July 27, 2007

Stage 18: Casar outsmarts the veterans

Française des Jeux's Sandy Casar showed some brilliant tactics in winning the Tour's 18th stage, into Angoulême. With 3 kms to ride, Casar split from his 3 breakaway companions, going left around some traffic furniture when they went right, and just hammering until he was reeled in with a little more than 1 kilometers to ride.

Rabobank's Michael Boogerd was ideally situated, riding behind Casar, monitoring T-Mobile's Axel Merckx and Bouygues Telecom's Laurent Lefevre, but while Boogerd watched his back, Casar launched off the front, as Merckx gave his all to the right, and Boogerd couldn't respond.

It's Casar's first stage win, after 3 career 2nd places, including a very narrow loss to Cedric Vasseur back on Stage 10.

For Boogerd and Merckx, it was likely their final chance at a Tour stage win, with an ITT tomorrow, and the final stage Sunday likely to be controlled by the sprinters' teams. Both are retiring, with Merckx possibly doing so Sunday.

Tom Boonen extended his points jersey lead by leading in the field for 5th on the day, just ahead of Robbie Hunter.

A gap in the field cost yellow jersey Alberto Contador 3 seconds, seconds he can ill afford before tomorrow's time trial showdown with Predictor-Lotto's Cadel Evans.

Top 10:
1) Sandy Casar, Française des Jeux, France
2) Axel Merckx, T-Mobile, Belgium, at :01
3) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, France, same time
4) Michael Boogerd, Rabobank, Netherlands, s.t.
5) Tom Boonen, Quick Step, Belgium, at 8:34
6) Robbie Hunter, Barloworld, South Africa, same time
7) Erik Zabel, Milram, Germany, s.t.
8) Sebastien Chavanel, Française des Jeux, s.t.
9) Bernhard Eisel, T-Mobile, Austria, s.t.
10) Thor Hushovd, Credit Agricole, Norway, s.t.

Overall Standings after Stage 18:
1) Alberto Contador, Discovery Channel, Spain, in 86:04:16
2) Cadel Evans, Predictor-Lotto, Australia, at 1:50
3) Levi Leipheimer, Discovery Channel, USA, at 2:49
4) Carlos Sastre, CSC, Spain, at 6:02
5) Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel, Spain, at 6:29
6) Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d'Epargne, Spain, at 10:18
7) Kim Kirchen, T-Mobile, Luxembourg, at 11:36
8) Yaroslav Popovych, Discovery Channel, Ukrain, at 12:47
9) Juan Mauricio Soler, Barloworld, Colombia, at 13:31
10) Mikel Astarloza, Euskaltel, Spain, at 13:42

Posted by Frank Steele on July 27, 2007 in 2007 Stage 18, Alberto Contador, Cadel Evans, Top Stories | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stage 18 on the road

Today's a longish, flattish stage suited to a long breakaway or a sprint finish. The well-placed teams will probably want to take it easy in preparation for the big individual time trial tomorrow. The green jersey is still being contested, so Tom Boonen may prefer either for a big break to go up the road and take all the sprint points, or to have a chance to score a few more points himself, depending on the legs.

VS. broadcaster picks:
Sherwen: Tom Boonen
Roll: Oscar Pereiro
Liggett: Robbie Hunter
Trautwig: Juan Antonio Flecha

1st climb, 4th Category:
1) Frederick Willems, Liquigas, +3 pts
2) Jerome Pineau, Bouygues Telecom, +2 pts
3.) Sandy Casar, Française des Jeux, +1 pt

Willems and Casar were involved in a crash with a dog that ran onto the road. Soon after, a pair of riders got away -- Laurent Lefevre of Bouygues Telecom and Michael Boogerd of Rabobank -- and were quickly joined by T-Mobile's Axel Merckx and Française des Jeux's Sandy Casar. They've collected every bonus since, through three 4th-Category climbs and the first intermediate sprint, as their gap went out and out and out, to more than 16 minutes.

2nd climb, a 4th Category:
1) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, +3 pts
2) Michael Boogerd, Rabobank, +2 pts
3) Sandy Casar, Française des Jeux, +1 pt

3rd climb, a 4th Category:
1) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, +3 pts
2) Michael Boogerd, Rabobank, +2 pts
3) Sandy Casar, Française des Jeux, +1 pt

Both Boogerd and Merckx are expected to retire at the end of the season, so both are looking for a victory in the last stage that might suit them.

1st intermediate sprint, 66 kms ridden:
1) Axel Merckx, T-Mobile, +6 pts/6 secs
2) Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, +4 pts/4 secs
3) Michael Boogerd, Rabobank, +2 pts/2 secs

4th (final) climb, a 4th Category:
1. Michael Boogerd, Rabobank, +3 pts
2. Sandy Casar, Française des Jeux, +2 pts
3. Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, +1 pt

Boogerd, the best-placed rider in the break, started today 27:50 behind Alberto Contador, so this break, hovering around 16:30, could theoretically move him up around 6th overall, if it's allowed to survive.

The gap got out to about 17:30 and finally attracted Euskaltel's attention, as Boogerd became a threat to both Haimar Zubeldia's place in the top 5 and Mikel Astarloza's place in the top 10 of the Tour.

At the day's final sprint, with 18 kms/11 miles to ride, Casar was first over the line.

2nd (final) intermediate sprint (Dignac):
1) Sandy Casar, Française des Jeux, +3 pts
2) Axel Merckx, T-Mobile, +2 pts
3) Michael Boogerd, Rabobank, +1 pt

The peloton is 12:05 back. The day's winner will be one of the four leaders.

The four leaders continued to work together until just 6 kilometers were left, and Laurent Lefevre was the first to attack. Casar was slow to react, and Lefevre kept his gap for a kilometer, but the four regrouped with 4 kms to ride, watching each other.

A small rise was a launch pad for Boogerd, but Lefevre was waiting for it, and easily grabs his wheel, Merckx behind, then Casar. Now Merckx attacks, and Lefevre gets close, but Merckx attacks again. This time, Lefevre goes hard all the way to his wheel, and all four ride together.

With 3 kms to ride, there's some traffic furniture, and Casar, in 4th position goes left where the others went right and hits full gas. He gets 20 meters by the time the road comes back together, and pushes it out to 4 or 5 seconds, with Boogerd chasing hard, then Lefevre and Merckx.

At 1 km to ride, both gaps are shrinking as Boogerd closes on Casar and Lefevre on Boogerd, with Merckx in 4th wheel. Boogerd is in the catbird's seat. Casar's been working super-hard, was in the accident earlier, so Boogerd's looking for the attack from Lefevre and Merckx.

But it's Casar who finds the power to go hard for the line, an instant before Merckx swings to the right and kicks for the line, and by the time Boogerd can react, it's too late, and Sandy Casar takes his first Tour stage win! He was centimeters short of the win when Cedric Vasseur won, but here, he finishes the deal. Merckx 2nd, Lefevre 3rd, and Boogerd 4th.

In the peloton, Quick Step took over the lead duties, attempting to increase Tom Boonen's green jersey lead. Coming up to the line, Chavanel and Förster launched to the left, while Boonen stayed tight to the right, with Robbie Hunter coming right alongside, but it's Boonen! Boonen takes 5th and Hunter 6th.

In the field, there was a split, and yellow jersey Alberto Contador and teammate Levi Leipheimer were on the wrong side, while Predictor-Lotto's Cadel Evans was right up front, so he gains 3 seconds in advance of tomorrow's big individual time trial.

Posted by Frank Steele on July 27, 2007 in 2007 Stage 18 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack