Thursday 12 July 2012

Tour de France 2012: Stage 11 Albertville to La Toussuire - Les Sybelles

Yesterday saw the Tour enter the Alps and a group of 25 made the early headway including Peter Sagan (LIQ), Matt Goss (OGE) and Thomas Voeckler (EUC). The first two of these were significant as they were the only contenders for the Green Jersey that were at the front after the Côte de Corlier for the intermediate sprint. It was Goss that took the maximum points with Sagan only coming in third, so Goss closed 5 points closer to the Slovakian.

However they were both dropped on the Col du Grand Colombier when a group of four, Voeckler, Luis-Léon Sanchez (RAB), Michele Scarponi (LAM) and Dries Devenyns (OPQ) were left in front. Voeckler it was that took the maximum points for the first HC climb of this Tour lifting him into the lead of the King of the Mountains competition.

Behind them there were three riders from Sky pacing the main peleton and their leader Bradley Wiggins up the Grand Colombier. On the way down however, Vincenzo Nibali (LIQ) went off the front showing his descending prowess. He came upon Sagan who helped him get virtual second position on the road before the Col du Richemond. Behind going into one of the sharp right handers Mick Rodgers punctured while just ahead of the yellow jersey of Wiggins and almost made the leader run wide, but with just Richie Porte and Chris Froome for company they set off in pursuit. The Richemond proved a climb too many of the legs of the Green Jersey and eventually Nibali himself was caught by a monstrous effort from Porte on the front.

At summit of the Richemond however Jurgen van den Broeck (LOT) and Pierre Rolland (EUC) managed to get away as they started the final descent to the finish. On this descent Jen Voigt (RNT), who had been part of the original breakaway manage to time trail his way back up to the leading four and hardly waiting before launching his own attack for home. Though it was short lived as first Voeckler, then Sanchez worked to close him down.

Behind the main peleton there was a similar act of desparation as Teejay van Garderen (BMC) did the same to the main peleton which contained Rein Taaramae (COF) who was in danger of once again taking the white jersey for young rider off the American. He didn't quite manage to get back but he managed to save his jersey if only by 25 seconds.

When it came to the final kick to the end Devenyns made an attack with about 2km to go, which neither Voeckler nor Voigt seemed initially able to go with. Eventually Sanchez had to bring the Belgian rider back. Then it was Voeckler's turn about 1km from the end as the leading five all seemed to battle for the finish on weary legs in what appeared like a slow motion sprint. Sanchez tried to get back but then he faded fast. In the end Voeckler managed to hold on, three seconds ahead of Scarponi, four more to Voigt, then Sanchez a further 19 back. There was another five including the van den Broeck and Rolland group of four between the leaders and the peleton, where once again Cadel Evans (BMC) tried to launch a final attack to gain any seconds back from Wiggins, but the yellow jersey was right there on his wheel to prevent any gaps opening and though it was Thibaut Pinot who just edged Evans on the line most of the GC contenders were in that group of 16 riders who were 3'16 down on the day.

Voeckler then made three trips to the podium, one as stage winner, one as the combative rider of the day and finally having take the maximum points from the last two climbs, as well as 1 for 4th on the first, to pull on the Polka Dot Jersey as King of the Mountains. 

Today's stage may only be 148km in distance but it is a monster none the less. In this Olympic year the Tour makes one of two visits to an Olympic host as we depart from Albertville.

But less than 14.5km into the race we face the 24th time the Tour, since it first appeared in 1969, will have gone up the Hors Catégorie Col de la Madeleine. The last time the Tour climbed the Madeleine in 2010 it ended after the decent in the town of St-Jean-de-Maurienne today it will skirt the edge of that same town, though not before climbing the Col de la Croix de Fer another HC climb with the Col du Mollard as category 2 break in the descent, before just as the race enters St-Jean-de-Maurienne it turns almost sharply back upon itself for a final 1st Category climb up to the  La Toussuire - Les Sybelles which is the only high mountain finish on this years tour. The Madeleine approach today from the North is 25.3km at 6.2% gradient, taking the Tour for the first time this year to an altitude of 2000m. Before a twisty descent of 19.8km to the valley below at 8%.

The Croix de Fer itself is making its 16th appearance in the Tour since it debuted in 1947. Today just after the intermediate sprint the Tour will take its most difficult approach to this Col. 22.4km, via the Col  du Glandon, itself an HC Climb which has been used in the Tour, where an alternate fork in the road takes you on elsewhere.The gradient to the top averages 6.9% and will take the riders to 2069m.

After yet another technical descent there is a short interuption, if 5.7km climbing the 6.8% gradient of the Col du Maollard can be called an interuption. But as only a second category blip on the map this time that is all it is.

The final 18km of the day are up La Toussuire, which is making its second appearance in the Tour after 2006. Though it was last climbed by many of the GC contenders in last year's Critérium du Dauphiné. Joaquim Rodríquez, who is not here after coming 2nd in the Giro, may have won that day, but Thibaut Pinot who won on Sunday was second, along with van den Broeck and Alexandre Vinokourov 7 seconds back, just 3 seconds  ahead of Evans and Wiggins who was in yellow on that last stage to secure his first win.

Here are the final km of that stage last year look out for various shortcuts they were able to find, there are liable to be bigger crowds on the slopes today and these may not be available quick routes:

Coverage starts on Eurosport and ITV4 from the off at midday today as they both expect fireworks from the off.

Update I like this, today I got sent this from the local TV Station showing  the Étape du Tour when the amateurs went over today's course 4 days ago.

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