SAN DIEGO, July 18, 2013 – For much of today’s stage with two climbs up the most famous mountain road in the Tour de France, it seemed that American Tejay Van Garderen of BMC Racing might make history.
But to the delight of overjoyed French cycling fans and many Tour fans around the world, Frenchman Christophe Riblon of AG2R Mondiale rode across the finishing line to win atop Alpe D’Huez. Riblon could hardly believe it himself, breaking into a huge smile and celebrating with spectators as he crossed the line, and again on the podium as he was presented the winner’s trophy.
All great cyclists want to win on Alpe D’Huez. It is a challenging climb due not only to the steep incline, but the 21 switchbacks all the way up the route. This year for the centennial of the Tour, organizers devised a stage that would take the cyclists up not once, but twice. That’’s 42 vicious switchbacks, if you’re counting.
An early breakway of riders included Van Garderen and Riblon. The pair went over the top of Alpe d’Huez together on the first trip. While on the descent, Van Garderen suffered a mechanical problem with his bike and had to wait for a replacement. He eventually caught back up to Riblon. It may have left him short of energy when he needed it most at the end of the stage.
The pair began the second climb together. Van Garderen pulled away and with just a few miles left it seemed he would hold on. But Riblon never gave up. As Van Garderen started to tire, Riblon saw a chance to give France a victory. It gave him wings to fly, and it seemed he surprised even himself. He passed Van Garderen with just over a mile to go and he never looked back.
The elated Riblon reflected on his dream win. “When I was about eight years old, I saw on the TV a victory of a cyclist at Alpe d’Huez and I hoped that one day maybe I could do it too. Today, when I saw at the start of the climb that van Garderen attacked me I knew I couldn’t follow him and I told myself, ‘S–, I finish second like two days ago…’ After, at three kilometers from the finish, I saw him and he didn’t look good so I started to believe in my good stars. And I sprinted and the public supported me and I’m in the sky!
“It was a crazy final. At five kilometers to go, I no longer believed it was possible. But (team director) Julien Jurdie was in the car, and he still believed in me and never stopped encouraging me, saying, ‘He’s bonked, you’ll catch him!’ … I had no hesitation and I immediately attacked. It’s a huge thrill to see the race reversed.”
The overall leaders stayed together in a group several minutes back. The competition for the Tour victory was here. Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam cracked on the first climb. Nairo Quintana and Tour leader Chris Froome along with his lieutnant Richie Porte of Sky Racing challenged each other, leaving second place rider Alberto Contador struggling.
Then it seemed Froome wasn’t so invincible, falling off the pace and calling for help the team car. Porte went back to get water and energy gels, which is a race violation. Froome later said the team car had mechanical problems and they weren’t able to take water and food on board before the cutoff time. The pair could be fined or given a time penalty for the infraction.
Quintana was able to get ahead and gain time on all of his close rivals. He is now sitting in third and shooting for a place on the podium in Paris.
Froome gave all the credit to Porte for helping pace him through the stage. “It was a really hard day today but I think, all in all, it’s a really good day for us – just extending the lead on general classification. Also, something else about today: it’s Nelson Mandela Day and I would like, from my point of view, to inspire a lot of young Africans to be able to achieve their ambitions today.” Froome is originally from Kenya and went to school in South Africa.
Despite his distress, Froome gained time on the second place Contador and everyone else in the top ten except for Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez. The young Colombian cyclist is making a big name for himself. Froome seems to have the race won but he can’t rest easy until the ride into Paris on Sunday. Contador needs to watch his back or he’ll be third behind Quintana in Paris, or worse.
The current standings after today’s shakeup:
Chris Froome, Sky Racing Team: 71 hours, 2 minutes, 19 seconds
Alberto Contador, Team Saxo-Tinkoff, 5 minutes, 11 seconds behind
Nairo Qunitana Rojas, Movistar, 5 minutes 32 seconds behind
Roman Kreuziger, Team Saxo-Tinkoff, 5 minutes, 44 seconds behind
Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha, 5 minutes, 58 seconds
Bauke Mollema, Belkin, 8 minutes, 58 seconds behind
Laurens Ten Dam, Belkin, 8 minutes, 23 seconds behind
Jakob Fuglsang, Astana, 9 minutes, 33 seconds
No rest Friday for weary climbers and overall contenders. It’s another mountain stage through the Alps. This time the two big HC climbs are at the beginning of the stage when the riders should have a bit more energy. The leaderboard could be shaken up if any of the top cyclists fail to keep up.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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