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"Fränk and I tried to brake but the road was so slippery it was impossible to stop. I fell, and I was sliding on my back for a lot of meters. I have some pain in my back from falling on my radio, and tomorrow I will feel it a litt...

Photo: Sirotti










25.07.2014 @ 20:14 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

With no sprinter on the roster, Trek Factory Racing had very much to lose and nothing to gain in today's stage of the Tour de France and they got a late scare when Frank Schleck and Markel Irizar hit the deck in the finale. Luckily, both riders escaped the carnage with no major injuries.


After nearly three straight weeks of racing, and the past three consecutive days in the Pyrenees, Friday’s flat 208.5-kilometer stage was happily embraced by a weary peloton.  


That is, until the final hour. Proving the Tour shows no mercy the skies opened with torrential rain and side winds, turning a much-coveted tranquil stage into a menacing affair yet again. For Haimar Zubeldia and Fränk Schleck it was added and unwelcomed stress, but with a strong Trek Factory Racing team surrounding them, both riders were able to finish with no damage to their overall standings.


“I know Haimar [Zubeldia] well and I told him in the last hour to not worry, if something happens we are going to fix it," Markel Irizar said. "I think this gives him confidence, and lets him relax. I did the same for him on the cobblestone stage. He is usually the last one to be nervous, but sometimes this can be the opposite.


"For today our team goal, and my specific goal, was to be Haimar’s shadow. I could not do a lot for him in the mountains, but today I needed to be with him 100%. I am here in the Tour just to do this job, and if I cannot do this job I might as well stay home. I had pressure today to be focused and be there for Haimar."


From the start five idealists gave a courageous and irrational effort to ride ahead of the peloton for most of the stage - a desperate undertaking to foil the expected sprint finish - but it would be a solo counterattack, abetted by wet, slippery roads and a late crash, ­that ultimately ruined the sprinters’ day.


The winning, unaccompanied move came from Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp), who attacked with 12 kilometers remaining, while a large crash on the slick pavement with less than three kilometers to go marred the chase and held up most of the peloton.


Both Fränk Schleck and Markel Irizar were caught in the melee, hitting the ground hard, while Haimar Zubeldia was blocked by the crash. All would receive the same time under the three-kilometer ‘safety-net’ rule.


“With six kilometers to go there was a crosswind and a split in the peloton," Irizar said. "Haimar was not in the first group so Greggy [Rast] and I had to bring him back. When we were back in the first group I thought we were safe, but then we made a right turn - we were going fast, but not super fast - and there was a crash. Fränk and I tried to brake but the road was so slippery it was impossible to stop. I fell, and I was sliding on my back for a lot of meters. I have some pain in my back from falling on my radio, and tomorrow I will feel it a little bit, but it’s nothing serious.


"It would be terrible to go home with two days left, but the most important was to save the day for Haimar and Fränk. For tomorrow with [Team Osteopath) Maryse’s help I will be ready. It is part of the business.”


There were no changes to the overall classification, setting up a suspenseful race against the clock tomorrow as the final fight for the overall podium comes to a dramatic climax. Haimar Zubeldia and Fränk Schleck finished safely in the same time as the peloton, although there was a brief moment of worry with the crosswinds and rain in the closing kilometers.


Tomorrow Zubeldia will ride to hold his 10th GC standing, and if all goes well, the chance to move into ninth may be plausible.


“Today, in this kind of stage, Markel and Rasty helped me a lot," he said. "They have experience in the Classics and today with the rain and wind it was very much like a Classic. They helped me all day to save energy and get me to the finish.


"I feel good. Now I need to recover well, go to sleep, and see what happens tomorrow. It’s a hard TT and I hope that I can do my best - It would be good to leave the Tour with a good balance.”



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