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Brice Feillu attacks mountains takes stage 7 TDF

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Brice Feillu attacked at the end of a long breakaway to take victory in the 7th stage of the race.  The Agritubel rider was part of a nine man breakaway that formed shortly after the start of the race. He attacked his companions in the final kilometers to make a mark in his Tour de France debut.  The maillot jaune, however, goes to AG2R’s Rinaldo Nocentini, making him the first Italian to wear the leader’s jersey in the Tour de France since 2000.

Today’s stage was a 224 km race from Barcelona to the ski station of Arcalis in the principality of Andorra. With 4 categorized climbs and 1 hors category climb, this stage offered the first real opportunity for the climbers to shine. Most were looking for a battle royale between Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong today, while expecting Fabian Cancellara to fade into the background.

The climbs were:

  • At 32km, the Category 4 Côte de Montserrat, a 4.1 km climb, with an average grade of 3.8 percent.
  • At 97km, the Category 3 Port de Solsona, a 5.8 km climb, with an average grade of 4.3 percent.
  • At 127km, the Category 1 Col de Serra-Seca, a 7.7 km climb, with an average grade of 7.1 percent.
  • At 136.5km, the Category 3 Port del Comte, a 3.1 km climb, with an average grade of 5.3 percent.
  • At 224km, the hor catégorie Andorre Arcalis, a 10.6 km climb, with an average grade of 7.1 percent.

Temperatures were a little more favorable up in the mountains today, hovering around 75 F.

After an early attack, the leaders of the race were Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’ Epargne), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Liquigas), Christophe Kern (Cofidis), Jerome Pineau (Quick Step), Brice Feillu (Agritubel) and Johannes Frohlinger (Milram). These nine would go on to lead for much of the race and sharing the mountain points amongst themselves.

Even fairly early in the stage the break enjoyed more than a 12 minute advantage. The potential race leaders were certainly more concerned about the final climb into Arcalis than expending their energy chasing down the fugitives. That said, the entire Astana team was staying close to the front of the peloton. Lance Armstrong was riding at the front and Alberto Contador was protected by his domestiques. I’m sure that you can take that any number of ways.

Christophe Riblon (Ag2r) took the top points over the Cat. 1 Col de Serra-Seca. The crowds are thick today and are barely parting in time to allow the riders through. There have been some reports that some riders have had to stop until the road clears.

For the Category 3 Port del Comte, it’s Riblon, Kuschynski, Martinez and Kern taking the points.

After a speedy descent, the leaders were heading uphill for the rest of the day. With 50km to go, the lead was still just over 12 minutes.

There are some strong climbers among the leaders. If Rinaldo Nocentini was able to stay out front today, he could move to the lead of the G.C. Either way, it’s almost certain that there will be a new leader at the end of the day.

As the leaders make their way up the final climb, the gap starts to drop. However, with only 25km to go, they still have a nine minute lead and no one in the peloton has bore down to give chase.

Kern, Martinez and Pineau took the points at the second intermediate sprint. Back in the peloton there was a crash that took, among others, Mark Cavendish & Levi Leipheimer briefly down. Leipheimer was back up soon and caught the peloton.

As the climb began in earnest, the leaders began to splinter a little and lead started to come down. Aleksandr Kuschynski briefly lost touch with the break before crawling back on. Against all expectations, Fabian Cancellara was still riding near the front of the peloton; was he working forAndy Schleck? Meanwhile, yesterday’s winner Thor Hushovd was seen dropping off the back of the peloton.

With a little under 18 km to go for the leaders, the gap dropped under 8 minutes.

The points for the third intermediate sprint went to Gutierrez, Pineau and Frohlinger.

The main chasing group was down to 50 or 60 riders, with a solid representation of the G.C. contenders riding at the front. Both Leipheimer and Cavendish have recovered from their fall and are back near the front of the first peloton.

At 10km, when the climb to Arcalis starts in earnest, the gap has dropped under 7 minutes. The climb hits 8.7% right at the start and may prove to be the undoing for the leaders. The Astana contingent at the front was joined by some Saxo Bank and Silence-Lotto riders. Jens Voigt, Charlie Wegelius, Cadel Evans and Matt Lloyd have all moved up.

Kuschynski was once again in no-man’s land as the peloton moved to within 6 minutes of the leaders. Riblon and Noncentini are setting the pace in the break, while Astana’s Paulinho, Popovych and Zubeldia are pulling the peloton.

With 7km to go, the gap was about 5 and a half minutes and it was looking increasingly likely that Nocentini or Pineau would be wearing yellow tomorrow.

Brice Feillu (Agritubel) attacked the lead group and opened up a bit of a lead. His break companion Gutierrez dropped back however. The former group of nine at the front had splintered quite a bit.Then we saw Cancellara fall of the back of the peloton.

If Feillu was able to hold on, he’d be looking at a stage win, but it wouldn’t really impact the G.C. He’s a ways back. That said, a couple of his break companions may be able to take the leader’s jersey.

In the final kilometers, Cadel Evans attacked the peloton, but he was quickly marked by Andreas Kloden. Lance Armstrong jumped onto his wheel as well. Then, Andy Schleck came by. Armstrong and Contador both gave chase. Quickly, it was Contador who was being chased by Armstrong and Schleck. It appears that he was just waiting for his moment. Up front, Feillu rolls across the line for the win, but Contador raced on. Evans, Schleck, Armstrong, and now, Christian Vande Velde are on the chase.

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