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"Just one or two kilometers into the downhill I punctured. It was a motorbike that kicked up some stones in a corner, which I hit and blew out my tire. I almost crashed, but thankfully didn't," Zubeldia says

Photo: Sirotti

FRANK SCHLECK

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HAIMAR ZUBELDIA

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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22.07.2014 @ 20:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

The Trek duo of Haimar Zubeldia and Frank Schleck saw their rise in the overall rankings of the Tour de France being significantly hampered by bad luck in today's stage in the Pyrenees. While Schleck suffered from stomach problems, Zubeldia felt excellent but saw his progress being slowed down by an untimely puncture.

 

At 237.5 kilometers it was the longest stage of the 2014 Tour de France. It was a day pegged for a breakaway to succeed, and a day heralded for the final GC battles to kick off in the third and hardest week of the 21-day race.

 

When all was said and done the top standings behind Vincenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde went through the wringer. However, Trek Factory Racing was one of the fortunate teams having a good day, and were headed into the top 10 overall until a late puncture stopped Hamair Zubeldia on the final descent. Bad luck had struck again.

 

Zubeldia, despite the ill-timed flat tire, still moved up one spot into 11th GC.

 

“After the rest day I felt super good in the climb," Zubeldia said. "I went over the climb only 20 seconds, more or less, from the Nibali group. I started the downhill with [Leopold] Konig and [Laurens] Ten Dam.

 

"Just one or two kilometers into the downhill I punctured. It was a motorbike that kicked up some stones in a corner, which I hit and blew out my tire. I almost crashed, but thankfully didn't.

 

"I stopped immediately and changed the wheel, but the spare wheel I got from Mavic had a narrower rim and I had to adjust the brakes while riding so it took me time to get going full speed again. After this I had to do the last 15 kilometers alone.”

 

When a 21-man breakaway finally moved up the road the day unfolded into two distinct races: ahead, the escape group was fighting out the stage win, and behind the GC contenders were in a heated conflict for the overall.

 

The action climaxed on the final hors catégorie climb after more than 200 kilometers had been pedaled and four other categorized climbs traversed.  

 

The 21-man breakaway group whittled to a group of five men that arrived to the final kilometers together. From this group Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) put in the last attack and using his time trial strength he held off the other four and celebrated the win.

 

Eleven and a half minutes later the peloton containing the overall contenders arrived at the foot of the Port de Balès (11.7 kms at 7.7%) and the tight GC battle ignited. The peloton decimated on the harsh slope and many riders in the top positions fell behind, including Fränk Schleck who lost contact around halfway up. But he never threw in the towel and fought brilliantly to the finish. When he crossed the line he had maintained his 14th place in the overall.

 

“It was a very special day," Schleck said. "It was well over two hours of fighting before a breakaway went. Then finally we rode easy to the finish climb and then boom! they opened the gas.

 

"I was not feeling good; I had stomach problems and so I could not stay with the first guys. I hope that I will be all right for tomorrow. I lost some time but I am still in the fight, nothing really bad happened. Haimar was unlucky with a puncture. Just bad luck. But we showed we were there and it is not finished yet.”

 

Following a rest day and 15 days of punishing racing, stage 16 was a very long, hot day in the saddle and culminated on a very hard climb; many GC riders paid the price. While Nibali and Valverde solidified their one-two spots overall, behind them the standings altered dramatically. With two more successive days in the Pyrenees Mountains, and a long, hilly time trial on the penultimate stage, the general classification battle is far from settled.

 

“I think I lost more than one minute today with the flat tire," Zubeldia said. "As you can see Konig made it back to the Nibali group at the end. I spent a lot of energy, it’s frustrating, but there is nothing you can do - sometimes it’s like this. I hope tomorrow and the next day I will have the same legs as today.”

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