Les Rousses: For the second time in a week, Sylvain Chavanel capitalised on his rivals’ missteps to seize the overall lead of the Tour de France on Saturday.
While the leading contenders spent much of the 165.5-kms seventh stage watching one another, Chavanel negotiated the Tour’s first real climbs and attacked at the right time to secure his second stage victory and the third of his career.
It echoed his success in the second stage in Spa on Monday, when the Frenchman took advantage of a crash-riddled ride to claim the yellow jersey.
Unfortunately for Chavanel, he lost it to Fabian Cancellara on the cobbles of northern France the very next day, and he fears he may not keep it much longer this time round.
“These were climbs that suit me,” he told reporters. “But tomorrow will be another day.”
Sunday’s stage is a 189-kms ride to Morzine in the Alps, the first gruelling mountain stage in this edition.
Chavanel attacked on Saturday’s penultimate climb, the Col de la Croix de la Serra, to catch a group of early escapees, and then dropped them on the final ascent to cross the line on his own.
Spaniards Rafael Valls and Juan Manuel Garate finished second and third.
Doubtful for the Tour after a bad injury at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April, Chavanel now leads world champion Cadel Evans of Australia by one minute, 25 seconds overall with Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal third, 1:32 adrift.
The Tour favourites -- Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong and Andy Schleck -- kept watching each other in the six climbs on Saturday’s menu, collecting information for Sunday’s big battle.
“I suffered, I think everybody did,” Armstrong said. “Nobody showed themselves today, nobody tried anything. The only thing we can do on a day like this is essentially talk to ourselves and think it was much harder than we expected.”
Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, who is fourth, 1:55 behind Chavanel, said: “To be honest, it was much harder than we expected.
“I saw that the others were suffering, too, but Alberto and Lance looked good. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.
“For me, Alberto will attack tomorrow and I’ll try to stay with him. We’ll see if Lance can stay with him too,” added Schleck, the runner-up to Contador last year.
Contador’s Astana team mates imposed a steady tempo in the finale on Saturday and a number of prominent riders were dropped.
The morning’s yellow-jersey holder, Cancellara, lost 14 minutes; Germany’s Andreas Kloeden, one of Arsmtrong’s key team-mates, lost four minutes because of sickness; and Briton David Millar was 18:57 adrift.
The beginning of the stage was marked by a long breakaway led by Chavanel’s team mate Jerome Pineau, who strengthened his King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey by finishing first on five of six climbs.