By Mark Etheridge
The first rest day done and dusted, the Tour de France cycle tour exploded back into action on Tuesday with Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck emerging as a key player in the remainder of the Tour.
Tuesday’s ninth stage could easily have been labelled the Tour de Torture as riders faced 204.5-kilometres of relentless climbs and descents. En route were the ascents of the Col de la Colomiere, Col de Aravis, Col des Saisies and the Col de La Madeleine.
At the end of the day Schleck could hold his head high. After a total of 43hr 35min 41sec of hard riding so far, and the retirement of his older brother Frank earlier in the Tour, the Team Saxo Bank cyclist went to sleep with a 41sec advantage over defending champion and main rival Alberto Contador.
Tuesday’s competition has truly sorted the men out from the boys and with third-placed Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez a further 2:04 down the road, it’s hard to see anyone coming through the ranks when the race ends in Paris. Holder of the yellow jersey on Sunday, Cadel Evans revealed that he had a broken elbow and battled along on Tuesday, looking to be out of overall contention.
Stage winner on Tuesday was Frenchman Sandy Casar, the Francaise des Jeux rider winning in 5:38:10. Contador and Schleck were both two seconds back and Olympic road champion Sanchez 52sec back.
Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong was 19th overall yesterday, 2:50 off the pace and in the general classification he is now a yawning 15:54 back in 31st spot.
South Africa’s sole representative in this year’s Tour, Robbie Hunter also felt the pain on Tuesday and ended in 131st spot, 30:15 behind. He’s now 128th in the GC, 1:23:14 in arrears.
And his Garmin-Transitions team have slipped to 18th of 22 teams, 36:06 behind Caisse d’Epargne.
“What a day… harder than it looked!! Def one of the hardest stages I’ve done in the tour… as you can see in the mix up on GC today..” said Hunter on his Twitter feed. “Managed to stay in main group till the Madelain but spent a few pennies being there. Glad to be in the bus on the way to the hotel. I’m broken.”
And later: “Just found out it’s Bastille day tomorrow, French national day! That means trouble for tomorrow. Every French guy dreams of winning on this day!
Wednesday’s 10th stage is a 179km ride from Chambery to Gap, and despite a few climbs doesn’t hold too many terrors.
The finish to the stage takes in the Rochette descent, scene of the often televised clip where Armstrong was forced to take a short cut across a meadow section in 2003.