He was perhaps France's most unlikeliest of heroes, but Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) proved to be just that as he gave his country not only their first victory of the 98th Tour de France, but also a reason to hope for the future.
Just as Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) had done the day before on his way to a victory on the Galibier, Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank Sungard) had distanced himself from the pack and looked like the clear victory on the Alpe d'Huez. But a resilient Rolland and a once collegial countryman, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who had designs of capturing the maillot a pois rouges, foiled Contador's bid of redemption.
The pair would catch the fading champion in the final kilometers, and from there Rolland would outkick his Spanish rivals to the line. Sanchez would take second and Contador a distant third.
Results - Stage 19
1. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar
2. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
3. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard
The tenacious Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) finally buckled under the constant pressure from the pre-race favorites in the mountains. With his strong efforts on yesterday's climbs and on the Alpe d'Huez, Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) climbed into the catbird seat as the Tour's new leader.
General Classification After Stage 19
1. Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
2. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek - 0:00:53
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team - 0:00:57
4. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar - 0:02:10
5. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD - 0:03:31
6. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard - 0:03:55
7. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi - 0:04:22
8. Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale - 0:04:40
9. Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo - 0:07:11
10. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar - 0:08:57
Jersey Leaders After Stage 19
maillot jaune - Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
maillot vert - Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad
maillot a pois rouges - Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
maillot blanc - Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar
Quick Stepping Through The Tour - De Weert Solid
The final mountain stage covered just 109 kilometers, but was very hard with the Col d`Telegraphe, the Galibier and the final climb to Alpe-d`Huez in it. In the first kilometers the race exploded. Jerome Pineau was involved in an early breakaway. He started the first climb with a 2 minutes advantage on the bunch. Alberto Contador (Saxobank) immediately attacked when the roads went up. The Spaniard was chased by Andy Schleck (Leopard) and not much later they bridged the gap with the group Pineau. In the mean while Kevin de Weert climbed in his own rhythm, only a few minutes behind the lead group. On the Galibier that scenario didn`t change, but in the descent a group with De Weert joined the lead group. The lead group immediately split when they reached the Alpe-d`Huez. De Weert once again looked for his own rhythm and eventually finished in a nice 18th place. In the overall rankings he keeps his 13th place.
"When Contador attacked on the Col Du Telegraph I thought it was going to be a very rough, very long day”, said De Weert laughing. "Luckily, the guys on the team supported me. Sylvain stayed close to me along the climb. His presence calmed me down and gave me morale to continue. I took my time and on the Galibier when I realized I could catch up to Voeckler’s group, I accelerated. In the last meters of the Galibier I busted a killer sprint to get up on the wheels of the yellow jersey group. It was the right choice. I descended with them and recuperated some important energy before hitting Alpe-d'Huez. On the final climb the group blew up right away. I ended up alone and I pulled a right proper time trial climb. The fans along the climb really supported me. Their urging cheers helped me push it to the limit. On the Dutch curve I got chills from the roar of the crowd. This climb is magic and I’m happy I honored it with a good race.”
Tomorrow the individual time trial will bring the decision in the overall classification. “Tomorrow I’m going to give it my all. I’m going to put everything I have left on to the pedals. With today’s good stage I put some distance between myself and the other riders who are behind me. My goal for tomorrow is to hang on to this 13th position. I’d like to finish this Tour with a good time trial race. It would be icing on the cake”, De Weert reflected on tomorrow’s stage.
Next: Stage 20 - Grenoble (ITT) 42.5km
Photos: (top: Sky Sports; bottom: © Tim de Waele - TDWSport.com)