Tony Gallopin wins 11th stage of Tour de France
Vincenzo Nibali retains yellow jersey
Focus on bravery of U.S. rider Andrew Talansky
Talansky survives inside time limit on 187.5km stage
Usually television focuses its attention on winners, but American Andrew Talansky’s fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude prompted a rethink Wednesday in one of the world’s toughest sporting events.
Appropriately nicknamed the “Pit Bull,” Talansky had to show all those qualities just to get to the finish of the 11th stage of the Tour de France.
Heavy falls on previous days had rendered the former outsider for yellow jersey honors a relative passenger – over 14 minutes adrift of race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy after the 10th stage ahead of Tuesday’s rest day.
Little good that had done the former U.S. Collegiate champion, who was born in Miami.
According to his Garmin-Sharp team, Talansky had awoken with a very sore back as a result of his injuries and it was clear from the start of the 187.5 km leg from Besancon to Oyonaxx that he was in trouble.
The terrain for most of the stage was flat and riders of his quality usually have little difficulty in staying with the main bunch, gaining shelter from other riders, but not for Talansky this day.
With 82km to go he became distanced and as a winner of the prestigious Dauphine Libere race just ahead of the Tour, the television coverage took an interest in his plight.
So as Nibali and the other leaders rode comfortably along, Talansky was seen with his face etched in agony and with tears in his eyes.
Even for one with such dogged determination the hopelessness of his plight was apparent and with 60km to go Talansky briefly stopped to talk with his team managers.
The official Tour de France website reported he had quit and nobody could have criticized him, but moments later Talansky was back in the saddle, grimacing again and slipping even further off the pace.
The closing kilometers of the stage took the peloton over some testing short climbs and it was a whittled down leading group which rolled into Oyonaxx.
Nibali and his Astana team did an excellent job of controlling the race so he came under no danger, but French rider Tony Gallopin, who briefly held the yellow jersey on Bastille Day, July 4, took his opportunity to claim a superb stage win.
The Lotto-Belisol star had time in hand to raise his arms in triumph with the fast-charging John Degenkolb claiming second.
Nibali retained his two minutes 23 second advantage over second-placed Richie Porte of Team Sky with Alejandro Valverde of Spain a further 24 seconds adrift.
Talansky might have hoped to be among the leading contenders, now the 25-year-old was just battling to survive the time cut off for the stage.
He came in 32 minutes and five seconds after Gallopin crossed the line and just inside the time limit, with riders having to finish within a certain percentage of the winner under Tour rules.
Team director Charly Wegelius praised Talansky’s courage. “We know he had a very hard day, worse than we expected,” he told the official Tour de France website.
“It’s very disappointing to come to this race with the kind of of expectations that Andrew had. He deserved much better than this, so that’s cruel. It came from these two crashes in two days.
“For someone with this character it’s only natural to make it to the finish line,” he added.
Talansky will hope he can avoid a similar problem over the next few days and get a chance to shine in the Alps and Pyrenees where his climbing ability could give him the opportunity of a stage win.
It was to his probable disadvantage that a blazing sun finally shone Wednesday after the cool and wet conditions which have marked earlier stages and seen the departure of race favorites such as defending champion Chris Froome and two-time winner Alberto Contador to crashes.
With those two sidelined it has been a gift to 2013 Giro d’Italia winner Nibali – who looks unstoppable after winning the second and 10th stages in fine style.
But as Talansky found, it takes just a momentary loss of concentration or a mass pileup to wreck one’s chances in an instant and render even a talented rider powerless to keep up with a surging peloton racing at over 40kmph for the 3,664km of this year’s Tour.
Thursday might offer further respite with a 185.5km leg from Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint-Etienne, expected to favor sprinters such as Germany’s Marcel Kittel, who has already won three stages on this year’s race, including the opener where 25-time stage winner Mark Cavendish also crashed out.