CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '06
Stage 10, July 12th, Cambo les Bains to Pau, 193 km
A Sea of Orange
For the next three days the Tour winds its way across the Pyrenees parallel to the Spanish border with a stage finish in Spain on Thursday. Anyone who has visited the Tour in this region will forever remember the highly passionate Basque fans. The Pyrenean climbs are awash in the orange clothing of hundreds of thousands of fans who have come across the border. The magnitude and rowdiness of their support can best be compared to the hordes of fans cheering for their World Cup soccer teams. Whereas soccer (or any stadium sport) fans are contained within the confines of the stadium, Basque Tour fans are lining the roads for hundreds of kilometers.
Basque riders, Basque fans, a sea of orange
Both the Pyrenees and the Alps are a natural magnet for Tour fans and the large number of Basques are joined by hundreds of thousands of others from all over the world. Before the Tour reaches them, the fans heading for the major climbs, turn the mountains into ‘party central'. Many of these fans arrive days in advance to set up camp at their chosen vantage point. At night barbeques and liberal quantities of alcohol support countless impromptu roadside parties. By day any cyclists riding up the mountains are enthusiastically cheered along their slow grinding way with as much enthusiasm as that afforded the Tour riders. The whole thing is a surreal experience not to be missed by any cycling fan.
Loyal Basque fans appear in all sorts of guises!
Today may not be pivotal in the race for the GC but we will start to see who is in the running. Most of the oft named potential podium contenders are within 3:30 minutes of race leader Gonchar. In this unpredictable race a well crafted breakaway could easily help determine the final GC. After days of high speed flat lands the abrupt change from the small rear sprockets to the big ones on very lengthy climbs causes a shock wave to the riders systems. Two major climbs greet the riders to the torture of the Pyrenees . At about half stage the ‘hors categorie' Col de Soudet (1504m) provides the first test and then with 45km to go the riders will crest the Category 1 Col de Marie Blanque. Pure climbers like Rasmussen and Rujano, as well as those with eyes on the final overall will likely save their heroics for tomorrow.
Yesterday Johan Bruyneel expressing disappointment at his team's TT showing said that it was now time for his team to put up or shut up! He promised that his Discovery team would attack going into the Pyrenees .
Early on in the stage a strong group of 15 riders formed off the front. Juan Mercado (Agributel), a very competent climber, and Cyril Dessel (ag2r) were the most dangerous threats to Gonchar. As a result T-Mobile drove the peloton in pursuit while most of the Phonak team sat happily on their wheels. About half way up the Col de Soudet both the break (just over 9 minutes ahead) and the bunch started to fragment. As T-Mobile continued to plow away familiar faces including Mayo, Leipheimer and Rasmussen started appearing near the front. Suddenly Mayo cracked and went out the back. Considered a serious contender this year, Mayo was shortly joined by several teammates in an attempt to keep him in contact. The first serious climb of the Tour was already taking a toll.
After yesterday's threats Discovery was notably absent from the front. Either Bruyneel was fuming back in his car or he was simply having his boys wait for the Marie Blanque. Over the top of the foggy Col de Soudet Cyril Dessel took maximum mountains points from Mercado and they were both alone and nearly 10 minutes ahead of the Yellow Jersey bunch. With a couple of kms left to the summit the Yellow Jersey of Gonchar was suddenly seen slipping back rapidly. T-Mobile however continued to set the pace up front as Gonchar hung on grimly at the very end of the bunch. We were seeing a changing of the T-mobile guard with Andreas Kloeden, as expected, assuming his role as their Yellow Jersey candidate.
At the very back end of the race the first l'autobus was forming with the nobility of the sprinters and an ever increasing population of riders unable to hold the main peloton. Up front T-Mobile continued to lead the race in their pursuit of the two leaders who were being joined by several other riders on the long descent.
Along the valley roads leading to the Col de Marie Blanque the Discovery team started to assemble in the ranks behind T-Mobile with Phonak not far behind them. As the road turned upwards Mercado and Dessel attacked the break and they were quickly gone. At the summit their 9 minute 40 second lead over the bunch was now looking very serious. For Gonchar he needed to close within 3 minutes 50 seconds of Dessel to retain his Yellow Jersey.
Forty fast kilometers now faced the leaders to Pau as the much depleted bunch set about to reduce the gap between the two. Resplendent in his Yellow Jersey the old war horse Gonchar picked up a load of bottles from his team car before finally returning to his teammates at the front. In Pau a long cat-and-mouse track style sprint was taken by Mercado from Dessel. Nearly 7:30 minutes later Bennati took the bunch sprint from the amazing Zabel. To the great joy of France Dessel now wears the Yellow Jersey 3:45 ahead of Gonchar, Landis, Kloeden and Rogers. The race did little to clarify the long term GC structure and consequently continues to make this one of the most intriguing Tours in many years. Could today's break be the seeds of ‘a la Walko' Tour win?
For the first day in the mountains too many matches may have been burned. In particular Mercado and Dessel may regret their efforts today as will T-Mobile who spent most of the day dictating the pace of the peloton. Their resilience will be sorely tested during tomorrow's monster climbing stage. Phonak and Discovery were obviously playing a waiting game and tomorrow will finally prove if they have the firepower to take control of the Tour. As for Iban Mayo his agony was amplified as he struggled to survive the day riding through his Basque fans' ‘sea of orange'.
the road from Tarbes to Pla de Beret includes four monster climbs, steeped in Tour history before reaching the final agony of the mountain top finish in Spain . Tarbes to Val d'Aran/Pla de Beret (Spa), 208km. Come back to CyclingRevealed.com for our daily impression.
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