Team CSC-Saxo Bank gave everyone a primer in bike racing 101 and setup one of the most exciting finale's in recent Tour history. With only two climbs, albeit big ones, on the menu, Bjarne Riis' boys managed to coax their two biggest engines over the monstrous Col du Tourmalet in the lead group of 25 riders the result being that it was game on for all the contenders at the base of Huatacam, the 8-mile, 3700' climb to the finish. And when pre-race favorites Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Cunego were dropped on the Tourmalet, the spearhead by CSC not only reeled in the early breakaways, but put an insurmountable 3 minute gap on the Spaniard and Italian virtually eliminating from overall contention.
Team CSC had three contenders, Carlos Sastre, Frank Schleck and Andy Schleck, in the lead group and when the ascent of Huatacam was underway, they all took their chance with Frank's surge providing the winning move. Two Scott-Saunier Duval riders Leonardo Piepoli and Jose Cobo Acebo came along to duke it out for the stage win, but it was Schleck who stood to gain the most with the yellow jersey in the balance.
The chasers included Cadel Evans, Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Riccardo Rico and Christian Vandevelde, a formidable group from which the Tour podium in Paris will undoubtedly be filled. Evans, who as the heavy pre-race favorite, had the most to lose did not respond. He can put minutes into Schleck in the final 50km time trial so there was no urgent reason to chase. In the end, that group stayed together and while Schleck finished about 1:49' ahead of Evans, he missed the yellow by a scant second.
Not to be a homer, but I was most inpressed with the ride of Gamin-Cbipotle rider Christian Vandevelde. He held onto his third place overall with a gutty ride that at times had him on the ropes only to see him claw back the Evans group. Before the start of the stage, his team director, Jonathan Vaughters, remarked,"this is the crux day of the Tour for Christian. He always rides stronger in the third week of a grand tour and you know he will do well in the final time trial."
Team Garmin-Chipotle power guru, Dr. Allen Lim was asked, after Christian came up short in the big mountains of the Giro, how would he fair in the big mountains of the Tour. "We used the Giro only for training. It was hard enough that just riding it for training was very hard."
What a great day for the Tour and all the contenders. Frank Schleck has finally begun to fulfill the potential he demonstrated when he won the l'Alpe d'Huez stage in 2006. Cadel Evans dons his first ever yellow jersey, and Christian Vandevelde emerges from his role as domestique to prove that he is a true team leader who can deliver in the time trials and also the mountains.
I talked with yellow jersey wearer and Team Columbia rider Kim Kirchen before the start. I asked him what was the difference between his climbing in the Tour of Switzerland when he struggled in the high mountains and his performance in the Tour, where he finished with the lead group on Stage 9 over the Peyersourde and Aspin and retained the jersey. "I had a bit if trouble on the climbs yesterday but, today(Stage 10) are the real big climbs. We will see how I do today," he replied candidly.
For those of you into power and performance numbers, I chatted with Dr. Allen Lim about the fantastic climbing performance by Riccardo Ricco on Stage 9. Dr. Lim noted that Ricco was climbing at around 6.5 watts/kg, very close to Lance Armstrong's legendary 6.7 watts/kg, while the rest of the leaders were at abot 6.0 watts/kg. That's almost a 10% difference. Ricco's Vertical Ascent in Meters per Hour(VAM) was about 1790M(5950') while the leaders chasing him were at 1650M(5500'). Wow!
In the post-stage press conference, Cadel was asked how his horrific crash on yesterday's stage affected his performance today. He basically said that he has some bruising and swelling, but the team doctor has worked with him for years and got him ready to ride after which his team did an good job of delivering him to the final climb.
Cadel acknowledged that he doesn't have the strongest team in the race and when it comes to deciding how to defend the yellow jersey, the team would have to do some strategizing on the first rest day to figure out what to do.