Tour de France: Dud stage as exciting as any

Teams work together to trap rivals, create surprise breakaways
2013-07-13T00:00:00Z Tour de France: Dud stage as exciting as anyThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SAINT-AMAND-MONTROND, France - Wily Tour de France riders who used the wind and worked together to trap their rivals turned a trek across the flats of central France into a thriller on Friday.

Yellow jersey holder Chris Froome lost a chunk of his race lead but not enough to gravely endanger the Briton heading toward what is shaping up to be an intriguing finale in the Alps.

The team of Alberto Contador worked the former two-time champion back into the game, putting him close enough to Froome to make the last week interesting. A rear-wheel failure at the worst time dropped Alejandro Valverde from second place to nowhere. And Mark Cavendish earned a 25th stage win to lift the British sprinter to a third-place tie on the all-time list of cycling's premier race.

All this on a Stage 13 that, on paper, looked beforehand as though it might be a dud.

Much of Friday's mischief was cooked up by two teams - Belkin and Omega Pharma-QuickStep - that simply happened to share the same hotel a night earlier. With two-thirds of the stage left to race, a time when the pack often prefers to take things easy and let breakaway riders speed ahead for a while, Omega powered as a group to the front and rode like furies.

They soon got additional support from Belkin. Their sudden acceleration and sustained high speed caught dozens of other riders off guard. The breeze blowing across the long, undulating straights made it impossible for stragglers to catch up. Among them was Marcel Kittel, winner of three stages at this Tour.

Omega rider Jerome Pineau hinted it was no coincidence that his team and Belkin worked together.

"Look at the list of hotels, and look who we were with yesterday," he said.

Belkin rider Sep Vanmarcke said his Dutch team long ago identified this stage as a chance to spring a trap.

"We had planned this. The team leaders knew exactly where we would go," he said. "We knew there would be a lot of side wind there, and that would be the best place to go."

When Valverde's rear wheel broke with more than 80 kilometers (50 miles) to ride, the Spaniard could only look on helplessly as the pack sped on without him. With a new rear wheel, he and his Movistar teammates tried but failed to catch back up. He lost nearly nine minutes to Froome.

Still, the imposing Mont Ventoux on Sunday and the Alps next week offer Froome and Valverde chances to do damage of their own because they are top climbers.

"I think there will be more time won and lost on a stage like Ventoux," Froome said.

Cavendish just managed to stay with Contador's group when they accelerated away. He then beat Peter Sagan in the finishing sprint. Cavendish's 25th win moved him level with Frenchman Andre Leducq on the Tour's all-time list of stage winners. Now, only Bernard Hinault, with 28, and Eddy Merckx, with 34, have more than the Briton.

Today

• What: Stage 14, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule to Lyon

• When: 5 a.m.

• TV: NBC Sports Network

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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