Stage 15 review: The day's break was gobbled up until the stage had only about 3 kilometers to go. Then, just as it looked like the sprinters' teams would be in control, Philippe Gilbert blasted off. He was caught in time for HTC-Highroad to do another flawless leadout for Cavendish. The photo below doesn't do justice to how clearly Cavendish beat the others. It was his fourth Tour victory this year and his 19th career Tour win.
Rest Day: The riders will have been looking forward to this 2nd rest day of 2011, especially those who just made it over the Pyrenees. This gives us a chance to reflect on what has certainly been a fascinating tour up to this stage, and thats without too much happening between the big GC contenders.
Withdrawals: Boonen, Vinokourov, Brajkovic, Van den Broeck, Zabriskie, sadly the list goes on. Seems like just the other day the talk was about the various odds these riders were facing. It's unfortunate how badly things have turned out for so many riders at this year's Tour. Surgeries, hospital stays, possible career ending moments have punctuated the landscape in this year's race.
T. Voekler: We often think of guys like Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck and Ivan Basso and Cadel Evans as the real stars of the steeps. Yet none of them could shake the maillot jaune from their wheels on a bright Saturday afternoon in the Pyrenees. Holding his own on pitches measured over 10% grade, Voeckler matched every acceleration like the wily veteran he is.
That wisdom has been thrown out the window with the events of Stage 14. Sure, it could still turn out to be a prescient hypothesis of his future fate. But as Paris gets closer with each stage completed, the opportunities for the men we presumed to be the legitimate contenders pass by unused.
So French fans, and cycling fans everywhere, are being treated to a feel-good story that has proven to have staying power. The question is no longer when Voeckler will lose the yellow jersey, but if he will lose it before the Champs-Elysées.
We thought he would never be able to hang with the best in the mountains. Most still believe that, should he still hold on through the Alps, the time trial will be his undoing. But Voeckler has proved us wrong before… and this new vintage has proven bolder, stronger and more legitimate than ever before.
Johnny Hoogerland cut a stark image as he suffered to the line after Stage 10. With the amount of casualties that we've seen in this year's race it is all too easily imagined that maybe he or Flecha could have died after their run in with a French TV car. Johnny Hoogerland, like Roger De Vlaeminck and Sean Kelly in their respective day will forever be remembered as true hardmen of the sport. Very few riders can pull themselves from the gutter of a wreck like that, much less ride on to the finish line and collect the King of the Mountain's jersey.