Heinrich Haussler capped a superb solo effort in the rainy Vosges mountains with the stage win today as the main contenders had a look at each other on the last big climb before the one that matters: Sunday's mountaintop finish in Verbier. In the end there was no changes in the GC as the yellow jersey group came in seven minutes down, but with all the main protagonists present.
Today's stage from Vittel to Colmar probably came as a bit of a shock to some of the riders, sitting mid-way through a slew of flat and lumpy stages on the way to Alps. Race director Christian Prudhomme said of the route, "It's a real mountain stage, and the riders who haven't taken the time to go and check it out first will have made a big mistake. With the Pyrenees early on, and Mont Ventoux right at the end we wanted to include a mountain stage that would allow some of the smaller contenders to go off on an audacious solo attack."
Attack is just what some of the smaller contenders did early on. With 13km raced it was no surprise to see serial red-number-wearer Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) jumping off the front: it was an attack instigated by Christophe Moreau (Agritubel), and Voigt (Saxo Bank), Garate (Rabobank), Haussler (Cervelo Test Team), Uran (Caisse d'Epargne) and Perez Moreno (Euskaltel) skipped off too; soon the break had 45 seconds but Slience Lotto were working hard to keep them on a tight leash as the rain began to fall in the Vosges.
The seven crested the first climb, the category 3 Cote de Xertigny, together but Haussler, Chavanel and Perez Moreno soon gave the others the slip and moved further ahead, and those left behind were soon swallowed by the peloton. Soon the leaders had over eight minutes on the peloton as conditions got worse. Perez Moreno took the second climb, the cat 2 Col de la Schucht, and in the main pack Egoi Martinez beat closest KoM rival Franco Pellizotti to fourth place. On the descent Linus Gerdemann (Milram) attacked on the descent and by the bottom he was in no man's land a couple of minutes off the front of the pack, who had taken it easy on the slippery dowhnill.
With the rain closing in for the day the stage looked to favour someone who was prepared to attack on the big climb and back it up with a no-holds-barred descent to snatch a bit more time. Astana were patrolling the front of the pack on the first category Col de Platzerwasel trying to make sure that didn't happen, as further up the road Perez Moreno was dropped by Haussler and Chavanel.
Nicki Sorensen, despite his efforts on his solo stage win yesterday, was fresh enough to mix things up a bit on the climb as he upped the pace for Saxo Bank: they'd recced the climb and were looking to get the Schleck brothers an advantage. The pace was too hot for Bradley Wiggins and polka dot jersey Egoi Martinez but Contador, Armstrong, Kloden, Sastre, Evans and Maillot Jaune Rinaldo Nocentini were all at the front of the main field as they took four minutes out of Haussler and Chavanel as conditions continued to get worse. Stage 7 winner Brice Feillu (Agritubel) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) went off the front in pursuit of the leaders as others, including Martinez, tacked themselves back on at the rear.
Haussler was the man to take the chances on the descent and by the top of the category 3 climb he'd put 45 seconds into Chavanel, who looked like a broken man on the short climb. with 30km to go, and with six and a half minutes over the main field, it was Haussler versus the other escapees for the win, and since his time over the penultimate climb was the fastest of the whole field, it looked like game over as the German-Australian hit the slopes of the final Col du Firstplan.
One game that wasn't over though was the race for yellow: Brice Feillu, in 25th at 4:26 was busy trying to gain enough advantage to take the overall lead from Nocentini.
The peloton did enough (mostly through AG2R with a bit of help from Astana) to make sure that Feillu wouldn't make it into yellow but that's all they did: in the end Haussler's solo effort was rewarded with a deserved stage victory. Txurruka, Feillu and Chavanel (who blew up in fairly spectacular fashion) followed him before the GC group rolled in seven minutes down, led by Hushovd. his 6th place is enough to put the Norwegian back in green. Franco Pellizotti did enough to take the polka dot jersey from Egoi Martinez
Speaking about his victory in the rain afterwards Haussler said: "Today was a super day. I know the area, I know these climbs. I don't mind this kind of weather. When Chavenal was dropped I thought he was playing with me. I just did my ride at my own pace. Until the final kilometre I didn't believe I was going to win. It was like dream coming across the finish line, that's why I was so emotional."
1) Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo Test Team) 4:56:26 2) Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 4:11 3) Brice Feillu (Agritubel) 6:13 4) Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 6:31 5) Peter Velits (Milram) 6:43 6) Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) 6:43 7) Vladimir Efimkin (AG2R) 6:43 8) Bradley Wiggins (Garmin Slipstream) 6:43 9) George Hincapie (Columbia HTC) 6:43 10) Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) 6:43
1) Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R) La Mondiale 48:27:21 2) Alberto Contador Velasco (Astana) 0:00:06 3) Lance Armstrong (Astana) 0:00:08 4) Bradley Wiggins (Garmin - Slipstream) 0:00:46 5) Andreas Klöden (Astana) 0:00:54 6) Tony Martin (Team Columbia - HTC) 0:01:00 7) Christian Vande Velde (Garmin - Slipstream ) 0:01:24 8) Andy Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) 0:01:49 9) Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) 0:01:54 10) Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) 0:02:16
1) Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) 205 pts 2) Mark Cavendish (Columbia – HTC) 200 3) Jose JoaquinRojas (Caisse D'Epargne) 116 4) Tyler Farrar (Garmin Slipstream) 110 5) Gerald Ciolek (Milram) 100 6) Oscar Freire (Rabobank) 97 7) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) 81 8) Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) 74 9) Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) 64 10) Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 57
1) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas) 98 pts 2) Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Euskaltel - Euskadi) 95 3) Brice Feillu (Agritubel) 64 4) Christophe Kern (Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne) 59 5) Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 53 6) Pierrick Fedrigo (BBOX Bouygues Telecom) 49 7) Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) 46 8) Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Euskaltel - Euskadi) 46 9) Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo Test Team) 45 10) Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) 43
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.