RIDE – Remembering Le Tour 2011

RIDE Cycling Review #53 (volume 03, 2011) included coverage of the 98th Tour de France. It featured a giant pull-out poster (sponsored by BMC) of the first Australian winner, Cadel Evans. The cover boasted a proud Evans standing on the podium in Paris, resplendent in his maillot jaune. The coverline was simple: “Tour de France. An Australian… 1st.” Inside the magazine there was 75 pages devoted to coverage of the 2011 Tour de France. It concluded with a stage-by-stage summary of the race last July.

With the 99th Tour fast approaching, here is a reminder of what transpired on the roads of France last July.

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2011 Tour de France – start to finish

There’s no question about who the strongest rider in the peloton of 198 starters was, for a true champion emerged this July. It’s all about being consistent in every stage, from start to finish. That’s what Cadel Evans was. He rode the perfect race. He had the best support. And the strongest legs. He bided his time absolutely perfectly; his team helped create the moment but the only time BMC had to “defend the lead” was on the parade to Paris.
We review the 98th Tour stage by stage and applaud all involved.

Words: Rob Arnold

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Stage 01: Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes

191.5km

1st: Philippe Gilbert

The favourite takes the win…

Offering a hint of what was to come, it took just five seconds before a rider from Europcar went on the attack. Pierrig Quemeneur instigated the first escape immediately after the peloton crossed the Passage du Gois and he was joined by the rider who would spend more time in breakaways than any other, Jérémy Roy (who would go on to win the 20,000 euros as the 98th Tour’s ‘Super-Combative’) and Lieuwe Westra. Their biggest advantage was 6:30 and although Quemeneur is from the region his local knowledge alone was never going to be enough to hold off the charge of the peloton.

Omega Pharma-Lotto knew that it had the winner in its midst and the Belgian team with The Dominator of April, Philippe Gilbert, was largely responsible for the capture.

The nervousness of the opening stage saw a constant battle for positioning at the head of the bunch. With nine kilometres to go, a crash held up all but 27 riders. Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Ivan Basso were in the second group (finishing 1:20 behind the winner).

It didn’t matter that Gilbert was heavily marked, he wins what he wants to these days and, in his first Tour start since 2008, he took the victory, the yellow jersey… and the green and polka-dot ones as well.


Stage 02: Team time trial, Les Essarts

23km.

1st: Garmin-Cervélo

Garmin-Cervélo’s fine time…

At the finish Jonathan Vaughters was flapping his arms and gesticulating with pride. The manager who had been part of the winning Crédit Agricole line-up for the team time trial 10 years earlier in Bar-le-Duc when Stuart O’Grady wore the yellow jersey experienced a lot as a cyclist but the Cheshire grin and his animated reaction to the victory of his Garmin-Cervélo team spelled out just how proud he was.

“We knew we did everything right. We knew we brought the right riders. We knew we had the right strategy on the day,” he gushed.

“We worked on the order of riders – that was something that I spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking, ‘I want this guy here, this guy there…’ and it actually worked perfectly!

Our job had been done correctly. When I watched, I was like, ‘Holy shit, it’s actually going to work!’”

On day two, the US team had achieved enough to be content. More was yet to come but the relief was palpable. “Everything is going so wonderfully at the moment,” enthused David Millar. “I’m loving it.

Jonathan was just a walking ball of nerves. He didn’t hide the fact that he was putting everything into this. It was a brave move but we pulled it off.” As well as winning the stage, Hushovd took the yellow jersey!

Garmin-Cervélo relegated BMC to second place but Cadel Evans was already in front of his rivals and in a better frame of mind than ever before. “It wasn’t the time so much,” said BMC manager Jim Ochowicz on the penultimate stage, once Evans had taken the yellow jersey. “It was the fact that he had nine guys with him. And they were all good. There were no weaklings in this group.”

Stage 03: Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon

198km.

1st: Tyler Farrar

Win for Wouter Weylandt…

“It’s incredible for me,” Tyler Farrar said after having a few minutes to reflect on what happened on the final straight of stage three. “I had the world champion who is wearing the maillot jaune leading out the sprint for me. It’s not a common sight and when you have that happening you have to do a good sprint. To win on the Fourth of July is another sign of how well it’s all come together.”

Even other sprinters were pleased with the result. Well, Cavendish was justifiably annoyed by missing out on picking up from where he left off last year but his DS Allan Peiper laughed it off. “That’ll just make him hungrier – it works in our favour really.”

Even with a dangerous final burst from Romain Feillu (who netted second for his frantic effort up the right-hand side of the road), Farrar had the forethought to make a “W” gesture for his fallen comrade and friend immediately after crossing the line. “This one is for Wouter,” he said about Weylant, who died in a crash during stage three of the Giro.

“It’s been a big loss. It’s been a rough few months for me since… but I wanted to be good in the Tour [and] so I’m happy that I was able to do it.” Teamwork earned the win and the lead-out by Hushovd was finished off by Julian Dean who will be a fine asset when he joins the GreenEdge team.

Stage 04: Lorient to Mûr de Bretagne

172.5km.

1st: Cadel Evans

Cadel ahead of Alberto…

Second in stage one and again the next day was a sign all was falling into place for Cadel Evans. It was a total contrast to 2009 when he had no luck and low morale. That was when he started setting things up to join BMC; it was the beginning of a partnership that changed him from the-rider-who-could-win to one who did win.

This was another day for Gilbert, and his team did everything right to position him perfectly for the uphill sprint at the end. Once at the top, however, there was about 500m of flat road and that was where Evans demonstrated he was the strongest in the bunch. Alberto Contador challenged him but he couldn’t get past. The Australian gripped his handlebars in the drops, while the Spaniard held the hoods of his levers.

It’s the little details that make the difference when only a fraction of a wheel separates two true GC guys from first and second in a sprint. And Evans got it all right.

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Stage 05: Carhaix to Cap Fréhel

164.5km

1st: Mark Cavendish

In the wind ‘Cav’ reigns…

“It was a difficult finish and there were a lot of other guys up there for the finale – Geraint Thomas in the white jersey, Wiggins, Hushovd, Rojas, Gilbert… it was a difficult sprint from only a small group.” Mark Cavendish has said that he needs to spare energy at the Tour. Sometimes, he insists, he wins when he only gives a fraction of what he actually has to offer. In Cap Fréhel this wasn’t an option. “It was hard to stay at the front. I had to go 100 per cent to win that one!”

Earlier that day a journalist called Allan Peiper and explained the final 10km on a day when the wind was blowing off the sea. There were turns and undulations to consider. All this was relayed but ‘Cav’ didn’t want to hear it. “Is he a f—ing pro? If not, what would he know?” After his win, he expressed his gratitude.

“It was uphill man! Coming up to three kilometers to go, that was hard! That was a climb and I was on the edge of my saddle and then it went down and it was quite technical – and we like technical – but the uphill really hurt. I’ve won harder before but I’ve also been dropped on easier.”

HTC took the responsibility of chasing the escapees who were caught with 45km to go, then they controlled the race through to the finish. Cav finished it off perfectly.

Stage 06:Dinan to Liseux

226.5km.

1st: Edvald Boasson Hagen

Norway on a pilgrimage…

Past the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel they raced and onward to a hill just out of the centre of Liseux where the famous Sainte-Thérèse Basilica lures the faithful to town. Religious sites made regular appearances in the Tour of 2011 but the riders didn’t care. The rain was more of a consideration in stage six. But the climb at the finish could not be ignored either. HTC’s management tried to talk Tony Martin into an attack at the bottom but many others were thinking the same thing.

This wasn’t a stage for Cavendish, so Matt Goss got a chance to sprint. The Tasmanian fell a bike-length short of taking a win in his first Tour. Instead it was Edvald Boasson Hagen who gave the hordes of Norwegian fans something to celebrate… a win – the first of his two in 2011, and a reward for another stunning lead-out from Geraint Thomas. The top five of the final points classification mixed it up in the sprint in the wet… including Evans, who finished 12th.

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Stage 07: Le Mans to Chateauroux

218km.

1st: Mark Cavendish

Cav again… but Wiggins out

“I’m gutted for Brad,” said the stage eight winner, Cavendish. Moments before stepping onto the podium he was told that Wiggins (left) had to quit the race after crashing. The two have been team-mates, they’ve won world madison championships together and the sprinter was one of many who believed the Team Sky leader was going to improve on his fourth place overall from 2009.

“He was in the form of his life! And, despite what some doubters might think, he was going to do something big here.”

Everything had been going as planned for Wiggins but then as the wind pushed the peloton along at 60km/h, there was a touch of wheels and the horrid sound of bikes and bodies scraping along the ground.

His Tour ended at the 180km mark.

Stage 08: Aigurande to Super-Besse

189km.

1st: Rui Costa

GC guys show themselves

The road began to rise in stage eight and for over half of the stage BMC riders were at the front of the peloton. This was one of few days in the 2011 Tour when an escape was likely to succeed and six men put themselves in the early move. But the bunch didn’t just let them saunter away. The average for the first hour was 48.4km/h and , eventually, the gap grew to over six minutes.

With a steep climb in the finale it was a day when general classification riders knew they couldn’t relax. Alberto Contador was the first to attack in the closing kilometres but he couldn’t sustain his surge for long. Philippe Gilbert, however, could – and his bid for another stage win was a good one but it fell short by 12 seconds. Ahead was Rui Alberto Costa, one of the early escapees. The Portuguese won a year to the day after his boxing bout with Carlos Barredo at the end of a stage. Cadel Evans led the rest of an elite bunch home in third place.

Stage 09: Issoire to Saint-Flour

208km.

1st: Luis Léon Sanchez

The GC casualty list grows…

Contador was the first favourite to falter in stage nine, but he bounced back after a strange incident with Vladimir Karpets and quickly raced back to the peloton. Ahead was a group of five escapees including Johnny Hoogerland who, on the descent of the Puy Mary – where he took maximum points and the right to wear the polka-dot jersey again – had to unclip from the pedals to save himself from crashing off the road. When the peloton arrived at the same turn, there was carnage!

Alexandre Vinokourov lost control and flew into the forest beside the road. That was the end of his time at the Tour. An unceremonious departure for the Astana captain. Jurgen van den Broeck and Dave Zabriskie also had to abandon at the same spot. The Tour was different…!

Hoogerland’s forgiveness…

Even people who didn’t follow the race would have heard about what happened on stage nine of the 2011 Tour. A car from France Télévisions attempted to pass the escape group – as happens numerous times in every bike race… only this time it didn’t go right. The driver swerved to miss a tree – just as he was passing the rider. The evasive action meant that Juan Antonio Flecha was sideswiped and flung to the ground. With nowhere else to go Johnny Hoogerland rode into the spreadeagle Spaniard and was catapulted off the road… and onto a barbed-wire fence!

The scenes were shocking and there was every reason for outrage but Hoogerland gave us all a lesson in forgiveness. “Nobody can be blamed for this. It’s a horrible accident and I was in it,” he said after collecting the polka-dot jersey. “But I said to Flecha, ‘We’re still alive and Wouter Weylandt died in a crash.’

“I think most people feel very, very bad about this sort of thing. I have three cuts that are about seven centimeters long and quite deep too. I’ll go to the hospital now and I think I’ll need about 30 stitches at least…

“I did what felt like a few somersaults. I don’t know where the car came from. Before I knew it, Flecha was on the ground and there was nothing I could do. I landed on the fence and I looked at my legs and thought, ‘Is this what cycling is about?’ I have the polka-dot jersey but I’m going to spend the rest day in a lot of pain.”

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Stage 10: Aurillac to Carmaux

158km.

1st: André Greipel

Giant wins “perfect sprint”

“I found myself alone,” said Philippe Gilbert about this move on the final climb of stage 10. “It wasn’t necessarily because I attacked, it’s just that the others didn’t follow me!”

Some suggested it was to taunt Cav and his cohorts into panicking, but they are too experienced to take the bait. The Belgian champion still had the green jersey but Supermanx was closing in and, before the Pyrenees, he led the points classification.

André Greipel has copped many verbal sprays from Cav but there was praise for what unfolded in Carmaux. “Technically that was one of the soundest sprints by a sprinter from this generation. How he rode it was perfect,” said the HTC rider about his former team-mate’s effort. Rojas, Hushovd and Feillu rounded out the top five.

Stage 11: Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur

167.5km.

1st: Mark Cavendish

With that one he took green…

Okay, we mention some in the escape but only because the likes of Mickael Delage of FDJ and Ruben Perez Moreno from Euskaltel-Euskadi were so regular with their attacks. No, they weren’t quite as constant as Jérémy Roy nor as impressive. But they didn’t care about the script – in which it was written (somewhere) that this would be a sprint stage.

HTC toyed with the opportunists. Cav’s team didn’t allow them any real room to move, then made sure that they led out the intermediate sprint perfectly. Cavendish took maximum points at the intermediate prime in Gaillac and then added 45 more to his tally with his third stage win in the 98th Tour. Et voilà, the green jersey was his. And this time he’d keep it all the way to Paris.

The new regulation for the intermediate sprint achieved exactly what it had intended. It created a moment of tension in what might otherwise have been relatively dull processions to the finish. There was interest from several teams – HTC-Highroad the chief amongst them, but Movistar and Omega Pharma-Lotto (which had Rojas and Gilbert, respectively) also got in on the action. There were times when the rush to the line near the midway point resembled a bunch finish, and other instances when it was a show of who-could-be-bothered. Nonetheless, offering points down to the 15th at the line was certainly an improvement on what had been the standard for years beforehand. Bravo Mr Prudhomme.

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Stage 12: Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden

211km.

1st: Samuel Sanchez

One for Euskadi near home…

Okay, Samuel isn’t officially Basque but he’s an honorary adoptee of the region and has only ever raced with for the team from Euskadi. The rider who was fourth overall in 2010, riding the final few stages with a crack in a bone in his arm (just as Cadel Evans had done since the stage he wore the yellow jersey during his first season with BMC), picked up a win on the first mountaintop finish.

This is the first victory at the Tour for the Olympic champion and two-time podium finisher of the Vuelta a España. With such a résumé it’s a little odd that he was given such room to move. While the other GC guys all marked each other closely, Sanchez raced ahead on the descent of the Col du Tourmalet. He was joined by Jelle Vanendert and this pair rode like team-mates to the top of Luz-Ardiden. Only in the final few hundred metres did the rider from Asturias open up a winning margin on the Belgian. Sanchez took the polka-dot jersey for just one day before Vanendert’s tenure as King of the Mountains began. But the main story of the day – aside from a victory for the Basque team 10 years after Roberto Laiseka gave Euskaltel its first at the Tour – was that little Tommy Voeckler kept his yellow jersey. That, and the other tales from stage 12 are covered elsewhere…

Stage 13: Pau to Lourdes

152.5km.

1st: Thor Hushovd

Rainbow over ‘Thor-bisque’…

Ten years ago Thor Hushovd was the under-23 time trial world champion. He’s won the green jersey at the Tour twice. He has won the prologue. Worn the yellow jersey. Claimed a couple of team time trial victories and earned wins in escapes and sprints. The Norwegian is versatile!

This year, with the rainbow jersey on his back as reigning world champ, he wanted to win the mother of all Classics, Paris-Roubaix, as well as a stage of the Tour. In Lourdes he accomplished one of his wishes. And it happened on a day when the peloton had to cross the Aubisque.

Christian Prudhomme made this sacred climb a feature of the 2007 Tour when he staged a finish there. This is the terrain of climbers, little men who can scale mountains and torture the sprinters as they battle to remain inside the time limit.

Thor Hushovd is no ordinary bike rider. There’s a reason why the new Tour champion wants him on his side next year: he can do it all!

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Stage 14: Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille

168.5km.

1st: Jelle Vanendert

Vanendert’s reward for toil…

In the three years before Jelle Vanendert made his Tour debut, he had three major crashes but never gave up hope. He came back from injuries that included broken bones and herniated discs. This July he shared a room with Philippe Gilbert and the winning influence rubbed off.

For the second mountaintop arrival in 2011, the positions of the first were reversed: 1st Vanendert, 2nd Sanchez. Meanwhile, the GC guys looked at each other, made their respective appraisals and… ah, bided their time until the Alps. Voeckler kept yellow and kept saying he’d lose it soon but he’d “keep on trying”.

Laurens Ten Dam landed on his face in a crash but finished the stage and refused to complain. “Johnny Hoogerland needed over 30 stitches, I only got six.”

Stage 15: Limoux to Montpellier

192.5km.

1st: Mark Cavendish

He said he would, so he did…

Cavendish listed the stages he could win before the start. With the exception of Redon and Carmaux, he claimed them all. With the Pyrenees behind the peloton it was time for HTC to send its troops to the front. Again. And to keep the repetition theme alive, Mickael Delage was in the escape. This time, the fugitives stood no chance of keeping the move ahead of the peloton.

Danny Pate and Lars Bak let the breakaway that jumped clear in the first kilometre gain an advantage of a minute (in only two kilometres of racing) and then they assumed position at the head of the bunch. This pair alone tapped out the tempo all day just annoying the riders in the lead. If the escape slowed down, so too did Pate and Bak… and likewise when they sped up. That’s not to say that it was a boring stage – it was just one that we (effectively) knew the winner of well in advance.

Well done Cav. It’s impressive but so too is how your mates set you up.

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Stage 16: Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap

162.5km.

1st: Thor Hushovd

Rainbow glow continues…

“Ryder Hesjedal was riding for me at the bottom of the last climb,” said Thor Hushovd about the end of the stage to Gap. “I felt he was going very strongly so I told him to just go. He went alone and it was looking good [until] Edvald Boasson Hagen.

“I was sitting there to control him and I feel a little sorry for Edvald… he did not have an easy job in the end with two Garmin-Cervélo guys in the front. I chose days where I could win, and today I got the reward again.”

The first hour had an average of 51.4km/h – the fastest start this year – and only after 100km did Hushovd and his companions for the rest of the day escape the grip of the peloton.

Contador attacked at the end. Evans responded, then dropped him. The cheeky defending champion! It’s different these days…

Stage 17: Gap to Pinerolo

179km.

1st: Edvald Boasson Hagen

Another wins for Sky’s Eddy…

“I was close [in Gap] and I really wanted to win and to arrive at the finish alone,” said Edvald Boasson Hagen after his second victory. “I was thinking about this stage when I was training a few weeks ago and now I’ve won it.” With the voice of a cherub and a demeanour that is ever so polite, young Eddy has a lot of strengths – particularly on the bike – but he’s far from charismatic.

“I’m really happy. It’s nice to win.” Uh huh. “I’ve had a really great Tour and have been able to get in the right breakaways just like Thor can. The two Norwegians in this race are in really good form.” Right. Yes. True.

Let’s appreciate EBH for what he is: a great cyclist on a team that nurtures him and appreciates him.

This was a good stage but it was the final descent that made it a truly exciting one. Drama, and plenty of it, means it’s one for the DVD archives. Alberto tried once again, Voeckler responded, it was a true race… with little effect on the overall standings.

Stage 18: Pinerolo to Col du Galibier

200.5km.

1st: Andy Schleck

Epic adventure to Galibier

“So far we have seen a race that’s been waiting for a decisive moment,” said Andy after winning at the top of the Tour, the highest stage finish in the long history of the race.

“I decided to take matters in to my hands and that’s why I started my attack from a long way out. I then managed to build a big advantage. It was a dream for me to win here.

“When I looked at the course when it was unveiled, I knew I wanted to win this. Now I’m ready for the yellow jersey. What I did today shows that I can take it.”

It’s all true. This was the stage every rider would love to win. But few would ever be so bold as to try doing what Andy did. The wind was strong, it was cold on the mountain, and considering all that came before it, the risk of collapse after an early attack was particularly high.

It would take him hours to conjure a piss for the doping control and that meant he wasted valuable time that was needed for recuperation. Finally, he received an escort back down the mountain but by then Cadel Evans was already on the massage table.

It’s not the recovery after the Galibier that made the Australian the winner – Andy’s lack of time trial form certainly helped the cause… but so did all else that unfolded from the Passage du Gois to Grenoble.

Never mind that we know who won the 98th Tour, this is a stage to watch when inspiration is needed. It was wonderful to watch, and not just because of what Andy did…

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Stage 19: Modane to Alpe d’Huez

109.5km.

1st: Pierre Rolland

The day Pierre truly arrived!

The winner of the youth classification raced most of the 98th Tour working for a team-mate but the moment he got a chance to do something for himself he seized it. Up a mountain he sped, along with some other riders whom he later dropped before finishing alone at the front. It wasn’t any ordinary climb, but Alpe d’Huez. And the riders who couldn’t follow him were… well, the finest in the world. “I’ll cherish it a lot,” said Pierre Rolland the next day.

“I beat Contador, but he made mistakes. If he had attacked on the final climb, he would have won.”

Many, many other events unfolded between Modane and the finish… but they made the race so compelling and we’ve covered it already. And we’ll talk about it for years to come as well. Short, but very sweet!

Stage 20: Grenoble Time Trial

42.5km.

1st: Tony Martin

The day that Cadel Evans became the Tour champion…

At the finish of the time trial, Evans hadn’t yet realised the enormity of what he’d achieved. For him it was a moment that was meant to come. For others, it was pure emotion. “Today I just went through the processes like we do every day,” he said after finishing second to a German by seven seconds. Tony Martin has now won a stage of the Tour but the Australian has become the champion.

“We have a plan and today it was ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ and we followed the plan, did the best we could and we came up a few seconds short for the stage [win] but I’ll look back at it in time and, when I’ve got time to reflect on it, I’ll enjoy it I’m sure.”

Andy Schleck got to wear the yellow jersey but not even the benefit of knowing the split times could make him ride faster. He started with an advantage of 57 seconds on Evans and ended the 42.5km test 1:34 behind the rider who took the overall lead at exactly the right time.

Stage 21: Creteil to Paris

95km.

1st: Mark Cavendish

The best day to be in yellow!

“It’s been years of hard work and there were a lot of moments in this three weeks where our Tour was lost but to get here safely with all my skin – well, that alone is a quest in itself. But to be here wearing the yellow jersey for my team, my country, a group of people around me leaves me a little lost for words.”

Cadel Evans is a complete rider, one capable of setting all sorts of precedents, but he was unfulfilled until 24 July 2011 because he wanted to win the Tour de France. He’s done that now and he’s happier for it.

“I think for the most part we didn’t lose it until the time trial. It was a little bit of a different Tour in that there was a bit of defending from all the teams and we didn’t go on the attack until the final time trial.

“I hope I’ve brought joy to my countrymen. It’s been a pleasure and an honour to fly the flag.”

In the stage, they smiled and joked before racing. They did a few laps of a circuit and Cav won. Of course.

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Author: rob@ride

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