Today things were a little different for Frank Schleck’s first day in yellow. Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) attacked early on and led the way up the Col de la Lombarde alone.
Cuneo to Jausiers 157km
Today things were a little different for Frank Schleck’s first day in yellow. Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) attacked early on and led the way up the Col de la Lombarde alone. The main group of the yellow jersey, not surprisingly being driven by CSC, were six and a half minutes behind and in between was a group of 24 riders containing Damiano Cunego (Lampre), George Hincapie (Columbia) and Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto).
Stefan Schumacher was first over the summit all on his own, five minutes ahead of the Cunego group and nine and a half ahead of the yellow jersey. The ascent of the Col de la Lombarde took 58 minutes.
The riders enjoyed a 20km downhill before hitting the slopes of the Hor Category, the highest road in Europe, Col de la Bonette-Restefonde. Stefan Schumacher used the time well and increased his lead over the yellow jersey peloton to 11:42 by the start of the 25km climb. The second group containing Cunego and Popovych seemed unsure what to do and were caught 4:30 minutes behind the Gerolsteiner rider.
As soon as the peloton reached the foot of the Col, the plans of CSC became apparent. Stuart O’Grady who had been on the front for the last hour lifted the pace and the rest of his team joined him. It was disturbing to see how many of Cadel’s team mates were just falling away off the back.
Schumacher too began to lose big time and the chase group containing Cunego were on the hunt. Cancellara worked on the front of the yellow jersey group before cracking and handing the work over to Vladimir Gustav. Cadel Evans and Bernhard Kohl may as well been members of CSC as they were content to sit right behind them and benefit.
Both the chase groups looked comfortable until 10 kilometres from the summit when the road suddenly became steeper. The pursuit group began to split with Taj Vladevic (AG2R) and Yaroslav Popovych riding off the front with several other riders, Cunego not among them. Meanwhile, Andy Schleck had moved to the front of the yellow jersey group and in his typical style, began to lift the pace dramatically.
Andy Schleck has been something of a revelation this Tour. His climbing seemed effortless and we could be looking at a future winner. This caused the group to splinter to just 10 riders with all the favourites except for Christian Vande Velde. Evans was there, Menchov was there and Kohl was there.
The first chase group had broken and they caught the struggling Schumacher three km from the summit as the 10 riders of the yellow jersey group passed rider after rider from the original chase bunch.
Back in the peloton Carlos Sastre dummied an attack and Evans moved close to the front. Andy and Frank Schleck moved the pace up a notch once again. Valverde was the first to attack, but Kohl was onto him and the group came back together. But then the group caught Jens Voigt from the front group who unselfishly came back to collect bottles and immediately went onto the front of the group to distribute them. What a team CSC is!
In the front group the youngest man in the race, John Lee Augustyn (Barloworld) jumped away to be the first rider over the top of the highest road in Europe. Could he stay away down the other side? No. He over cooked it on one corner and went right over the side, sliding down the shale on his stomach. He was lucky to stop as his bike just kept on going. Unfortunately though, he had to stand and wait for ages for his team car to come up with a replacement bike.
In the yellow jersey group Bernhard Kohl was first over the top. Valverde and Kirchen were dropped and had to play catch up. Cadel Evans rode smartly and jumped away ahead of the yellow jersey of Frank Schleck. It was inexplicable that CSC did not press an attack against Evans on the climb. Menchov didn’t look happy down the hill as Evans led the riders down at a furious pace.