Portugal’s Rui Costa (Movistar) won today’s 104-mile stage of the Tour de France, after breaking away from a 26-man group on the final climb and holding off chasers on the treacherous descent into Gap. Costa finished 42 seconds ahead of the next four riders. He punched the sky in a tough-guy victory salute and then broke down into tears while hugging his crew.
Meanwhile, 11 minutes behind Costa, the race for the yellow jersey was intense. Alberto Contador (Saxo Tinkoff), left with eight of his closest GC contenders up the Col de Manse, attacked at least three times in an effort to drop them. But his efforts were fruitless. Chris Froome (Sky) defended his yellow jersey, barely holding onto Contador, obviously going through torture, and twisting his neck and shoulders to respond to repeated attacks. Froome’s devout teammate Richie Porte followed every move Contador made to keep Froome in contact. But Contador didn’t give up trying, and on the descent, he attacked on a turn and slipped causing Froome to ride off onto the grass. Luckily, both avoided hitting the pavement. But it was a close call.
“It was careless of Contador to attack on the descent,” Froome said. “He pushed himself too much that he crashed in front of me. I was lucky to have Richie Porte with me, and I dont know how many times he covered their attacks, but it must have been ten times. I was lucky to have him with me.”
One commentator called it a “daredevil descent.” Riders got up to speeds of up to 55-miles-per-hour going downhill. In 2003, Spanish cyclist Joseba Beloki crashed in the same area when his wheel got so hot, the tire rolled off and Beloki fell and broke his femur. Lance Armstrong rode into the grass and out of a ditch to avoid crashing into Beloki, whose professional cycling career ended that day. Fortunately today, no such horror.
The average speed of today’s stage was 28 miles-per-hour. Tomorrow is a time trial with two big climbs. And the day after, the 179 men who have so far survived this year’s Tour will have to survive the climb up the notorious Alpe d’Huez… twice!