Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mont Ventoux (Stage 20 TDF 09)

This year the organizers of the Tour De France wanted to keep the race exciting up until the peloton comes down the Champs Elysees. This must be the reason why they made the penultimate stage finish atop the famed Mont Ventoux.

With it's eerie, lunar landscape and almost mythological history, Mont Ventoux is arguably the most famous, and infamous, climb in Tour history. It's the place where Tom Simpson died of exhaustion, where Charlie Gall was taken to his hotel in an ambulance after the stage, where Merckx had to receive oxygen afterwards and where Armstrong and Pantani dueled it out in a disputed win back in 2000.

Stage 20 was the peloton's chance to put their own mark on the "giant of the provence" and they did not disappoint.

The stage started out relatively slowly but picked up quickly as a breakaway formed around the 3km marker that included Cervelo Test Team's Hayden Roulston and Rabobank's Juan Manuel Garate.

For most of the day the peloton was lead by either Team Astana or Team Saxo Bank, although Team Garmin-Slipstream did put in their effort as well. Astana, however, held sway when the peloton hit the slopes Ventoux.

The severity and toughness of Mont Ventoux struck early as the peloton began to crumble and an elite group of climbers formed. That group included the yellow jersey of Alberto Contador, the white jersey of Andy Schleck as well as Lance Armstrong, Frank Schleck, Andreas Kloden, Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali.

This group began reeling in riders from the orginal breakaway on the lower part but were unable to chase down the stone-faced Spaniard, Juan Manuel Garate, and the impressive young rider, Tony Martin of Columbia-HTC.

Throughout the day Contador countered every vicious attack thrown at him by Andy Schleck, who kept glancing back to see if his brother Frank would follow and hopefully move up in the standings. Frank Schleck, however, looked dogged and under the constant pressure of Armstrong bearing down his back, was unable to make any decisive moves.

Joining this elite group later on the slopes was the Polka dot jersey of Franco Pellizotti, who stuck with them just long enough to launch off in the hopes of catching Garate and Martin. Pellizotti would not be as lucky on this attempt as he began to lose steam as the riders passed the tree-line and eventually was passed again by the group, finishing eighth on the day.

Garate and Martin were neck and neck until the final meters when Garate, the former champion of Spain, surged ahead to claim Mont Ventoux as his own. With two riders finished it was the tour leaders next in line.

Contador seemed composed and did not challenge Andy Schleck for third place on the stage, he did however punch the air in triumph when he crossed the line. Armstrong finished fifth with Frank Schleck coming in sixth.

Bradley Wiggins was able to maintain his fourth place overall by crossing the line in tenth, although he looked exhausted when finished.

Juan Manuel Garate was a happy man after the stage. After leading the charge up the Tourmalet, he was robbed of a victory but now has been justified with a win on Ventoux.

"I am very proud because the team has tried everyday to win a stage at this year's Tour. Today was the last chance and I have found what we were looking for," Garate said.

Lance Armstrong secured his third place finish today by holding off Wiggins and Schleck. After the race the seven-time champ seemed philosophical about his standing.

"Hey, I can't complain... Coming out here and getting on the podium with these young guys, it's not so bad," he said to the Associated Press.

Contador also seemed pleased with the result as he, barring any unforeseen incident, secured his spot atop the podium.

"I knew that every minute that went by was bringing me closer to a Tour De France victory" he told the AP.

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