Post-Race Show! Stage 15: Embrun-Prato Nevoso
Early Escape. An early move of three riders broke free from the main field, and since they sat several time zones away from the top of the classification, the bunch allowed them a free hand. Egoi Martinez of Euskaldi-Euskatel, Simon Gerrans of Crédit Agricole, and Danny Pate of Team Garmin comprised the break. At 150 km to go, they held a six minute advantage, at 60 km to go, they had round about 15 minutes. Plainly, the teams for the classification intended to play their own game today.
Col Agnel. Under rainy skies, over wet roads, the bunch ascended the Col Agnel. The bunch kept it relatively tranquilo, but not tranquilo enough for Stijn Devolder, who went out the back and into the team car. End of Tour for Devolder. Over the top of the climb, the break held a gap of 14.30. The main field remained compatto, and all the favorites made it over the summit together. Not so for the descent, which saw a dramatic crash for Oscar Pereiro of Caisse d'Épargne. He left the race, and reports now confirm a broken collarbone, tibia and fibula for the former Tour winner.
Across the long straight valley road between the climbs, the bunch worked sporadically to keep the break from running out the clock. Lampre, perhaps with thoughts of the stage win or maybe just seeking some teevee time, rode hard on the front, but made little dent in the Martinez-Gerrans-Pate group. As the kilometers ticked down toward the final climb, CSC-Saxo Bank began contributing to the chase in an effort to put pressure on the main field. Sörensen and OGrady did the work, setting up the climb for their team mates.
Prato Nevoso. As the main field reached the lower slopes of the final climb, CSC sent Jens Voigt to the front, with the usual consequences. The bunch quickly strung out and splits opened up almost immediately. Andy Schleck took over where Jens left off, and soon the bunch had dwindled to an intimate group of favorites. After repeated accelerations from Andy, only Cadel Evans, Fränk Schleck Christian Vandevelde, Bernard Kohl, Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre and Alejandro Valverde remained. CSC held the advantage of three riders in the front group, and proceeded to use it.
Up the road, the threesome still held some six minutes advantage and began to play for the stage win. Inside la flamme rouge, Danny Pate of Team Garmin made the first move, but the legs failed him. Simon Gerrans of Crédit Agricole unleashed his sprint, and neither of the others could responde. Gerrans crossed the line first, and won his first Tour de France stage.
Behind, the skirmishes among the favorites continued without respite for the embattled yellow jersey, Cadel Evans. For it was not only CSC who put the pressure on yellow jersey Cadel Evans. Bernard Kohl of Gerolsteiner put in a pair of big attacks, one of which finally stayed away. Denis Menchov, though he slid out on an uphill (!) corner, also did his share to turn the screws.
After a flurry of attacks and counter attacks, Bernard Kohl, Denis Menchov, and Carlos Sastre succeeded in achieving a gap on the other gc contenders (with Valverde still along for the ride.) While Fränk Schleck sat on and Andy dangled a short distance off the back, Evans had no choice but to do the hard work of defending the jersey on his own. With less than 1 kilometer to go, Fränk Schleck made the predictable move to secure the 1 second he needed to take over the yellow jersey. Evans had no answer, and was quickly distanced. In the end, not only Schleck, but also Kohl overtook Evans lead, though the gaps remain very close. Less than 1 minute separates the top six in the general after this stage.
Classifications. The general classification re-arranged itself on the final climb to Prato Nevoso. Fränk Schleck of CSC-Saxo Bank now wears the yellow jersey of race leader, followed by Bernard Kohl of Gerolsteiner at 7 seconds, Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto at 8 seconds, Denis Menchov of Rabobank at 38 seconds, Christian Vandevelde of Team Garmin at 39 seconds, and Carlos Sastre of CSC-Saxo Bank at 49 seconds. In the young riders classification, Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas still leads team mate Roman Kreuziger by 1.53. Meanwhile, Oscar Freire's hold on the points jersey became more secure with the abandon of Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia. In the mountains classification, Bernard Kohl of Gerolsteiner has taken over the lead from his team-mate Sebastien Lang.