Tour de France rookies shine at Arcalis; Armstrong drops to third
July 10, 2009 —
Two Tour de France rookies took center-stage in Friday’s summit finish at Arcalis that saw Alberto Contador’s bid to claim the yellow jersey fall six seconds short.
Brice Feillu and Rinaldo Nocentini were both late additions to their respective Tour squads, so their bosses will feel like they made the right decisions.
Neo-pro Feillu took the flowers out of an all-day, nine-man breakaway in the 224km march from Barcelona to Andorra while 31-year-old Nocentini becomes the first Italian to wear yellow since 2000.
“This is like a dream come true,” said Feillu, who was a surprise selection for Agritubel. “I couldn’t believe that was even starting the Tour and now I have been able to win the first mountain stage. It’s just incredible.”
Thanks to the victory, Feillu also takes the polka dot jersey, 49 points to Christophe Riblon’s (Ag2r) second place 46 points. Riblon was chasing the climber’s jersey, gobbling up first-place points in the opening four climbs of the stage, but sacrificed his hopes to help pace teammate Nocentini up the final Arcalis climb.
Nocentini – who started the stage 32nd at 3:13 back -- was also hoping to win the stage and never thought the break would carve open enough time to claim the yellow jersey.
“Taking the maillot jaune is one of the biggest things a rider can do and I think they will take notice back in Italy. I will try to defend the jersey as long as possible. We have two hard stages coming up in the mountains, but I am feeling good and the team is strong,” Nocentini said. “Maybe we can carry it into the rest day and then after that, but I know I won’t be able to win this Tour.”
Behind the breakaway, the main contenders for the Tour showed their first stripes in the Tour’s first of three summit finishes.
Fabian Cancellara’s six-stage run in yellow ended as the big Swiss time trial specialists wilted on the 10.6km beyond-category summit.
Seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (Astana) started the stage just 0.22 seconds back, but the team eased off the pace to allow Nocentini to take yellow so the Astana squad wouldn’t have to ride to defend the yellow jersey across two more days in the Pyrénées.
There were some fireworks when Alberto Contador shot away from a baker’s dozen of GC contenders in a daring bid to grab the yellow jersey in an attack that defied team orders.
The Spanish climber bolted with just over 2km to go, leaving Armstrong to mark the wheels of any counter-attacks. Contador’s gamble fell short, but he gained 22 seconds on such rivals as Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and … Armstrong.
Contador slotted into second at six seconds back, nudging Armstrong into third, now eight seconds back.
Armstrong didn’t hide his displeasure at the line.
“It wasn’t really to the plan, I didn’t expect him to go with the plan, so that was no surprise,” Armstrong said. “It was windy, so it was hard to go alone. Like I said, I wasn’t surprised.”
Whether the tension spills back into public view remains to be seen.
The 96th Tour de France continues Saturday with the 176.5km eighth stage from Andorra to Saint-Girons in an ideal opportunity for breakaway riders.
The route climbs out of Andorra over the Cat. 1 Port d’Envalira in the opening 23.5km and features two more climbs, including the difficult Cat. 1 Col d’Agnes at 132.5km, which could produce some surprise splits in the bunch.
Former Vail Daily editor Andrew Hood now lives in Spain and covers cycling. His reports on the 96th Tour de France will appear daily on RealVail.com. Also follow him on twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.
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