French rider outsprints breakaway companions as race lead changes hands in dramatic fashion
Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) won the ninth stage of the Tour de France between Morzine-Avoriaz and Saint Jean de Maurienne after being part of a stage-long break. He beat breakaway companions Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini) into second and third in the sprint for the line.
A breakaway stayed away to the finish over the Tour’s first hors category climb, but not before they were joined by the race’s two biggest favourites as they approached the line.
“I had a difficult first week after which I lost my hopes of a good result in the general classification,” said Casar at the finish. “So it was from that moment that I began to think about this stage, because it suited me. The climbs were hard, but it’s better for me when the finish is not at altitude.
“Since my second place behind Cyril Dessel in Jausiers [in 2008],” he continued, “I’m more methodical about my preparation for this type of finish. I knew it had to be at the front for the penultimate corner if I was to have a change of winning.
“But I did not expect to see the return of Andy Schleck,” he added, “who immediately took the lead, so I gave it my all to pass him… Then I thought I would stay at the front for the final 200 meters, but it was actually 350. At that time I thought a lot about all these second places. I was obviously afraid of Luis Leon Sanchez, who had beaten me last year at St-Girons. I also knew that Cunego could be very fast. But I gave everything in the last two hundred meters, led by the idea that I could not lose. I think Sanchez has also made great efforts in the climb to the Col de la Madeleine.
“I dedicate this victory to my father, whom I thought in the final. As sprinter, I was always saying that in this type of situation, you had to tackle first. That’s what I did.”
An early break as usual, but with one unusual member
A breakaway of 12 riders got clear after just 5km. The original group included points jersey wearer Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), who took the first intermediate sprint in Cluses after 25.5km. Job done for the day, the big Norwegian thanked the group and sat up to wait for the peloton; but not before suffering a crash. The group settled at 12 riders once more as some riders were dropped, while others attacked on the 1st category climb of the Col de la Colombiere and made it across.
The group was now made up of: Jens Voigt (Saxo Bank), Sandy Casar (Française ded Jeux), polka-dot mountains jersey wearer Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Johannes Fröhlinger (Milram), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R-La Mondiale), Anthony Charteau and Cyril Gautier (Bbox Bouyges Telecom), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), Luis Leon Sanchez, Christophe Moreau and Jose Ivan Gutierrez (all Caisse d’Epargne) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Farnese Vini).
Taaramäe, Fröhlinger and Cunego were those to join the group late on; others tried to bridge across on the Colombiere, including Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Janez Brajkovic, Yaroslav Popovych and Chris Horner (all RadioShack) and former yellow jersey Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), but none were allowed to get away by the BMC Racing Team of race leader Cadel Evans.
Pineau was out to get more mountain points to keep his polka-dot jersey safe, but was outsprinted by Moreau at the top of the Colombiere. The Caisse d’Epargne rider was told by his own director to stop this though, lest it create disharmony in a group containing three riders from the Spanish team, including its team leader Sanchez. Moreau responded by pushing Pineau across the line at the top of the next climb, the 2nd category Col des Aravis.
Yellow on the road for Luis Leon Sanchez
Although BMC Racing was maintaining control of the peloton, the red and black team allowed the breakaway’s advantage to grow to 5’05”. The danger man in the group ahead was Sanchez, sitting in 20th place just 5’03” behind Evans; it was the Spaniard’s presence up front that caused Evans’ team to keep the gap under control, but as the stage approached its mid point Sanchez was the virtual leader of the race.
As the break passed the intermediate sprint at La Bathie, approaching the foot of the hors category Col de la Madeleine, the lead stood at 6’25”.
Almost as soon as the climb started Pineau found himself being dropped; he soon found himself followed by Fröhlinger and Taaramäe, leaving 9 riders in the lead.
As the peloton started the climb behind them Chris Anker Sorensen started to put pressure on the front with most of the Astana team on his wheel. Suddenly Alexandre Vinokourov attacked, forcing the other teams forced to chase.
Saxo Bank, refused to chase the lone Kazakh, but continued to keep the pace high with Jakob Fuglsang and the peloton shrank rapidly. Among the prominent names to be dropped were Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia), John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Chris Horner (RadioShack)
At the front of the race Voigt was dropped, along with Spanish champion Gutierrez. It was soon reduced to just Sanchez, Moreau, Charteau, Casar and Cunego.
As Astana took over setting the pace, the next big names to drop off the back were 2008 race winner Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions).
The yellow jersey’s secret injury takes its toll as the two favourites show themselves
Clearly not as strong as he had been on the previous stage (it transpired after the stage that he was riding with a fractured elbow) Evans was drifting towards the back of what was left of the peloton with about 10km to go to the top. As Moreau was dropped by the breakaway group, the World champion cracked and lost contact.
Once again it was Daniel Navarro (Astana) driving the pace for his team captain Alberto Contador. The Tour champion was tucked in behind his teammate, with white jersey Andy Schleck on his wheel, when suddenly the three riders detached themselves from the front of the peloton and rode clear.
Schleck attacked, Contador followed, and the top two riders from last year’s race were alone on the road with only the breakaway in front of them. With Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) chasing Contador almost stopped in the road to allow him to catch up.
Successive attacks from Schleck quickly distanced Sanchez once more though, but he was unable to shake Contador. The pair soon caught Voigt and the big German veteran began to make the pace for his team leader.
The race on the road was now split into several groups. Leading on the road, with 1km to the top of the Madeleine were the remaining four breakaways, with Moreau not far behind them; 2’30” behind, but gaining steadily on them, was the trio of Contador, Schleck and Voigt; on his own behind them was Samuel Sanchez; behind him was a small group consisting of: Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), Denis Menchov and Robert Gesink (both Rabobank), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha); next on the road was another select group including Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo), Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (OmegaPharma-Lotto) and Kevin De Weert (Quick Step).
The group containing Evans was now 8 minutes behind the race leaders, and more than 5 behind Contador and Schleck.
Charteau steals the polka-dots; Sammy goes down fast, but not fast enough
Charteau sprinted over the Col de la Madeleine, the first hors category climb of the race, and drew level on points with Pineau. Having taken the bigger climb Charteau takes the jersey from the Quick Step rider, who has been the only man to wear it so far in this race.
As the following trio approached the summit Voigt could do no more and almost came to a standstill as Schleck and Contador carried on. They crossed the top 2’09” behind the leading quartet, with Sanchez a further 50 seconds behind them. The Menchov group crossed at 3’23”, with Armstrong group a further minute behind them.
By the time the wounded Evans crossed the top of the climb he was more than 9 minutes in arrears, his dreams of the podium in Paris in tatters.
On the descent Schleck and Contador caught up with Moreau and the Frenchman latched on the back, having no obligation to work with Luis Leon Sanchez still out front. Samuel Sanchez was using his famously fearless descending skills to reel in this trio and was gaining steadily.
In the Armstrong chase group behind Van Den Broeck suffered a rear puncture, but the Belgian managed to come to a controlled stop, collect a replacement bike from his team car and rejoin the group.
Unfortunately for Samuel Sanchez the descent finished all too soon and he was still 20 seconds shy of Schleck, Contador and Moreau, meaning that the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider was faced with a lone, flat chase of more than 10km.
Four plus three equals seven up front
The four up front were visibly slowing, having been out at the front of the race for most of the day, and Contador and Schleck were working well together. With 5km to go the gap was just one minute; it fell rapidly so that as the quartet passed under the 2km to go banner, the chasing trio was just 18 seconds behind them and had them in sight.
The two groups joined with 600m to go and Schleck made his way to the front as if to attack; the seven riders negotiated the twists and turns into Saint Jean de Maurienne together though, with Casar leading the way. The Frenchman looked to have gone too early on a finishing straight seemingly made for Cunego, but the Frenchman held on to take the home nation’s third stage of the race, and the third of his career. Sanchez also managed to beat Cunego as they both lunged for the line.
Samuel Sanchez followed home alone 52 seconds later, with small groups scattered all over the road. Evans himself came in after 8’09” losing his yellow jersey to Schleck, who leads Contador by 41 seconds and Samuel Sanchez by 2’45”.
Result stage 9 1. Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux
2. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
3. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
4. Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d’Epargne @ 2s
5. Anthony Charteau (Fra) Bbox Bouyges Telecom
6. Alberto Contador (Spa) Team Astana
7. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
8. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 52s
9. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha @ 2’07”
10. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShack
Standings after stage 9 1. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Team Astana @ 41s
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 2’45”
4. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank @ 2’58”
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) OmegaPharma-Lotto @ 3’31”