Ricco Wins Stage 9 of Tour
Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) has joined Mark Cavendish (Columbia) as a two-stage winner in this year's Tour de France. The Italian attacked on the Category 1 Col d'Aspin and scooped up the remnants of an early break en route to victory in Stage 9, a mountainous, 224-km ride from Toulouse to Bagneres de Bigorre. Ricco won in 5:39:28, with Vladimir Efimkin and Cyril Dessel (both from Ag2r) taking second and third, respectively, at 1:04 and 1:17. Kim Kirchen (Columbia) remains the maillot jaune.
From the start, the racing was aggressive. After a couple of abortive sallies, Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Nicolas Jalabert (Agritubel), and Alexander Kuschynski (Liquigas) attacked at 23 km. By 70 km, the trio's lead had ballooned to 13:40.
None of the riders was a GC threat, so Columbia saw no need to chase. Eventually, Euskaltel took up the pursuit. The gap fell to 11:20 at 82 km and to about 10:20 on the Category 4 Col de Mane (91 km).
At 112 km, Cadel Evans (Silence) narrowly avoided disaster. He crashed and struck his head. His helmet was crushed on the left side, and according to Tour doctor Gerard Porte, "He's got numerous scrapes on his elbow, thigh, and hip, but they're mostly superficial." His mishap was a persuasive argument for wearing bike helmets. There is little doubt that had Evans not worn a helmet, he would have suffered serious and perhaps fatal head injuries.
After 150 km, Caisse d'Epargne, Francaise des Jeux, and Rabobank joined Euskaltel at the front. On the lower slopes of the Category 1 Col de Peyresourde, Lang dropped his companions. At the summit, the German was 0:40 ahead of Kuschynski, 1:15 ahead of Jalabert, and 6:00 ahead of the peloton.
David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval) attacked out of the peloton. At the summit, he was 0:40 ahead of the bunch and 4:50 behind Lang. Maxime Monfort (Cofidis) and Luis-Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) sallied, joined de la Fuente, and the trio caught Jalabert.
On the lower slopes of the Category 1 Col d'Aspin, Lang led Kuschynski by 2:00, the de la Fuente group by 4:50, and the peloton by almost 6:00. A regroupment occurred as riders who were dropped on the Peyresourde rejoined on the descent.
Jalabert was dropped. Behind, Schumacher and then Ricco attacked. Other riders followed suit, and the peloton disintegrated under the pressure, with the maillot jaune group containing all of the favorites. Caisse d'Epargne led the group.
Just before the summit, Ricco vaulted past Lang into the lead. With 20 km left, Lang was in the maillot jaune group. Rabobank and Liquigas went to the front. Sandy Casar (Francaise des Jeux) and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel) lit out after Ricco, but the group reeled them in. Efimkin had a go and escaped to take second.
In the overall, Kirchen leads Evans by 0:06 and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) by 0:44. Stage 10 will transform the race. The 156-km ride from Pau to Hautacam will take the riders up the hors categorie Col de Tourmalet and the hors categorie finishing climb. With no team (with the possible exception of Caisse d'Epargne) being able to control the race, a early break should form. The peloton will break up as the result of a torrid chase on the Tourmalet. Stage 10 will not be like Stage 9, with many riders getting back on before the day's final climb. The peloton will be down to no more than 40 riders at the base of the climb to Hautacam. Look for a barroom brawl on the ascent. The break might stay away, but that will not be important. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Evans, Denis Menchov (Rabobank), the Schleck brothers and Carlos Sastre (all from CSC) will be ready for action. Do not expect a French winner on Bastille Day. Anything else is anyone's guess. Check out www.roadcycling.com to see how things shake out.