Roche improves on dramatic day in Alps

IRELAND’S Nicolas Roche moved up one place to 21st on the overall classification at the Tour de France yesterday after he finished 14th on a testing 179 kilometre stage from Gap to Pinerolo in Italy.

The Ag2R La Mondiale rider crossed the line exactly four minutes behind the day’s winner, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky), who surged clear of a 14-man breakaway on the final climb and then held his nerve on the treacherous descent to the finish before soloing to a fine triumph, his second of this year’s race.

Norwegian Boasson Hagen said: “I wasn’t afraid of the descent because I’ve done it in training and watched on video. I knew almost every corner and I was looking forward to the finish.”

Bauke Mollema (Team Rabobank) was next over the line 40 seconds later, while Sandy Casar (FDJ) outsprinted Julien El Farès (Cofidis) and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) for third.

Roche had been active from the drop of the flag and tried to get into the day’s early break on a few occasions but just like the previous day, his efforts proved futile as the peloton kept a tight reign on proceedings at the front.

A group of 14 riders did eventually distance themselves from the peloton after two hours of racing and built a lead of eight minutes but significantly, Roche missed the decisive move.

However, the Dubliner did go on the offensive midway through the stage on his own but was soon joined by Kevin De Weert (Team Quik Step) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vaconsoleil) and the trio managed to slim the advantage to the break back. This triggered a reaction from Euskaltel’s Ruben Perez in the breakaway to take off by himself and Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel did likewise soon after.

Roche and his two fellow chasers caught the remnants of the break and worked to close the gap but by this time Boasson Hagen had also attacked, caught and passed Perez and Chavanel and wasn’t seen again until the finish.

Behind, another battle was waging as three-time champion Alberto Contador attacked on the climb up to Sestriere and only Samuel Sanchez could stay with his relentless pace.

The Schlecks, Andy and Frank (Leopard-Trek), along with other GC contenders Cadel Evans (BMC), yellow jersey wearer Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Damiano Cunego (Lampre) were all caught napping and all had to collaborate in the final kilometres to snuff out any potential loss.

Voeckler now leads overall by just 1 minute 18 seconds from Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who finished 20th.

Voeckler said: “Three times I went wide on a corner and the third time I was very, very lucky because I had to jump down a step that was about a meter high. I lost time and if I’d been more calm, I could have finished with the favourites but I was a little bit too ambitious.”

Frank Schleck now trails Voeckler by 1:22, with Andy Schleck 2:36 behind, Sanchez 2:59 adrift and defending champion Contador 3:15 behind.

Today’s 18th stage sees the Tour return to France from Pinerolo with the Galibier Serre-Chevalier finish at 2,645m — the highest finish in the race’s history — and presents an opportunity to attack once more.

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