Mark Cavendish may have quit the Tour with four stage wins under his belt, but even without him the Manxman's Columbia team continue to rack up the victories. Columbia's fifth came yesterday when the German Marcus Burghardt easily outgunned Spaniard Carlos Barredo in a two-way sprint at St Etienne.
Both one-day Classic specialists, with the mountains now crossed and Paris approaching, the stage represented a rare opportunity for two non-favourites to go clear.
Striking gold in such unpromising terrain made Burghardt's gleeful arm-waving as he outsprinted Barredo all the more understandable – and it contrasted with Barredo's equally dramatic thump on the handlebars – to express his dismay at falling at the last post.
But if there were amateur dramatics galore on yesterday's stage, there was some poetic justice in Burghardt's victory, too. Ten kilometres from the line, when the burly German was doing up his jersey, Barredo took advantage to attack. Barredo's move – legal but underhand – failed miserably, as Burghardt relentlessly closed the gap on the Spaniard, and then made a great show of zipping up his jersey while riding alongside him.
CSC-Saxo Bank's Carlos Sastre had a far more self-contained reaction to his first ever lead in the Tour de France. Speaking to reporters yesterday morning in his team hotel following Wednesday's spectacular success on the Alpe D'Huez, the veteran Spaniard simply described taking the yellow jersey as "a reward for years of hard work".
"There were times when I've thought of quitting the sport, like after the Tour in 2005 [when he finished below-expectations in 21st]. But I kept going."
At 33, such high-level success has come late to Sastre, and he admitted "I did keep the yellow jersey close to hand overnight, just in case it suddenly disappeared from sight. But it didn't." Asked whether the jersey will escape from his clutches regardless on Saturday's time trial, Sastre said he was refusing to look so far ahead. "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I just want to savour one of the best moments of my career."
Yesterday's stage passed off incident-free for Sastre, but it was hardly worry-free for his team-mates Frank and Andy Schleck, whose father Johnny is following the race in his own vehicle. The former pro's car was stopped at gunpoint and searched by customs officials near Grenoble as part of a random check and it was confirmed just a few hours later that no doping products whatsoever had been found.
The story, then, was still-born. But it is symptomatic of the Tour press corps' siege mentality concerning doping affairs that the searching of the car mushroomed into a cloud of completely unfounded suspicion. But in a Tour which has already seen three riders fail drugs tests, rumours of fresh positive cases are almost as commonplace as the genuine article.
Prior to the Schlecks, the most notorious Tour doping-case-that-wasn't this year came when German media started filming police officers moving around inside a leading favourite's team bus. However, it emerged that the only drug possibly in circulation was alcoholic: the officers and some team staff were having a friendly drink.
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for www.cyclingweekly.co.uk
18th stage results and standings
18th stage (196.5km, Bourg d'Oisans to St Etienne): 1 M Burghardt (Ger) Columbia 4hr 30min 21sec; 2 C Barredo (Sp) Quick-Step same time; 3 R Feillu (Fr) Agritubel +3min 33sec; 4 C Le Mevel (Fr) Crédit Agricole s/t; 5 M Astarloza (Sp) Euskaltel +3:35; 6 S Dumoulin (Fr) Cofidis +6:39; 7 C Dessel (Fr) AG2R; 8 R Kreuziger (Cz Rep) Liquigas; 9 L Hoste (Bel) Silence-Lotto; 10 A Schleck (Lux) Team CSC all s/t; 11 O Freire (Sp) Rabobank +6:50; 12 E Zabel (Ger) Milram; 13 T Hushovd (Nor) Crédit Agricole; 14 L Duque (Col) Cofidis; 15 F Pozzato (It) Liquigas; 16 R Hunter (SA) Barloworld; 17 S de Jongh (Neth) Quick-Step; 18 A Ballan (It) Lampre; 19 C Riblon (Fr) AG2R; 20 S Krauss (Ger) Gerolsteiner all s/t. Leading overall: 1 C Sastre (Sp) Team CSC 79hr 16min 14sec; 2 F Schleck (Lux) Team CSC +1min 24sec; 3 B Kohl (Aut) Gerolsteiner +1:33; 4 C Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto +1:34; 5 D Menchov (Rus) Rabobank +2:39; 6 C Vandevelde (US) Garmin-Chipotle +4:41; 7 A Valverde (Sp) Caisse d'Epargne +5:35; 8 S Sanchez (Sp) Euskaltel +5:52; 9 T Valjavec (Sloven) AG2R +8:10; 10 V Efimkin (Rus) AG2R +8:24; 11 K Kirchen (Lux) Columbia +8:35; 12 A Schleck +10:04; 13 Kreuziger +12:02; 14 S Casar (Fr) Française des Jeux +17:08; 15 Astarloza +20:07. King of the Mountains: 1 Kohl 125pts; 2 Sastre 80; 3 F Schleck 80; 4 T Voeckler (Fr) Bouygues Telecom 65. Sprinter standings: 1 Freire 229pts; 2 Hushovd 180; 3 Zabel 176; 4 Kirchen 145. Youth standings: 1 A Schleck 79hr 26min 18sec; 2 Kreuziger +1 min 58sec; 3 V Nibali (It) Liquigas +15:35; 4 M Monfort (Bel) Cofidis +24:44. Team standings: 1 Team CSC 237hr 42min 6sec; 2 AG2R +9 min 27sec; 3 Rabobank +1hr 01min 17sec; 4 Euskaltel +1:07:57.Reuse content