Piepoli Wins at Hautacam; Evans Dons Maillot Jaune
Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) has notched his squad's third stage win of this year's Tour de France. Piepoli and teammate Juan Jose Cobo surged away from Frank Schleck (CSC) in the last three km, and the Italian crossed the finish line first to win the mountainous, 156-km ride from Pau to Hautacam in 4:19:27. Piepoli and Cobo finished in the same time, and Schleck crossed the finish line 0:28 later. Cadel Evans (Silence) has taken the maillot jaune from Kim Kirchen (Columbia).
Many observers expected this stage to be aggressively ridden, and it was. A series of breaks occurred, including a 24-man sally that included Yaroslav Popovych (Silence), David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval), and Oscar Freire (Rabobank). Milram and then Garmin chased, and at 55 km the escapees led the field by 0:45. Attrition took its toll and by 67 km, only seven men were still in the break: Freire, Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Remy Di Gregorio and Jeremy Roy (both from Francaise des Jeux), Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner), Fabian Cancellara (CSC), and Hubert Dupont (Ag2r).
The fugitives' lead maxed out at about 8:00. On the hors categorie Tourmalet, Di Gregorio dropped his companions. Behind, Saunier Duval and CSC accelerated, and de la Fuente, George Hincapie (Columbia), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), and Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) were among the riders who were dropped.
At the summit, Di Gregorio led Roy, Dupont, and Duque by 2:00 and the CSC-led maillot jaune group by 6:00. On the descent, Cancellara joined the maillot jaune group, and CSC had five riders in the group, while Saunier Duval had two. Clearly, the Danish squad held a winning hand.
After the descent, Voigt and Cancellara paced the maillot jaune group through the valley between the Tourmalet and the finishing climb. With 20 km remaining, Roy, Dupont, and Duque sat up and were absorbed by the maillot jaune group. Di Gregorio led the group by a little more than 3:00, and the Valverde-Cunego group was 1:35 behind the maillot jaune group and counting.
At the base of the finishing climb, Di Gregorio led the maillot jaune group by 0:40. The group overtook him, and Frank Schleck attacked first. Piepoli, Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), Cobo, and Vladimir Efimkin (Ag2r) followed. With eight km left, this group led Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Christian Vande Velde (Garmin), and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) by 0:30. Evans and Ricco made attacks, but they could not get away.
With six km remaining, Cobo attacked, but Schleck responded and towed Piepoli to the Spaniard. Kirchen had dropped out of the Evans group, and Evans, realizing that he was near the maillot jaune, began to pull his group.
With three km left, Schleck was dropped. Cobo and Piepoli divided the spoils, with the former taking a GC gain and the latter taking the stage. Behind, Evans continued to drive to the finish and would become the maillot jaune by 0:01, while Valverde finished more than 5:00 behind the winner to fall to 14th overall at 4:41.
In the overall, Evans leads Schleck by 0:01 and a surprising Vande Velde by 0:38. Tomorrow will be the 2008 Tour's first rest day, and riders such as Evans will lick their wounds and savor their success, while those such as Valverde will ask themselves what went wrong. They will have precious little time for recuperation or introspection because Stage 3 will take place on Wednesday. The 167.5-km ride from Lannemezan to Foix will feature three categorized climbs, including the Category 1 Col de Portel at 110 km and the Category 3 Col de Bouich at 145 km. Look for an escapee to take this stage. Which one? Voigt? Cunego? Perhaps Valverde? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!