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Stages 16-18: Pruning the Peloton Like a Spring Green Harvest

Contador Attacks Stage 17 & Domaine des Espiers
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Starting in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, just outside the region of Northern Rhone and approximately 30km from Gigondas, Stage 16 was one of undulating hills with one categorized climb just 11.5km from the finish in Gap. By 100km an escape group of ten men, including Thor Hushovd, had formed; and by the third hour the roads were wet and the sky was storming. Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Cervelo, who’d launched the initial attack, rode aggressively up the final climb, taking his teammate Hushovd.  With a fellow countryman and a teammate in the break, Thor held the advantage until he reached the finish. And though the stage was done with the top three men in, the race for the GC was still for the taking. Behind the trio, with 7km to go, the defending champion Contador kept attacking, putting the hurt on Voeckler and the brothers Schleck, who couldn’t keep responding. By the end of the day, it was Contador who didn’t stop, climbing from 7th place overall to 6th, forcing Frank Schleck down from 2nd to 3rd, four seconds behind Cadel Evans.

Like a complex wine, whose depth doesn’t disappoint, the Tour is loaded with possibilities until peloton reaches Paris. Each breakaway allots precious press coverage to the teams who represent; each stage has a podium with three riders on it. And while the overall GC standings best represent the riders who can time-trial and climb, there are plenty of sprint finishes sprinkled in to accompany the mid-stage green jersey points. If a climber doesn’t possess the wherewithal compete in the GC or take a stage, he can accumulate polka-dots or king of the mountain points. Like a great bottle of Burgundy that keeps evolving in the glass, the Tour keeps the top five riders on their pedals because anything could change at the last minute. The leader could crash or fall behind in the Alps, or he could be found guilty of doping long after the Tour is finished.

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During Stage 17, Contador kept positioning himself to tip back the glass. From Gap to Pinerolo in Italy, he wasn’t fighting for the stage win; that honor went to Edvald Boasson Hagen of Sky Procycling, who finished second to Thor in yesterday’s race. Contador wanted more, going for the jugular, or the overall classification.

At the 52km mark, when the first break had been caught, Hagen launched a second that led to the formation of a 14-man break. When two men went off the front, Hagen wouldn’t let them slip; he caught them and counter-attacked, then descended like a banshee to the finish. And though Contador couldn’t have forseen Voeckler losing 27 seconds as he veered off the road near the finish, he did keep attacking up salita Pramartino before speeding to gain time on the final descent. In the end, Voeckler kept jersey, but with only 1′ 18” over Evans, who sat ahead of Frank Schleck in 2nd place.

During a stage race timing is everything, and the same can be said for the winemaking process.  Located in Gigondas and created in 1988 by Philippe Cartoux, Domaine des Espieres produced its first vintage after three years, and sold the juice to negociants for another five, until it was good enough to bear the winery’s crest.  Immediately, it found a market at such eateries as The Ritz and Le Crillon, and soon, it developed an international following.

Phillipe Cartoux & Cecile Duserre with Their Three Daughters 

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A native to Gigondas, whose grandparents had run a winery since 1879, Cartoux owns 14ha in Gigondas, Sablet, and Violes.  In the process of converting all of its vines to organic, Domaine des Espieres practices dense planting, with 5400 vines/ha, as opposed to the average for the area, which is 3500. With such intense fruit concentration, Cartoux belongs to the Modern School of young southern Rhone growers, who strive to make wines that represent the area’s expected aromas, taste, and terroir.  However, instead of the region’s typically required 5-6 years of aging, the modern wines can be consumed young, in just a year or two.  With five different wines on the market, Domaine des Espieres production is still small (3000 cases annually), which allows for complete control at the vintner’s hand.  Cartoux practices no destemming, and often employs natural yeasts.  By producing wines that are ready to drink, Cartoux doesn’t have the added expense of having to cellar his wines.  And like Andy Schleck in Stage 18, a winemaker has to know when the timing to release is just right.

The race from Pinerolo to Galibier Serre-Chevalier, featured the highest stage finish in the history of the Tour (2645m) and three hors categorie climbs.  Intending to shred the GC standings, Stage 18 certainly had an amazing outcome! At 82km, there was a 19-man break nine minutes ahead of the peloton that was soon whittled down to four on the climb up Col d’Izoard.  Sensing time on his side, Andy Schleck jumped with 60km to go, causing no reaction from the members of the peloton.  At the top of the climb, Andy was just two minutes behind Ignlinskiy, who was in the lead, and over two minutes ahead of the pack that contained top ten riders from the day’s GC.  Down the Col d’Izoard they sped, Andy’s group of five riding lines and taking tangents.

Cadel Evans, who sat in second place, knew that the race was his to chase and so at 13km to go, he got on the front of the peloton and began to pull, putting on the pain up the Col du Galibier when he attacked the group, rendering it threadbare, so that he could chase Andy, who was threatening his chance at the yellow jersey.  At 8km from the finish, Andy’s ripe skin popped and spit a pip as he jumped, leaving the other two in lees as he danced his way up the slopes, finishing first and sitting just 15 seconds in the GC behind Voeckler.    Brother Frank came in right behind, for the old one-two crush.  With tensions high, tomorrow’s third day in the Alps is going to be a cluster buster that prunes the peloton like a spring green harvest.


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  1. Vinisud 2012 | T. Edward Wines

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