Tour Watch - Stage 14

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The Battle for Yellow Takes a new Twist

Stage 14 Friday, July 18 2009: Colmar to Besancon (199kms)  | Results

Russia’s Ivanov Victory in Besancon

Stage 14 in this years Tour de France was supposed to be a battle for the Green jersey between Britain’s Mark Cavendish and Norway’s Thor Hushovd but that had to take a back seat to a new battle on the road to Besancon, and that was for the Yellow jersey given to the rider who leads the biggest bike race in the world, the Tour de France.

Mark Cavendish’s Team Columbia had very wisely got their man George Hincapie into a break of 12 riders and being the highest placed on the overall of all the riders in the break, the big question was – could big George hang on and take the yellow jersey for the second time in his career?

The answer after 199 enthralling kilometres was no but the battle in the finale between the break and the chasing peloton made the stage one of the most interesting of the week and almost comical as Columbia tried to do two things at once – one, disrupt the chase for the break and two, also get Mark Cavendish into a position to win the points for the Green jersey ahead of Hushovd.

The end of the stage was a far cry from the early part of the race when the group of 12 got away. Preceding that break had been another where Mark Cavendish showed how seriously he is taking the chase for the Green jersey by trying to get up the road early for the first two sprints but that was never going to work as any break with him it was going to be chased down straight away.

So while Mark bided his time back in the peloton, his teammate George Hincapie got himself into the break that ended up dominating the stage. Prior to the start, Hincapie was just over five minutes down on the yellow jersey of Nocentini but it wasn’t the Italian’s team of AG2R that was given the job of keeping the break in check but Astana.

The leading group of 12 comprised of Hayden Roulston, Martijn Maaskant, George Hincapie, Nicolas Roche, Daniele Bennati, Frederik Willems, Christophe Le Mevel, Sebastian Minard, Daniele Righi, Serguei Ivanov, Gerard Ciolek  and Albert Timmer. Whilst AG2R rider Roche had the perfect reason for sitting on the back – his teammate was leading the race overall -- most of the others continued to work well. The exception was Lampre’s Daniele Righi but even him not working didn’t stop the break from opening up a gap of over eight minutes on the peloton.

This meant Hincapie was the virtual race leader on the road which gave Columbia the perfect excuse for not wanting to bring the break back. Instead their goal was to get George into Yellow and Cav into Green. It wasn’t until around 50 k to go that the chase in the peloton started to change as AG2R started to send riders to the front to help Astana out. It was about this time the gap started to come down second by second but the break responded to this and whilst the gap fell under 7 minutes, it wasn’t falling at the same rate as it would had one of the sprinter teams got to the front and really started to drive the bunch along.

With 35k to go, things started to liven up in the break. On one hand, there was George and his battle for the Yellow jersey whilst the others had their eyes on the stage win and riders soon started to miss turns. This no doubt annoyed the Columbia rider and so George attacked and this surge in speed showed that there were some tired legs in the break as gaps started to open up. The break did though come back together and the work to keep their lead continued until 12k to go when the riders could see the finish in their sights now and a flurry of attacks were launched kicked off by Martijn Maaskant.

His attack failed but more followed and whilst Hincapie looked strong, he and the rest of the riders in the break had no answer when Russian champion Serguei Ivanov attacked and very quickly he opened up a gap on the rest. Once the gap had been established no amount of chasing was doing any damage to the lead the Amstel Gold winner had.

For a long time, Hayden Roulston and Albert Timmer were stuck in no-man’s land behind Ivanov until Nicolas Roche came past them in the closing stages to take second place and the rest of the break sprinted at Roche’s back wheel to finish in the same time, 16 seconds behind stage winner Ivanov.

That was one battle settled. The other one for the yellow jersey however was very much alive and it was going to be close – very close.

Back in the peloton, Garmin were now chasing as were AG2R but Columbia took every opportunity they could to get to the front and slow things down. This carried on all the way to the finish where the sprint for the line was one of the shortest ever seen as Columbia tried to box Hushovd in and keep the sprint as short as possible to try and get Hincapie in yellow. That failed however with Hincapie falling five seconds short of getting his hands on the yellow jersey but it had at least made the stage an interesting one in a week where many have been seen as quite boring.

Those stages however are now behind us and the next week is set to be the most interesting of the three week race as the battle for the prized yellow jersey continues in the big mountains. So while Hincapie’s supporters at least may have finished the day disappointed after a nail biting finish, stage 14 did prove to be the perfect warm-up to the big one on Sunday where the ‘proper’ battle for yellow is expected to take place on the climb to Verbier.

Post Stage News: Cavendish relegated
Although Mark Cavendish won the sprint from the peloton and gained ground on his Green jersey rival, Hushovd, the race jury had the final word by relegating him for moving off his line in the sprint and because of that, he dropped a lot of points on his Green jersey rival and sits 18 points behind the Norwegian with the mountains, a time trial and the final stage into Paris left to decide the fate of that jersey.

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