If you were lucky enough to watch Stage 18 last night, you saw one of the best days of bike racing in years. Andy and Frank Schleck finally attacked and got it right, using their double-threat to maximum advantage, and as a result achieved another stage win, jumped in the GC to now be in a dominant position, and Andy has ridden a stage that will be talked about for years.
To quickly get the bit players of the day out of the equation, Voeckler holds on to his lead still, and Contador and Sammy Sanchez are out of contention for the overall win, with both cracking under the cruel tempo Cadel set in trying to minimise his losses to Andy up the final ascent of the day.
So what went down? With about 60km remaining in the stage, on the second of three massive mountain climbs, Andy Schleck attacked the peloton, and after all the other leaders looked at each other to say “I’m not chasing him. You do it” he started to take some serious time out of everyone.
His sole useful man up the road, Maxime Monfort, awaited Andy on the descent off the Izoard, and towed him swiftly and safely down it. This was Monfort’s first key job — Andy is not a great descender (as he showed two stages ago) and did well to not lose the time he’d worked so hard to gain over the top of the climb. His second was turning himself inside out to get Andy to the final climb as quickly as possible. Job very well done!
The chase group faffed around, as chase groups tend to do, and lost 4min by the time they started the final climb. Cadel waited for anyone else in the race to go with him to do some work on the front, which Contador threatened to do briefly, and eventually the Australian realised he would have to do it himself. It was then a straight shoot-out, with Cadel slowly gaining time on Andy, and dropping most of the other blokes in the race.
The first big moment was how early Sanchez was dropped, the second that Contador went out the back door too.
Voeckler miraculously stayed with Cadel until the final kilometre, and greedily had a team mate with him but didn’t get him to ride tempo at any point. I say greedily because Team Europcar relied on Cadel to get them close to both defend Voeckler’s jersey, and put their man Pierre Rolland close to winning the white young rider’s jersey.
It was a successful tactic, but not one that showed any class. As heroic as Voeckler’s riding has been, when the yellow jersey is under threat and you have a team mate with you but don’t use him to defend it, questions should be asked. Waxing lyrical about how well he has defended is not enough. But I digress.
So now Cadel can not lose any more time to Andy and still be even a remote chance to win the TT. Tonight will again be epic!