Stage 13 Friday, July 17 2009: Vittel - Colmar 200 km | Results
Fate Intervenes As The Rain Returns
The last twenty-four hours in the Tour de France has seen the fortunes of two top riders head in opposite directions, underlining the fickle fates of the sport.
This time yesterday we were predicting that Levi Leipheimer could be the dark horse of the race, set to take advantage of any slip up by team-mates Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador. Even as we typed away, Leipheimer was having his wrist examined following an innocuous looking crash late in the stage. This morning it emerged that the wrist was broken and in a trice, one of the leading contenders was out of the race.
Then the thirteenth stage itself saw a rider who could easily argue he was due the rub of the green after two monumental near-misses in the spring, finally claim the massive win he was undoubtedly due. Heinrich Haussler, the rider in question, was runner up in both the Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders classics back in March and April. He looked to have Milan-San Remo in the bag after a spectacular last gasp effort, only to be caught on the line by Mark Cavendish.
A lesser rider might have lost a little heart and perhaps sat back for the rest of the season arguing that the sport owed him something. But Haussler always impresses as a gritty and brave individual and his win in the 13th stage of the Tour had something of the spirit often required to win the spring classics about it. He, Ruben Perez and Sylvain Chavanel escaped the main bunch with some 140km to go and in pouring rain rapidly built up a big lead of almost 10 minutes over a cold and dispirited main field.
Perez was the first to crack, on the penultimate climb, and Haussler then rode away from Chavanel on the following descent, before going on to build up a big advantage of some seven minutes on the final climb of the Col de Firstplan.
From then onwards it was a very damp victory parade in to the finish, where the grit and determination disappeared as the German dissolved into tears. It was a heart-warming redemption for a rider who has won a lot of fans this year with his talent and with his acceptance of cycling's unpredictable fates.
Although, apart from the departure of Leipheimer, there was no real movement in the overall standings, Thor Hushovd was able to win back the green jersey from Mark Cavendish, leading in the main bunch to claim 6th, whilst his Columbia-HTC rival trailed in over a quarter of an hour later. Hushovd now leads by 5 points.
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