Tour de France - Hushovd doubles up in Gap
Tue, 19 Jul 17:18:00 2011
World champion Hushovd used his Garmin-Cervelo team-mate Ryder Hesjedal as a springboard before launching himself to victory at the end of the 162.5km stage into the foothills of the Alps.
Hushovd powered past the stage six winner Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) while Canadian Hesjedal crossed the line two seconds later - his raised arms mirroring those of his team leader.
But the main flashpoint of a highly animated stage occurred back in the peloton when reigning champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) attacked on the only climb of the day, the second-category Col de Manse, 15 kilometres from the finish.
Although initially pegged back by his GC rivals as the rain lashed down, Contador put in a series attacks on the climb and soon managed to drop yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and both Schleck brothers.
In fact, only Australian Cadel Evans (BMC) and fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) were able to respond to Contador's relentless digs. And once the trio reached the summit, the advantage shifted to Evans, who managed to break clear on the long, wet descent into Gap.
Evans built up a lead on the flat roads leading to the finish, although Contador and Sanchez combined to reduce the deficit to just three seconds over the line.
But the biggest loser was last year's runner-up Andy Schleck, who struggled in the terrible conditions and trailed the Basso group by another 15 seconds, losing more than a minute to Evans, the new race favourite.
After a solid climb up the Col de Manse and a formidable descent into Gap, Evans rises to second place in the overall standings, 1:45 behind yellow jersey Voeckler.
Frank Schleck drops to third place but stays 1:49 down on the Frenchman, while his brother Andy remains in fourth yet now trails the summit by 3:03.
Basso drops from fifth to seventh, 3:49 off the pace, while both Sanchez and Contador rise a place each to fifth and sixth, at 3:26 and 3:42 respectively.
A nervous start to the stage at a sunny Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux saw multiple breakaway attempts reeled in due to an extraordinarily fast average speed of 52 km/h over the opening hour of racing.
It was not until the stage was 100km old that the day's decisive break actually formed - and by then the sun had been replaced by lashing rain and grey thunderclouds.
The 10-man group combined well to build up a lead of six minutes before Russian Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) attacked at the foot of the Col de Manse with 20km left to ride. Hesjedal chased down Ignatiev, while the Norweigian duo of Hushovd and Boasson Hagen - both already stage winners in this year's race - pulled out from the chasing group.
Hesjedal soon passed Ignatiev and was joined moments after crossing the summit by his teammate Hushovd and the Team Sky youngster.
The two teammates then used their numerical advantage to Garmin's fourth victory of the race following stage scalps by American Tyler Farrar, Hushovd himself and the team time trial.
Hushovd's win was the 10th Tour stage victory of his career - and with compatriot Boasson Hagen taking second spot it was the first time in Tour history that two Norwegians have finished on the podium of a stage.
But despite Hushovd's brilliance, all the talk in Gap will be about the timely return to form of Contador, the continued strength of the in-form Evans and the first major wobble shown by Andy Schleck.
Neither Andy nor his brother Frank could keep up with a resurgent Contador, who attacked on multiple occasions before cracking his rivals. Evans looked to be distanced at one point, but kept his calm to ride back into contention, before taking the stage by the scruff of its neck in the closing moments.
With two summit finishes in the Alps looming - atop the legendary Galibier and Alpe d'Huez - before an individual time trial in Grenoble, Evans looks to be the main to beat.
Wednesday's 179km stage 17 from Gap to Pinerolo includes four lower-category climbs and the first-category climb to Sestrieres before a similar downhill run to the finish.
Stage 16 - last minute