The taste of victory is sweet for Frank Schleck (LUX) of Saxo Bank, who won today’s brutal stage 17 of the 2009 Tour de France, finishing the climb up the five difficult mountain passes in 4 hours, 53 minutes, 54 seconds. Frank and brother Andy unfolded their grand strategy as expected; heavily assaulting the mountain passes with their superior alpine climbing skills. Alberto Contador of Astana was second and Andy Schleck was third, with the same time as Frank.
The Schlecks took time from everyone today, but could not shake Alberto Contador, who stayed right with them until the end, vigorously defending the yellow jersey. Contador has a 2:26 lead over Andy Schleck, who has displaced Lance Armstrong for 2nd place overall. Frank Schleck is now 3rd overall, 3:25 behind Contador.
Lance Armstrong protected his team, staying on Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream for much of the climbing until finally Wiggins fell back, while Lance sped ahead, gaining back at least 30 seconds during the descent, ultimately placing 5th in the stage. Armstrong has dropped to 4th overall, 3:55 behind his teammate Contador. Wiggins has dropped to 6th overall, 4:53 behind.
Andy Schleck continues to hold onto the white jersey, while Thor Hushovd of Cervelo Test Team and Franco Pellizotti of LIquigas keep the green and polka-dot jerseys, respectively.
Today’s stage shook up the general classification as predicted. There is now a 10-minute spread in the top ten, with Mikel Astarloza in 10th place, 10:50 behind Contador.
The stage 18 individual time trial coming up on Thursday will be a test of who has recovered best from the rigorous climbing during stage 17. The 40.5 km course takes riders around the beautiful lac d’Annecy in the city of Annecy. The course is flat with one category 3 climb.
German (and honorary Australian) Heinrich Haussler of the Cervelo Test Team is the latest stage winner in the Tour de France, taking stage 13 in yet another day which meant nothing to the overall standings.
The inevitable breakaway only took three kilometres into the 200km stage 13 from Vittel to Colmar, with Haussler, who is better known as a sprinter, attacking in conjunction with Frenchman Christophe Moreau of the Agritubel team. Those two were joined by five others soon after.
The numbers started dropping off from the leading group to the peloton over the long stage including five separate climbs, and close to the last climb the only ones who could survive anywhere near Haussler’s pace to stay in front of the peloton were Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), Amets Txurruka (Euskatel-Euskadi) and Brice Feillu (Agritubel).
Haussler was 55 minutes behind the leaders at the start of the day and thus was no threat to Rinaldo Nocentini’s yellow jersey, as with the other members of the breakaway. He is a German national but was born and lived for many years in the Australian city of Inverell and speaks English with an Australian accent.
The most newsworthy aspect of the day was the withdrawal before a pedal was pushed of Levi Leipheimer, one of the main contenders in Team Astana, which will weaken the team of Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador going into the major climbing stages in the second and third weeks.
During the stage, Italian Franco Pellizotti of the Liquigas team took the king of the mountains polka dot jersey away from Spaniard Egoi Martinez of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team, but his tiny three-point lead means that competition will rage on for a while yet.
Lance Armstrong recovers from tire trouble
Lance Armstrong avoided disaster in Thursday’s 12th stage of the Tour de France after puncturing a back wheel tire with just 37 miles left in the 131-mile ride from Tonnerre to Vittel.
Armstrong was still third overall and riding comfortably in the main pack when a wheel-flat forced the seven-time Tour champion to the side of road for repairs as the pack sped away to Vittel.
Fortunately for Armstrong, his Astana teammates were right there to replace the punctured tire and help Armstrong catch up without suffering a significant loss.
“It is stressful with the crashes, on a stage like this where you have nothing to gain and then you lose everything because of a crash or a split in the group,” Armstrong had warned before the start of the stage. “You have to pay attention and try to avoid a crash.”
That is just what Armstrong did, despite the perilous puncture to his tire on the stage’s final stretch. Armstrong remains in third, eight seconds off the lead of Italy’s Rinaldo Nocentini, with the famous Alps mountain stages approaching.
Armstrong has historically excelled in the Alps, and is well within striking distance to overtake the yellow jersey.
Armstrong’s teammate and budding rival Alberto Contador of Spain stayed in second place overall, six seconds off the lead.
Nicki Sorensen of Demark won the stage for his first individual win at the Tour, finishing 48 seconds ahead of France’s Laurent Lefevre.