Tour de France15/07/2012 - 18:50 - Updated 15/07/2012 - 20:06
Brave Gautier on the attack again
Cyril Gautier was on the front of the race once again for Europcar in a stage which was marred by controversy in the Pyrenean foothills. Pierre Rolland attacked his GC rivals in the final descent to the finish - before realising that an act of sabotage had caused a raft of punctures in the peloton.
Not many stages in the 99th edition of the Tour de France have passed without an attack by riders from Team Europcar - and stage 14 from Limoux to Foix was no different. Having come so close to victory at Annonay two days ago in stage 12, Cyril Gautier once again got into the day's decisive break. Gautier joined the likes of green jersey Peter Sagan (Liquigas), Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Belgian Philippe Gilbert (BMC) in an 11-man group that built up a 15-minute lead going over the first of two first-category climbs in the second half of the 191km stage.
An untimely drop of the chain at the start of the wet descent of the Port de Lers climb meant Gautier had his work cut out to rejoin the leaders ahead of the final climb of the day, the never-used-before Mur de Peguere. An attack by Sanchez forced a selection on the steep 18 percent ramp of the final climb and Gautier - exhausted from his ride back onto the group following his mechanical issue - was not able to keep up with the five leaders.
Gautier crossed the summit 38km from the finish over two minutes down on the leading group. The 24-year-old finished 11th in the stage, 14:53 down on winner Sanchez. But Gautier had slowed down on the descent in a bid to wait for his team-mate Pierre Rolland, who attacked from the peloton after the climb in a bid to make up some time on the GC.
Rolland exploited a moment of indecision within the peloton to jump clear and build up a gap of two-minutes over the yellow jersey group. But the 25-year-old was not in the know about the reason for the chaos behind him: spectators had thrown nails onto the road near the summit of the final climb, causing multiple punctures in the peloton - including three flats for defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) and one for yellow jersey Brad Wiggins.
Once Rolland fully comprehended the situation, the stage 11 winner sat up and allowed himself to be taken back by the main peloton in what was a nice sporting gesture. "I wanted to attack on the Mur de Peguere to take back some time on the GC," said Rolland, eighth in the GC at 8:31. "People have reproached me for having attacked on the descent but I didn't know about the mechanical problems behind me - my earpiece was not working. I am not the type of rider who likes to benefit from other people's misfortunes to gain places in the GC."
Rolland arrived alongside team-mate Davide Malacarne in the main peloton, 18:15 down on the stage winner. Thomas Voeckler crossed the line 12 seconds later. Giovanni Bernaudeau and Yukiya Arashiro crossed the line 10 minutes later, while both Yohann Gene and Vincent Jerome arrived with the 'Grupetto' 28:30 down on Sanchez. It was another difficult day for Christophe Kern who, struggling with tendonitis in his knee, finished last for a third consecutive day, 31:53 down.
Earlier in the day, on the first climb 30km from the start, Voeckler had broken clear to take the points over the Cat.2 Col du Portel in a bid to protect Rolland's position in the polka dot jersey standings. Rolland still trails Astana's Frederik Kessiakoff by 11 points but is sitting pretty ahead of the major Pyrenean stages. The Tour continues on Monday with a largely flat 158.5km stage 15 from Samatan to Pau which includes three minor climbs.