LUZ ARDIDEN, France — Much like the win on the Fourth of July for American Tyler Farrar, any Tour de France stage held on the country’s national holiday, especially a mountain stage, has a special emphasis for French riders.
But for Farrar of Wenatchee it was a day to hang on, which he did, eventually placing 137th among 79 riders from the remaining field of 175 and finishing 33 minutes and 5 seconds behind today’s Stage 12 winner Sammy Sanchez.
David Moncoutie in 2005 was the last Frenchman victorious on Bastille Day. He’s competing in the race this year, but hasn’t shown the same skills as he did six years ago in this year race.
Likewise, race leader Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Slyvain Chavenel (Quick-Step) are strong French climbers. But they weren’t expected to be the best in this year’s race as it faced the first of six high-mountain finishes in the Pyrenees and the Alps.
But the Tour de France always has surprises. Voeckler fared well and crested the Col du Tourmalet, the event’s first beyond category climb (10.6 miles, 7.3 percent gradient) near the front. But compatriot Jérémy Roy (Francaise des Jeux) earned the 5,000 Euro prize for first passing the monument erected for Jacques Goddet at the top of the Tourmalet. He was a race director of the event, beginning in the 1930s. His father work for the newspaper whose staff founded the race in 1903.
Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadel) of Spain left two other contenders in his wake in the waning yards of the second and final hors categorie climb (the most difficult) and claimed the 131-mile stage from Cugnaux in 6 hours, 1 minute and 15 seconds. He had a seven-second margin over Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) of Belgium.
Surprisingly, with unheralded French teammate Pierre Rolland providing a strong assist up the final climb, Voeckler finished ninth, 50 seconds behind Sanchez.
Despite predicting he wouldn’ be able the climb with the race’s best, he did just that. Voeckler now leads Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) of Luxembourg, who improved from fourth to second, by 1 minute, 49 seconds. Cadel Evans (BMC) of Australia remained third, 2:06 behind.
In addition to what race contenders were in fine form on the first mountain stage, the reverse was also true: What riders, most notably, sprinters like Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) and three-time stage winner Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) of Great Britain would suffer appreciably?
Would they be able to negotiate the stage’s three major climbs within the time limit to continue the race?
Farrar and the others expected to struggle over the mountains, will not get any rest. Stage 13 on Friday will take the field 94.7 miles from Pau to Lourdes, the famous Catholic pilgrimage city.
The stage will have three categorized climbs, including a mid-stage effort to one of the race’s most famous mountains, Col d’Abubisque. It’s a 10-mile ascent with an average gradient of 7.1 percent.
Following its crest, the weary field will have about 26 largely downhill miles to the finish in the faithful city hosting a Tour de France stage for only the second time.