This year’s Tour de France continues to throw up surprises, and with them new names and faces. Today, on stage 14, it was the turn of Jelle Vanendert, a 26-year-old Belgian who’d never before won a pro bike race.
His win today at the top of the Plateau de Beille, coming two days after second place at Luz Ardiden, not only brought him his first pro win, but also the King of the Mountains jersey. Confirming him as one of the new climbing stars of the race.
The lanky Belgian was only allowed his freedom due to his lowly placing overall – 30th, at 12-54 minutes at the start of the stage – but those are the chances you have to take to win. When he attacked, with around five kilometres to go, the group of leaders were too busy looking at each other to worry about the stage.
The stalemate continued all the way up the mountain as only the Schleck brothers and Ivan Basso dared attack. Andy Schleck was the first to attack with ten kilometres to go. It was a brave move, but ultimately fruitless. He tried twice more before his brother Frank made his move.
Each attack was quickly snuffed out as everyone else clawed their way back up to the attacker with the rest of the group lined out behind. Early on the climb it was Alberto Contador who went after the Schlecks, but gradually the Spaniard played less and less of a roll, leaving Cadel Evans and Thomas Voeckler to reel in the moves.
Ivan Basso’s attacks were less viscous. The Italian instead tried to wear everyone else down or tried to break free by riding up the opposite side of the road. He was never out of his saddle though, and that lack of kick meant he was never going to get away.
It was a fascinating insight in to the riders’ condition as all of them already look well out of their comfort zone. In the end only Samuel Sanchez escaped, and the 27 seconds he gained saw him move ahead of Contador in the overall standings.
Philippe Gilbert was the only rider to drop out of the top ten. The Belgian champion who has raced every day of the Tour so far, chasing stage wins and green jersey points finally seems to be paying the price for his efforts. He finished in a group 17-03 minutes down.
Once again the rider of the day was French favourite Thomas Voeckler. Until now he’s been affectionately referred to as a plucky trier who gets in to breaks. He now has to be considered as a contender for the win.
Such a claim would have been met with derision two weeks ago, but after two tough stages in the Pyrenees he has proved he can live with the best, and his rivals are running out of opportunities to take their time back.
He was as comfortable as many of the others on the Plateau de Beille, one of the toughest climbs in the Pyrenean range, and as they tick off the stages the chances to attack him are disappearing.
Voeckler’s time trialling ability may still let him down, and of course there are three tough days in the Alps to come, but you get the impression that any one of the 10-12 riders in today’s leading group could have a bad day and lose time.
Evans isn’t a particularly aggressive rider, while Contador hasn’t yet made a move. Only the Schlecks are taking the race to Voeckler and his loyal Europcar team mates, but so far they’ve made little impression.
They obviously think they can do it as once again it was Leopard-Trek setting a high pace on the earlier climbs to try and wear out the rest of the bunch. The efforts of Stuart O’Grady, who lead over the Col d’Agnes and Port de Lers, were only out-heroed by his team mate Jens Voigt.
The big German crashed twice coming down the Port de Lers, but still managed to get back to his team mates, fetch water for them and then set a pace on the lower slopes of the Plateau de Beille that saw many riders dropped.
His team recently said they were ready to offer the 40-year-old a new four year contract. No surprises there, given that level of commitment.
Sunday’s stage 15 is another stage for the sprinters – the only chance of a bunch finish before the race’s finale in Paris on Sunday, July 24.
Tour de France 2011. Stage 14, Saint-Gaudens – Plateau de Beille, 168.5km
1. Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto 5-13-25
2. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 21 sec
3. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 46 sec
4. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 48 sec
5. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Team Sky
6. Alberto Contador (Esp) Saxo Bank
7. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
8. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek
9. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale
10. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar
58. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 14-59
77. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Cervelo at 17-37
111. Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky at 24-34
164. Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad at 26-54
General Classification after stage 14
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar 61-04-10hrs
2. Frank Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 1-49 min
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 2-06 min
4. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard-Trek at 2-15 min
5. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at 3-16 min
6. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 3-44 min
7. Alberto Contador (Esp) Saxo Bank at 4-00 min
8. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 4-01 min
9. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Cervelo at 5-46 min
10. Kevin de Weert (Bel) Quick Step at 6-18 min
43. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 35-27 min
58. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Cervelo at 55-02 min
128. Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky at 1-54-39 hr
136. Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad 1-58-34 hr
Brit David Millar heads the early 24-man escape group
Stuart O’Grady leads the Leopard-Trek charge
Mark Cavendish in the green jersey
Sky’s Rigoberto Uran stayed with the favourites’ group to claim the white jersey
Andy Schleck launched several attacks on the final climb
Jelle Vanendert wins, and takes the polka dot jersey
Tour de France 2011: Related links
Tour de France 2011: Latest news
Tour de France 2011: Stage reports
Stage 14: Vanendert surprises the favourites as Voeckler holds on
Stage 13: World champ Hushovd takes well deserved solo Tour win
Stage 12: Sanchez wins at Luz Ardiden as Frank Schleck gains on other contenders
Stage 11: Cavendish moves into green after winning in Lavaur
Stage 10: Greipel beats Cavendish in Tour stage 10 sprint
Stage nine: Sanchez conquers day of crashes and climbs
Stage eight: Costa wins first mountain stage of 2011 Tour
Stage seven: Cavendish wins but Wiggins crashes out of Tour
Stage six: Boasson Hagen takes Sky’s first Tour de France win
Stage five: Cavendish wins in Cap Frehel
Stage four: Evans edges out Contador on the Mur-de-Bretagne
Stage three: Farrar sprints to first Tour victory in Redon
Stage two: Garmin win team time trial to put Hushovd in yellow
Stage one: Gilbert blasts to victory as Tour gets off to spectacular start
Tour de France 2011: Highlights videos
Tour de France 2011: Photo galleries
Stage 13 photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2011: Live text coverage
Tour de France 2011 LIVE: CW’s text coverage schedule
Stage seven live text coverage
Tour de France 2011: Archive videos
Video: 2003 Centenary Tour
Video: Lance Armstrong retrospective
Video: Behind the scenes at the Tour
Video: Guerini’s 1999 stage win
Video: Thrills and spills at the Tour
Video: Armstrong in 1999
Video: The Indurain years
Video: Ladies of the Tour
Video: Best of bizarre
Tour de France 2011: Archive articles
1999 Tour de France stage two: Passage du Gois causes chaos
Tour de France 2011: Related links
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Potted history of the Tour de France
The closest Tours in history
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Wiggins
Tour de France 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index