Roche still on the up as big guns crash out

NICOLAS ROCHE moved upone place to 13th overall in this year’s Tour de France after he produced another superb ride on yesterday’s 208 kilometre ninth stage from Issoire to Saint-Flour.

The Ag2r La Mondiale rider finished in 17th place, four minutes and seven seconds behind stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and he now trails the new leader of the race, Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) by three minutes and 45 seconds.

Roche last night tweeted his disappointment at losing time! to some of the main contenders like Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador on the approach to the line as he just tailed off the back. But that minor blip was the only real blot on his copybook after a terrific opening week.

The race was once again marred by some dramatic crashes that took out some of the main contenders for the maillot jaune. Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Amets Txurruka and Vacansoleil-DCM’s Wout Poels quit after coming down early on but more significantly, as the bunch descended the Pas de Peyrol, a number of riders hit the deck heavily while more veered into the ditch and woods on the right-hand side of the steep descent.

Omega Pharma-Lotto GC team leader Jurgen Van den Broeck broke his shoulder blade and pulled out while teammate Fredrik Willems did likewise. Astana leader Alexandre Vinokourov broke his pelvis and was taken to hospital while Garmin-Cervelo’s time-trial specialist Dave Zabriskie was another who abandoned with a broken wrist, suffered in that same crash.

Then, amazingly, with 36km to the finish, a breakaway group of five riders was narrowed to three when a French TV car swerved to avoid a tree but side-swiped Juan Antonio Flecha of Team Sky, sending him somersaulting into Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team), who flew off the road to the right and into a wire fence. Fortunately, both riders were able to continue, Hoogerland receiving some compensation at the finish in the shape of the King of the Mountains jersey.

Today is the first of two rest days which will be followed by a 158 kilometre hilly stage tomorrow from Aurillac to Carmaux before the riders head for the Pyrenees on Thursday.

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