CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '08
Stage 11 - (Wednesday) July 16th, Lannemezan to Foix, 167.5 km Rolling Stage
The English translation for ‘raison d'être' is ‘reason for being'. At its core the Tour de France is a corporate business and, quite simply, profit is the ‘raison d'être'. In 1903 Henri Desgrange organised the first Tour to promote sales for his newspaper. That success is well documented but if Desgrange was with us today he would be astounded at the commercial success of the modern Tour.
For road side fans one of the most obvious commercial aspects of the Tour is the famous advertising caravan that precedes the race by about two hours each day. Cities, towns and villages compete to host the Tour and if they succeed then they pay the organisers a ‘King's ransom' for the honor. In return they receive a ‘royal flush' with an almost guaranteed huge pay-back. You see the same principal drive nations and major world capitals competing to host the Olympics.
The Little Town that Could
Foix is an ancient medieval town with a population of around 10,000 people. It is the capital of the Ariège which is a largely unknown department situated next to the Aude in the most southern part of the Midi-Pyrenees department. It is one of the least populated and most unspoiled regions of France with spectacular views of the Pyrenees .
View from above Foix [ Images ©: www.TravelFoix.fr ]
How then could such a small community afford to bring the Tour to the area? The answer lies in the fact that the Tour can promote a huge influx of tourism to any area. While in the region the Tour fills hotels and restaurants to over flowing and race coverage provides a fantastic opportunity show off the beauty and attractions of the area. In the case of Foix the financial considerations were probably subsidised by local and national government agencies.
Green with Envy
The battle for the Yellow jersey will probably cool down for the next few days. However the contenders will still need to remain vigilant in order not to miss a sneaky escape.
Meanwhile the battle for the Green Jersey will be in full flight until the race reaches the Alps . Current wearer, Oscar Freire, is obviously in great form as he showed on the road to Hautecam as one of the riders in the big break of the day. Unlike pure sprinters like Robbie McEwen and Mark Cavendish, Friere is more of an all round talent with a killer sprint. When push comes to shove, Friere can get up some very serious climbs as he demonstrated beautifully on the Tourmalet two days ago.
As expected, the first intermediate sprint of the day (which came at 19.5kms) involved two of the main Green Jersey candidates. Leonardo Duque took top points while Thor Hushovd (currently 3rd in the Green Jersey competition) beat out Oscar Freire.
However at about 40kms covered, twelve riders established a solid break and 40kms further up the road they had built a lead of 9 minutes over the peloton. This move effectively shut down the battle for Green for the day.
Big Break, Big Opportunity
With 100kms covered the break was close to 15 minutes ahead of a somewhat lethargic peloton. Perhaps this was a case of post rest-day blues!
For the big break a stage win looked to be realistic but as they approached the Category 1 Col de Portel (cresting at 110kms) not everyone was going to make it with the leaders into Foix.
Go for it!
On the early slopes of the climb the compact break was maintaining a steady tempo while the peloton ambled along about quarter of an hour back. We looked to be in for a ‘routine' day with the break staying away and some happy rider taking the day's spoils as the status quo was maintained in the major jersey competitions.
But then bam! About a quarter of the way up the climb Amael Moinard (Cofidis) exploded from the front of the break. Amael who? Here we go, another virtual unknown introducing themselves to the world! At the top of the climb he had two minutes on the break and well over 16 minutes on the peloton. He put his head down and screamed down the other side. Only 57kms to Foix!
Bam again! Back in the peloton none other than Oscar Pereiro went for it and rapidly left the peloton behind. By the time he hit the summit he had two minutes on what was rapidly becoming the remnants of the peloton. His move had finally rung the alarm bells because this (de facto) winner of the 2006 Tour was only 6 minutes back on GC in 17th place.
Team CSC did not like this move at all and promptly took control of the peloton. Their torrid pace quickly despatched many riders out of the back.
Hang in There
Moinard rode brilliantly in an effort to preserve his lead. He topped the Category 3 Col de Bouich with about 1'20" advantage but still had 20kms to go. Behind him his original break companions were starting to close in.
Likewise Pereiro was riding hard to stay away from the survivors of the main peloton. Ultimately however his experience (and probably his team manager through his earpiece) told him that the effort was futile and he threw in the towel.
Coming into Foix Moinard doggedly refused to give up hoping beyond hope that the chasers would not be organised as they played cat and mouse for the big sprint. For several kms he dangled 3 or 4 seconds in front until he was finally snuffed out with 4kms to go.
In the end Kurt-Asle Arveson (CSC) just pipped Martin Elminger (AG2r) and Alessandro Ballan in a photo finish.
Stage winner Kurt-Asle Arvesen [ Images ©: www.gazzetta.it/AP ]
The bunch appeared 14'50" later with a serious sprint for the minor positions (there were still 8 places left counting towards Green Jersey points). Thor Hushovd thundered in to take the bunch sprint with Eric Zabel and Oscar Friere in his wake.
That's the reason
As the race was heading to Foix considerable turmoil had erupted following the news that Moisés Dueñas (Team Barloworld) had been thrown out of the Tour and dismissed by his team for a failed drug test. Another sad case. How long will it take before the riders and teams understand that the days of doping are over?
It is thus even more amazing that as this terrible news sunk in we were treated to yet another day of true Tour quality racing. The good “clean” guys, ,who hopefully are now in the majority, showed us that racing and winning is their ‘raison d'être' .
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