Stage 14: Colmar – Besançon 199Km
It looked like a day for the break and so it proved we were also expecting some fireworks in the chase for the green jersey, the big surprise was that the yellow jersey was put in play too. Like yesterday the race was won in break from the break with Serguei Ivanov (Katusha) putting the hammer down decisively with 10Km to go, but that only scratches the surface of all that happened on Stage 14, with a GC shake-up and a major controversy in the points jersey competition too.
What should have been a quiet day in the general classification turned in to a nail-biting race to see if George Hincapie could snatch yellow from the shoulders of Rinaldo Nocentini. He couldn't, losing out by 5 seconds, denied at the death by a combination of Garmin Slipstream's determination not to see another US team in yellow and his own team's need to lead out Mark Cavendish to grab sprint points – which he was then docked by race officials.
Hincapie is now in second place on the general classification with his fellow escaper Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ) moving up to fifth.
While it seemed that the big news was all about the moves in the general classification a bad day for Columbia, missing out on the yellow jersey, then got worse when the race jury docked Cavendish all his points from the sprint for forcing Thor Hushovd off his line in the sprint. Hushovd narrowly missed colliding with a barrier that had been pushed out further than the rest in the final few metres to the line. The uspshot was that the Norwegian's four point lead in the green jersey competition was instantly turned into a 18 point one and barring catastrophe the green jersey is probably his.
Speaking about the incident afterwards Hushovd said: "(Cavendish) tried to push me in the barriers. I could pass him, and when he saw me coming, he pushed me into the barriers. That's not fair game. I am really tired of this. That's why we put in a (protest), so I hope he is going to be disqualified on the stage. It was the first time today, when I saw what happened, I couldn't believe it. Today I cannot accept it. That's not correct what he did today. I had to brake. I could have passed him, but I had to brake. It's OK if he's faster than me, I accept it, when he doesn't follow the rules, then that's not good."
Unsurprisingly too his verdict on Cavendish having his points taken away was: "It was the correct decision. The sprint Cavendish made was not fair."
We probably haven't heard the last of this.
Little was expected of today's stage in the competition for the yellow jersey – it should have been no more than a marker on the way to the real test in the Alps, but the Tour has thrown up the occasional Saturday surprise before, remember Oscar Pereiro's escape in the 2006 Tour? Today didn't give us anything on that scale but it did at least shake the GC up a bit.
Today was the last chance for a big sprint finish before the Champs Elysee so most of the action was expected to come from the teams fighting for the green jersey, in terms of the general classification the lumpy 199Km from Colmar – Besançon was little more than one to tick off on the road to the real showdown in the Alps.
For Mark Cavendish who lost the green jersey to Thor Hushovd yesterday today's stage was especially important. He might be favourite to win on the Champ Elysee (providing he gets through the Alps), but Hushovd was likely be right on his wheel and the big Norwegian has already shown himself adept at grabbing sprint points on mountain stages – a feat that's so far proved beyond the Manx Missile and anyway he's said he's not interested in chasing points on the road. Cav's Tour is about stage wins not scrabbling for points out on the road. Up against a man who was Cavendish needed a good haul of points today if he was going to grab the green jersey back off Hushovd. Cavendish and Columbia wanted this stage.
No surprise then that the day's early break contained a couple of riders Ciolek and Bennati looking to hoover up some points in the points competiton while there were still some for the taking – some surprise though that, initially at least, Cavendish was in there with them – aren't you only here for the wins Cav?
As it turned out Cavendish stayed for just a few kilometres before being dropped by the others, Bennati and Ciolek certainly wouldn't have wanted him hanging around especially not as he had big George Hincapie in tow, or should that have been the other way around. Hincapie stayed – keeping a watchful eye on proceedings, no doubt. Thor Hushovd had a man in the break too, Hayden Roulston.
The break settled down as a 13 man affair and quickly put some time into the peloton: Hayden Roulston (Cervelo), Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Martijn Maaskant (Garmin), George Hincapie (Columbia), Nicolas Roche (AG2R-La Mondiale), Daniele Bennati and Frederik Willems (Liquigas), Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ), Sebastien Minard (Cofidis), Daniele Righi (Lampre), Serguei Ivanov (Katusha), Gerald Ciolek (Milram) and Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano). Thirteen duly proved unlucky for some when Jens Voigt suffered a puncture – Saxo Bank have been very slick in support of their riders on the Tour… up until now, with no team car in site, Voigt was forced to take a wheel from the Mavic neutral support car (and he was'nt too happy with the Mavic mechanic who also seemed to be having a bad day). The upshot wast he lost so much time that he might as well sit up and wait for the peloton.
The 12 men continued to speed away and it quickly became clear that Hincapie could do more than simply keep an eye on things for Cavendish. At only 0:5:25 down he could take the yellow jersey, indeed Christophe Le Mevel was only 6:04 down too giving him the chance for a big jump up the general classification.
Back at the peloton local boy Christophe Moreu (Agritubel) is allowed to escape up the road to say hello to the wife and kids before rejoining the pack with Astana very much in control at first it seemed they were making sure that the break was kept on the leash and got no more than five minutes up the road – useful things those earpieces – and then they seemed to decide to let him go, possibly even Astana would need help to chase a 12 man break down which no other team seemed inclined to give… maybe their minds were already on tomorrow's stage to Verbier.
Hincapie's chance to take yellow changed the dynamics of the stage for Columbia instead of wanting to chase the break down to set up the sprint for Cavendish, their interests were now in letting it go. Just as well because they would have struggled to get any help from the other sprint teams who had men in the break and particularly Cervelo who would have been more than happy for the escapers to mop up all the points on offer thus denying them to Cavendish.
By now Hincapie was in yellow on the road. Rinaldo Nocentini and his AG2R team didn't seem inclined, or indeed able to chase the break down they seemed to be relying on Nicholas Roche in the break to slow things down – something of a long shot. After 120Km the escape had over 8 minutes (and growing) on the road and Hincapie was firmly in yellow… Finally with 43Km to goAG2R moved to the front to try and preserve their man's lead for at least another day and the gap started to come down.
At 40Km to the finish the break still had 0:7:35 but the gap was dropping – they weren't going to be caught but would the AG2R- led peloton be able to deny Hincapie yellow? His response was to try and up the pace in the break and drop the passengers, sensing the stage win they wouldn't be dropped. Back at the chase normal service soon resumed with Astana moving to the front to take things over with Garmin helping out too.
As the break approached the 10Km kite Nicholas Roche attacked, he was hauled back by Bennati, only for Ivanov to immediately go with Albert Timmer of Skil Shimano and Cervelo's Raulston trying to bridge across. Hincapie needed to get back up there too. Ivanov very quickly had 30 seconds on Hincapie and he was away. In the final kilometre Nicholas Roche attacked catching Roulston and Timmer to grab second but in the process towing Hincapie with him.
It didn't matter though because over their earpieces Garmin were ordered to up the pace and deny their fellow American team the yellow jersey. As it was they could have saved themselves the bother… Columbia managed to do itt themselves.
Set the almost impossible task of holding the peloton up while leading Cavendish out, they managed the latter but not the former. Thor Hushovd though stuck to Cavendish's wheel, despite almost being deposited into the crash barriers, limiting his loss to just one point before the comissaires intervened to increase his lead from four points to 18.
All of that though was put into perspective by the news that a 61 year-old female spectator was killed in a collision with a police motorbike when crossing the road in the village of Wittelsheim 40Km in to the stage. Two other spectators, a man and a woman, were also injured and had to be air lifted to hospital
Top 10 2009 Tour de France Stage 14
1) Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha 4:37:46 2) Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) 0:00:16 3) Hayden Roulston (Cervelo TestTeam) 4) Martijn Maaskant (Garmin - Slipstream) 5) Sébastien Minard (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne) 6) Daniele Righi (Lampre - NGC) 7) Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) 8) George Hincapie (Team Columbia - HTC) 9) Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) 10) Gerald Ciolek (Team Milram) 0:00:22
Top 10 on General Classification after Stage 14
1) Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) 58:13:52 2) George Hincapie (Team Columbia - HTC) 0:00:05 3) Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) 0:00:06 4) Lance Armstrong (Astana) 0:00:08 5) Christophe Le Mevel (Française des Jeux) 0:00:43 6) Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:00:46 7) Andreas Klöden (Astana) 0:00:54 8) Tony Martin (Team Columbia - HTC) 0:01:00 9) Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:01:24 10) Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) 0:01:49
Top 10 points competition after Stage 14
1) Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) 218 pts
2) Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia - HTC) 200
3) Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Caisse d'Epargne) 126
4) Gerald Ciolek (Team Milram) 122
5) Tyler Farrar (Garmin - Slipstream) 110
6) Oscar Freire Gomez (Rabobank) 97
7) Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) 81
8) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) 81
9) Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) 74
10) Serguei Ivanov (Team Katusha) 66
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.