The Col du Tourmalet is one of the hallmark climbs of the Tour de France. It was first climbed in the Tour almost 100 years ago when the road was little more than a goat track. Since then, it has produced it's fair share of Tour champions and in the unfortunate case of Eugene Christophe in 1913, one of the greatest legends of the greatest of races(more on that later).
For all these reasons it is really a shame that the race reached the top of the iconic pass with over 35 miles of downhill and flat riding to the finish. Last year the Tour climbed to Hautacam just down the valley, the Tourmalet playing a key role in the split in the peloton which produced the stage winner and a reshuffling of he overall contenders.
Not this year. While stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo and his breakaway companion, Franco Pellizotti, stayed away to the finish, the Tourmalet was basically a non-factor. What a pity.
I did a short interview with Lance just before the start of the stage.
Bruce: Are you surprised at just how good your form is at the Tour?
It hasn't been tested that much to be honest. We've had The prologue, TTT, Arcalis. I think the race is tighter than people expected. We'll know in the final week. That's where the form check will come.
Bruce: How did your pre-Tour preparations go?
The Giro was good for leaning out and I felt I got stronger as the race went on there. I was tired at the end so I had to recover from that. June was not a nromal month. Recovering from the Giro, having Max, building for the Tour, traveling back and forth. I think we are finding our legs. Again, the last six days are sinister.
Bruce: Do you have any indication on how you will feel in the final week? Are you still building form?
That's my plan. We'll see.
Bruce: What about the reports in the press about disharmony on the Astana team?
It has created a lot of buzz outside of the http://community.active.com/blogs/BruceHildenbrand/2009/07/12/stage-9-tourmalet-a-nonfactor/team bus. Obviously, within the team there is some, but most of it is from the exterior. I try to relax and keep it as light as I can.
I also talked with Garmin-Slipstream sprinter Tyler Farrar about how he is riding and what are his plans for the upcoming stages.
Bruce: is your strategy to just survive the mountains and get ready for the flat stages which lay ahead?
Pretty much. I am not a climber. These days (in the mountains) it is just a matter of survival and looking forward to next week when I can take a crack at more
Bruce: Are these mountains an eye opener for you?
I knew what to expect. I have raced them before in other races. They are hard, but that's just the way it is.
Bruce: You seem to be pretty confident about challenging Mark Cavendish in the sprints.
I have been having a pretty good season and my sprint has been good. At the Tour so far I have been second and fourth so hope it will go well in the rest of the flatter stages.
Bruce: How is the leadout train working?
It has been going pretty well. Julian Dean and I have really been getting
it dialed in and we are feeling comfortable with each other.
Bruce: what have you done to raise your sprinting up to this new level?
It is just different racing at this level than doing smaller races. You have to get used to it a little bit. But as I said, it has been a really good season for me so I am feeling happy with it.
Rabobank rider Laurens Ten Dam crashed hard on the descent of the Tourmalet. Here he is at the stage finish inspecting the extensive damage to his bib shorts.
In May, Franco Pellizotti won a big mountain stage to the Blockhaus in the Giro d'Italia. He was off the front most of the day today, but lost the sprint for the stage win to Pierrick Fedrigo. This is the look of the second place rider.