CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '08
Stage 19 - (Friday) July 25th, Roanne to Montlucon, 165.5 km Flat Stage
Lull Before the Storm
The last couple of days before the Tour reaches the final TT and then the ‘Grande Finale' in Paris , are usually less stressful than any other stage since the first day. It is unfair to say that the race is easy but the pecking order for GC is usually established and the primary contenders will, if they are smart, harbor their resources for the day of truth (the final TT).
With only two categorised climbs on this stage at 17kms (Cat 3) and 37kms (Cat 4), this was essentially a sprinters stage or a stage for a small break. The climbs were put there early in the day to give anyone with breakaway intentions a little springboard to launch their offensive.
Sure enough four riders pulled away on the first climb and surprisingly it was Stefan Schumacher (‘Schumi') who was amongst them and once more trying to make the difference. Try as they may the four could only gain a maximum of 45 seconds before being sucked back into the peloton at 80kms.
Try, Try Again
As soon as the break was caught just about everyone with any energy left attempted to form another escape. For the first time since very early in the Tour neither CSC nor any of the other GC contender teams were to be seen controlling affairs at the front. Each of these teams were cocooning their GC men to protect them from crashes and to give them as much wind protection as possible.
After numerous volley's with small groups gaining a few meters, getting dragged back and then trying again, it was Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) and Jeremy Roy (Francise des Jeux) who finally managed to escape. They faced 90kms of hard work if they wanted to cheat the peloton. With 40kms of racing to go the duo were looking good nearly 5 minutes ahead of the main field.
When the 40km to go point had passed CSC sent their great man Stuart O'Grady to the front to start ramping up the speed. His team mates soon joined in with the effort because the last thing CSC wanted was a mad scramble into the finish town with the elevated chance of mass crashes. This policing action was bad news for the leaders who now started to see their lead shrink.
Meanwhile yesterday CSC had experienced a policing action of another kind. Johnny Schleck, father of CSC's Schleck brothers, was suddenly asked by the French police to pull out of the race convoy early in the stage. He and his car was thoroughly searched for doping products and illegal substances. Nothing was found and Schleck senior was allowed to drive on and rejoin the convoy.
While this highly visible and tasteless case of ‘profiling' was deplorable, it did send an incredibly powerful message to the pro peloton. Cheating is now an exercise in crass stupidity. Out-of-race testing, in-race testing and police invasions of homes and travelling vehicles are just some of the ever increasing methods being used to capture those who persist in believing that they can beat the system.
An All French Affair
Throughout this Tour Sylvain Chavanel has tried to grab a stage victory. Today he achieved just that inches ahead of Jeremy Roy to make this the third French stage victory in this Tour. After years of frustration France is starting to see a resurgence of it's riders at the highest level.
A hectic bunch sprint 1'12" behind the two leaders saw the Green Jersey contenders grappling for the all important points that remained. This fight was an all German affair with Ciolek, Zabel and Haussler taking places 3, 4 and 5! Keeping out of the way, the GC contenders rolled in knowing that for them this was just the lull before the storm .
Stage winner Sylvain Chavanel (R) outsprints Jeremy Roy (L) [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it/AP ]
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