Wiggins' Historic Battle on Ventoux
July 25, Stage 20: Montélimar - Mont Ventoux (167km ) | Results
From the best track pursuiter of his generation to a Tour de France podium contender, Londoner Bradley Wiggins has had an historic Tour de France in 2009 and on stage 20, showed great courage and determination to hold on to his fourth place on the overall table. Along with the achievements of Mark Cavendish which are still to be completed in this year’s race, these two British riders who dominated the 2008 World Madison championships have shown that racing the track is no barrier to being the best in the world on the road whether it being climbing the big mountains or sprinting down the boulevards of France at 40 plus mph.
Saturday, July 25th was the day when the 2009 Tour de France was going to be won and lost on the roads from Montelimar to Mont Ventoux, a distance of 104 miles (167 kilometres but in the end very little changed despite the attacks of top young rider Andy Schleck. The race saw three battles acted out on the intimidating slopes of Mont Ventoux. There was the race for the stage win where a group of just over a dozen riders made a break for it very early on and in the end, only two were left for the final battle for the stage victory, Tony Martin and Juan Manuel Garate.
Behind them, there was the battle for the overall between Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador and the final battle, of significance anyway as there were no doubt others, the duel for third place between Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins and Franck Schleck.
At the bottom of the feared climb of Mont Ventoux, the strong winds gave the teams of Astana, Saxo Bank and Garmin the opportunity to hurt some legs and at the base of this huge mountain with an even bigger reputation, the domestiques in these teams laid the foundations for their team leaders to take the battle for the overall to the steep slopes of the mountain.
Up ahead, the remnants of the original break were clinging on to their lead while the overall contenders played games with each other. With the biggest crowds seen on the mountain providing the appropriate backdrop, Frank and Andy Schleck at first tried to break the will of Armstrong and Wiggins but that didn’t work and so Andy decided to try to break Contador but that too didn’t work.
At one stage, Andy Schleck and Contador were up the road and the battle for third was so intense between Frank Schleck, Wiggins and Armstrong, that Italian Nibali was able to take advantage and he crossed the gap to Contador. The danger here was that Nibali would be given an armchair ride into third overall but in between attacks, all we ever saw of Andy Schleck was him looking over his shoulder to see where Frank was and perhaps that was his problem – he needed to be looking ahead and concentrating on the one battle – his – and not the one of his brother Frank.
Andy however decided to pull the pin and try something new and he, Contador and Nibali waited for the Armstrong group which had Kloden (who had been dropped but fought his way back) driving it forward into the headwind. Andy Schleck then tried to drag Frank away from the group again but Armstrong was looking so strong that there you couldn’t help wonder whether he was going to attack himself. No was the answer but he certainly never looked to be struggling.
‘Wiggo’ meanwhile had looked strong too and ‘almost’ comfortable but just how bad he was suffering became clear 3k from the summit when the accelerations of Andy Schleck took their toll and he lost ground. But each time Andy Schleck accelerated and then slowed, Brad showed the determination that has taken him to being three times an Olympic champion, and he rejoined the Schleck/Contador group. Into the final kilometre though and a final surge by Andy Schleck saw the yellow jersey group explode and losing time was Wiggins among others.
The question wasn’t whether he could overhaul Armstrong but whether he could hang onto fourth place – the same position another Brit ended the tour in many years ago, the great Robert Millar. Frank Schleck too wasn’t in great shape at the top and in the end, Wiggins hung on by three solitary seconds to keep his place on the overall.
Now all that lays ahead of him is the final stage to Paris, a journey he has made before but this time he will be part of an exclusive group of riders who for three weeks have held the attention of the world as the battle for the worlds greatest bike race has raged on through the great mountains of Europe.
For so many years, it has been the Olympic challenge that has floated his boat – perhaps now, ‘Wiggo’ has a new challenge to spend his years working on – winning the Tour de France. Before this year’s Tour, such talk would have been received with great scepticism but not now the track champion has become a champion of the road.
1. Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank 4:39:21
2. Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC 0:00:03
3. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:00:38
4. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana
5. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:00:41
6. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:00:43
7. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 0:00:46
8. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 0:00:56
9. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:00:58
10. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:01:03
1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 81:46:17
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:04:11
3. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:05:24
4. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream 0:06:01
5. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:06:04
6. Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 0:06:42
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:07:35
8. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream 0:12:04
9. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 0:14:16
10. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux 0:14:25
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