July 22, 2009
Schlecks climb onto podium with Stage 17 win
Stage 17 is one that will be remembered for three things: The Schleck brothers finishing together with race leader Alberto Contador more than 2 minutes clear of the field, Thor Hushovd going out on an audacious solo Alpine attack to grab the green jersey by the throat, and a probing attack by Contador late on the stage that triggered an absolute Twit-storm.
Mark Cavendish has criticized Hushovd, who protested the Stage 14 finish, leading to a Cavendish relegation for irregular sprinting. This is nothing unusual -- Hushovd lost the jersey in 2006 partially as a result of a relegation in Stage 4, and won the jersey in 2005 partially due to Robbie McEwen's relegation in Stage X. Cavendish, who features in a Nike campaign that declares “green is my yellow,” said the green jersey would be stained if Hushovd won it through Cav's relegation.
So Hushovd set off on a little jersey-cleaning mission, attacking with Thomas Voeckler over the top of the Col de Roselend to join an early break, then setting off solo over the Col des Saisies and the Côte d'Araches, more than 70k alone, while Cavendish was getting unhitched from the back of the field. With the 12 points collected, Hushovd moves 30 points clear in the green jersey competition, with 35 available in Paris on Sunday. I wouldn't be surprised to see Hushovd off the front again on Friday.
The end of Hushovd, early on the Col de Romme, was the end of the break as well, with Saxo Bank stringing out the field for the inevitable attack by Frank and Andy Schleck. Carlos Sastre was the first to attack, but was soon reeled in, with Andy Schleck still sitting near the back of the GC group.
When Frank Schleck attacked, he was quickly joined by Armstrong, Wiggins, Contador, and Andy Schleck, who attacked again, gapping Wiggins, Vande Velde, Armstrong and Frank Schleck. When Schleck launched a bridge move, Armstrong and Wiggins followed. Andy Schleck pushed the pace again, and Wiggins was gapped, with Armstrong alongside. Once again, Frank Schleck jumped the gap, this time alone. The lead group on the road was Contador and Klöden for Astana, and the Schleck brothers for Saxo Bank.
Behind, Christian Vande Velde fought back up to Wiggins, Nibali, and Armstrong, setting pace for several kilometers, but slowly losing ground to the fearsome foursome up front, before Vande Velde fell away. With the gap to Wiggins, Armstrong, and Nibali over 2:00, and 2k to climb on the day's final climb, Contador launched an attack. Klöden, who had been sitting on the back of the group for several kilometers, didn't have the legs to match, and was suddenly 20 seconds back. Contador came off the attack, and spent the rest of the climb looking back for Klöden.
It was a testing attack, one that we would usually see 100 times in a normal Tour, but the Twitterverse exploded. Suddenly, Andreas Klöden was the most popular rider in the peloton and Contador was screwing a beloved teammate. Bruyneel would say after the stage he didn't want Contador to attack, and Armstrong would immediately question Contador's move on Twitter, as well, but it seems like the math is pretty simple: “I've got gas in the tank, most of my rivals are losing time, and if I can drop these two guys, I might take a stage in the yellow jersey and put time in everybody.”
The Schlecks covered and pushed the pace enough to guarantee Klöden wasn't coming back. Meanwhile, Armstrong was on full boil, 5th on the road, riding hard toward Klöden, and towing Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas. They would catch Klöden near the finish, with Nibali taking 4th on the stage.
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