Stage 7: Barcelone - Andorre Arcalis 224km
The drama just keeps on comin' this year: Contador was the man in the mountains today, riding away from everyone at the top of the final climb to put 22 seconds into his rivals and stamp his authority on the race in spectacular style. Brice Feillu (Agritubel), one of the original escapees, showed good form in the hills to take the stage win and Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) takes over yellow from Cancellara.
Overcast conditions greeted the 177 remaining riders on the neutralised stage start out of Barcelona as they contemplated the 2009 Tour's longest stage: 224km to Andorre Arcalis, the second time the small ski resort has hosted a Tour finish.
A group of nine riders consisting of Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Christophe Kern (Cofidis), Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step), Brice Feillu (Agritubel) and Johannes Fröhlinger (Milram) wnet out early and quickly built up a lead, which at times was the best part of a quarter of an hour. The escapees led out a stage that passed mostly without incident (except for Cancellara, who punctured twice) until the riders passed from Spain into Andorra with 36km left to run, at which time the gap was about ten minutes and starting to fall quickly. By then the peloton was halfway from the bottom of the penultimate Port del Comte to the finish, a 70km stretch almost entirely uphill.
Mark Cavendish stayed with the main pack until a crash 27km from home had the Manxman and Tom Boonen on the deck. Levi Leipheimer also went down but managed to power back to the main pack, whereas Cavendish, who was expecting to be dropped anyway, went on at his own pace well confident of finishing within the time limit.
The last 10km was where it mattered, as the road began to ramp up to the finish with the lead group six and a half minutes ahead. All the main protagonists were present at the front of the main peloton with Astana, who'd adopted US Postal/Discovery driving tactics for most of the second half of the stage, featuring heavily and forcing the pace.
As the leading group played cat and mouse at the front the peloton was staying together and sharing the work: with 7km to go it looked likely that the escapees would be swallowed up. Cancellara lost the leading group with 5km to go: the yellow jersey would definitely be changing hands in Andorra. 23 year old Brice Feillu dropped the rest of the leading group at about the same time and struck out for home on his own, and quickly put half a minute into the chasers. With 3km to the stage finish Feillu still had a five-minute advantage over the main GC contenders.
Bradley Wiggins, not best known for his climbing, kept up with the big boys when Cadel Evans started the fireworks 3km out from home with an attempted break. He couldn't shake Armstrong and Contador though. Contador was next to go, and neither Armstrong nor Evans could match him for pace – he simply rode away from everyone. The only question was whether Contador would be able to take enough time off Armstrong to leapfrog him, and whether anyone in the break would make up enough to get up amongst the GC - Nocentini was the highest placed rider in the breakaway group.
Feillu crossed the line first to take the first big win of his career, Contador took 22 seconds out of Armstrong. Unbelievably, Wiggins was the man to lead that group home - He's now 5th in the GC: bad news for Sky, as he's just announced he won't be riding for them. Contador leapfrogged Armstrong to become the leading man at Astana. Nocentini, who finished 26" down on Feillu, had done enough, however, to take yellow: he leads Contador by 6", with Armstrong two seconds further back.
Top 10 Tour de France 2009 Stage 7
1) Brice Feillu (Agritubel)
2) Christophe Kern (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne)
3) Johannes Fröhlinger (Team Milram)
4) Rinaldo Nocentini (IAG2R La Mondiale)
5) Egoi Martínez ( Euskaltel-Euskadi)
6) Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale)
7) Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step)
8) Iván Gutiérrez (Caisse d'Epargne)
9) Alberto Contador (Astana)
10)Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto)
Top 10 General classification after Stage 7
1) Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) 25:44:32
2) Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) 0:00:06
3) Lance Armstrong (Astana) 0:00:08
4) Levi Leipheimer (Astana) 0:00:39
5) Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:00:46
6) Andreas Klöden (Astana) 0:00:54
7) Tony Martin (Team Columbia - HTC) 0:01:00
8) Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream ) 0:01:24
9) Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) 0:01:49
10)Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 0:01:54
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.