finally ran out of steam as the road ramped upwards on the most difficult part of the climb.
Quickly falling back into the Evans group, a minute and a half behind the leaders, where four Europcar team mates were waiting, Voeckler was soon spat out the back, along with the hopes and dreams of the French nation, still waiting for the first home winner since Bernard Hinault’s fifth victory in 1985.
Rolland, who had put in a huge effort this past week in helping his team leader in the Pyrenees and now the Alps, remained in that group, his focus now the pursuit of the white jersey, having started the day 33 seconds behind Cofidis rider Reim Taaramae in the young rider’s classification. That he took the stage win too, becoming the first Frenchman to win here since Hinault himself in 1986, was the stuff of dreams.
While France had been transfixed by Voeckler’s ten days in yellow, it had not escaped attention that the country seemed to be heading towards only the third blank in terms of stage wins in the race’s 108-year history, a situation that Rolland’s victory today has remedied. The years 1926 and 1999 remain the only ones in which no home rider has won a stage of cycling's biggest race.
By the time Andy Schleck crested the Galibier ahead of Contador and the two remaining riders from the day’s escape, Christophe Riblon of AG2R and the Movistar rider Rui Costa, the gap to Evans and Sanchez, who had attacked from the chasing group, was just half a minute back, with Voeckler a further minute behind, and with 25 kilometres to go banner, the main contenders were back together with the exception of Voeckler and Basso, 1 minute 20 seconds further down the road.
Evans was the first of the big names to make a move on the Alpe d’Huez but was quickly reeled in, and next to go was Contador again, the Spaniard this time getting clear distance over Andy Schleck, catching and passing Rolland and Garmin-Cervelo’s Ryder Hesjedal, who had attacked at the foot of the climb.
As Contador headed off up the climb on his own, having to deal with the too-close-for-comfort attentions of a spectator dressed in surgical robes, the point being made abundantly clear, Rolland was caught by Sanchez.
Slowly but inexorably, the pair reeled in Contador, catching him 2.5 kilometres out, the Europcar rider immediately going on the attack.
Initially, the Spanish pair responded, but Rolland was not to be denied as the 24-year-old rode off again to take the fourth victory of his career, and by far the biggest. Sanchez had the consolation of crossing second to win the mountains classification, assuming he arrives safely in Paris on Sunday.
Meanwhile, HTC-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish again missed the time limit, this time by just 15 seconds or so, coming home with a big group and as yesterday, the race jury decided to allow the riders who had missed the cut to continue in the race.
Crucially, his biggest rival for the green jersey, Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas, also came home in that group, meaning that both will lose 20 points with Cavendish retaining a 15 point advantage which he will take to the Champs Elysees on Sunday.
Tour de France Stage 19 result 1 ROLLAND Pierre EUROPCAR 3h 13' 25" 2 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 00' 14" 3 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 00' 23" 4 VELITS Peter HTC - HIGHROAD + 00' 57" 5 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 57" 6 DE GENDT Thomas VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 57" 7 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 00' 57" 8 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 57" 9 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 57" 10 HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN - CERVELO + 01' 15" 11 DANIELSON Tom GARMIN - CERVELO + 01' 15" 12 PERAUD Jean-Christophe AG2R LA MONDIALE + 01' 27" 13 DUPONT Hubert AG2R LA MONDIALE + 02' 06" 14 TAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS + 02' 06" 15 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 02' 06" 16 LEIPHEIMER Levi RADIOSHACK + 02' 06" 17 COPPEL Jérôme SAUR-SOJASUN + 02' 31" 18 DE WEERT Kevin QUICK STEP + 02' 46" 19 VANDE VELDE Christian GARMIN - CERVELO + 03' 22" 20 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR + 03' 22" Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 19 1 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK 82h 48' 43" 2 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 53" 3 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 57" 4 VOECKLER Thomas EUROPCAR + 02' 10" 5 CUNEGO Damiano LAMPRE - ISD + 03' 31" 6 CONTADOR Alberto SAXO BANK SUNGARD + 03' 55" 7 SANCHEZ Samuel EUSKALTEL - EUSKADI + 04' 22" 8 BASSO Ivan LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 04' 40" 9 DANIELSON Tom GARMIN - CERVELO + 07' 11" 10 ROLLAND Pierre EUROPCAR + 08' 57"
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.