Spaniard Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) won the ninth stage of the 2011 Tour de France in Saint-Flour on Sunday from a three-man escape group after another day affected by crashes.
Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) placed second on the stage that featured no less than eight categorised climbs to take the overall lead in the race. Sandy Casar (FDJ) came home in third.
It’s been seven years since Voeckler first donned the maillot jaune and earned his place as the darling of French cycling after defending the race lead so doggedly during the 2004 Tour. We can expect the same this year.
The majority of the overall favourites finished in two groups 3-59 and 4-07 behind stage winner Sanchez. However…
Crashes raise questions
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) joined a growing list of top ten contenders to have abandoned the race due to injury, including Janez Brajkovic (Radioshack), Chris Horner (Radioshack) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
Later, breakaway riders Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) were knocked to the floor by a French TV car making an unnecessary movement across the road. Both re-mounted, but their chance for stage victory was over.
Both incidents will raise serious questions about rider safety during the race – and in professional races in general.
Long escape on hilly, eventful day
Frenchman Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) instigated the day’s escape on the first climb of the stage, Cote de Massiac, and was quickly joined by Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil). Nicki Terpstra (Quick Step), Sandy Casar (FDJ) and Luis-Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) quckly bridged up to catch them.
Terpstra subsequently lost contact with the escapees on the ascent of the Col du Pas de Peyrol and was eventually absorbed by the bunch.
A big crash on the descent of Peyrol took out a number of riders, with Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana – suspected fractured femur and pelvis), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto – fractured shoulder blade), Frederik Willems (Omega Pharma-Lotto – fractured collarbone) and David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo – fractured wrist) all abandoning the race.
The peloton subsequently organised a self-imposed go slow to allow dropped riders a chance to catch up. This played into the hands of the five escapees up front, immediately pushing their advantage up to over seven minutes.
The bunch upped its pace when the stragglers had caught up, and the break’s advantage slipped to four and a half minutes by the ascent of the sixth categorised climb of the day, the Col de Prat de Bouc.
Voeckler had realised that he had a real chance of relieving Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) of the yellow jersey by the end of the stage, and ‘allowed’ Hoogerland to snatch the lion’s share of the mountains points.
All seemed to be going well for the escape until a French TV car swung into Flecha, knocking him sideways into Hoogerland. The Dutchman hit a barbed-wire fence and ended up in a field. Both re-mounted, but the three remaining riders in the break had pressed on without them.
Hoogerland was quickly passed by the bunch and struggled on alone, his ripped Vacansoleil clothing peppered with blood spots in a gory version of the King of the Mountains jersey he would later receive.
The group of three up front maintained its four-minute time advantage over the bunch to come across the line unchallenged with Sanchez out-pacing his two companions to take the win.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) suffered a puncture with 15km to go, and had to chase hard to regain contact with the peloton which had started to shed riders on the penultimate climb. The Belgian grabbed maximum points after the escape group on both the intermediate sprint and finish to extend his lead in the points classification.
Whether through pain or emotion, or a mixture of both, a heavily-bandaged Hoogerland was in tears during the podium presentation. He left immediately to received medical attention.
Voeckler now lies 1-49 ahead of Luis-Leon Sanchez in the overall classification, with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in third at 2-26. Leopard-Trek brothers Frank and Andy Schleck are in fourth and fifth overall at 2-29 and 2-37 respectively. Defending champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) is in 16th at 4-07.
Britain’s David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) slipped out of the top ten after being caught up in two of the day’s crashes, but remains Britain’s highest-placed rider in 28th spot, 5-32 behind Voeckler. Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky) is 32nd at 5-51 and fifth in the best young rider’s classification behind leader Robert Gesink (Rabobank).
Tomorrow (Monday), the riders have their first rest day of the race. Many will use it to recover from the injuries sustained during a crash-filled opening week and ready themselves for the mountains stages in the coming week.
Tour de France 2011, stage nine: Issoire to Saint-Flour, 208km
1. Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Rabobank
2. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar at same time
3. Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ at 13 secs
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 3-59
5. Peter Velits (Slo) HTC-Highroad
6. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing
7. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek
8. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad
9. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek
10. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD at same time
17. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r at 4-07
22. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky at 4-07
81. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Cervelo at 6-47
137. Ben Swift (GB) Sky at 16-38
178. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 21-26
Overall classification after stage nine
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
2. Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Rabobank at 1-49
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 2-26
4. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 2-29
5. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 2-37
6. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad at 2-38
7. Peter Velits (Slo) HTC-Highroad at 2-28
8. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Radioshack at 2-43
9. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 2-55
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard-Trek at 3-08
13. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r at 3-45
16. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank at 4-07
28. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Cervelo at 5-32
32. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky at 5-51
118. Ben Swift (GB) Sky at 41-44
131. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 45-42
Juan Antonio Flecha heads the escape group
Alexandre Vinkourov sustained serious injuries as the result of a crash and abandoned the race
Johnny Hoogerland (pictured) and Juan Antonio Flecha were hit by a French TV car. Hoogerland struck a barbed wire fence and was badly cut but finished the stage
Garmin chased the break but Thor Hushovd reliquished the yellow jersey
Luis-Leon Sanchez wins stage nine
A very happy Thomas Voeckler dons the yellow jersey
Tour de France 2011: Related links
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index