Juan Manuel Garate of Spain has won a gruelling stage 20 of the Tour de France on Mont Ventoux but his compatriot Alberto Contador was the big winner, underlining his overall victory with a masterful display on the hardest racing mountain in France.
The podium positions, which were the major source of speculation before the day, ended up staying the same, with Andy Schleck in second and Lance Armstrong in third unable to bridge the massive time gap that Contador had built up in previous stages.
After just three kilometres of the 167km from Montelimar to Mont Ventoux, a breakway of 10 riders and then two further groups of three got a significant lead over the peloton, but the leading group contained no riders of any note, and stage 20 was always going to be one decided on the last climb, historically the most fearsome in the Tour de France which was made even worse by gusting 25kph headwinds on the final climb.
All that Contador had to do to conserve his lead was to cover any attacks by the half-dozen riders between four and six minutes behind him. Each of those contenders – Andy and Fränk Schleck of Team Saxo Bank, Lance Armstrong and Andreas Klöden of Team Astana, Bradley Wiggins of Garmin-Slipstream and Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas – quickly grouped themselves to tackle Mont Ventoux together, along with Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Maxime Bouet and king of the mountain winner Franco Pellizotti.
Up the road, the original breakaway had dissolved into two groups, with Spaniard Juan Manuel Garate of Team Rabobank and German Tony Martin of Columbia HTC kicking half a minute clear of the main group of nine. Christophe Riblon and Jose Ivan Gutierrez were the only two out of that nine who were not then immediately dropped behind the pack.
As expected, the race among the GC leaders developed into a series of attacks, especially by the Schleck brothers, which Contador dealt with in succession with ease. However, with 10km left to go Contador and Andy Schleck attacked together, and the two leaders of the Tour maintained a lead over the other contenders until Nibali rode across the small gap to join them with around 8km to go.
Even these three riders were caught by the main leaders group, as Andy Schleck hoped to drag his brother Frank up to third spot on the podium in Paris in place of Armstrong. Pellizotti was then allowed to jump clear as he was no threat on GC, giving the two leaders 90 seconds start over about 7 kilometres to chase a fabled victory.
Wiggins and Nibali then almost cracked with three kilometres to ride, but managed to hold on to the leading group. Wiggins trailed off again with two kilometres to go and rode back up.
Garate made his move on Martin with just over 1000 metres to go, as Pellizotti gradually drew in their lead to 20 seconds, but Martin recovered. The yellow jersey group then ate up Pellizotti, but they couldn’t catch the leading two, and Garate had one more kick to win the stage.
The leaders came over together for the most part, apart from Wiggins who had finally cracked but hung onto his fourth place by a handful of seconds.
Stage 20 results
1 Juan Manuel Garate Cepa (Spa) Rabobank 4:39:21
2 Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia – HTC 0:03 behind
3 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:38
4 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana
5 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 0:41
6 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:43
7 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 0:46
8 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas 0:56
9 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 0:58
10 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin – Slipstream 1:03
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 81:46:17
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 4:11 behind
3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana 5:24
4 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin – Slipstream 6:01
5 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 6:04
6 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana 6:42
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas 7:35
8 Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin – Slipstream 12:04
9 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 14:16
10 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux 14:25