The amazing walled city of Carcassonne, passed by the riders early in this stage, is a place I have seen from the car and is on my wish list to return to for a proper visit. Sadly, this part of the race was too early for the live televised coverage. My first views of today’s route were of the amazing Gorges de St Georges on the River Aude and we saw the Chateau d’Usson, one of the many Cathar strongholds in this region, close by the route near Usson-les-Bains. The tour is now well and truly high in the Pyrenees and the riders passed over the Port de Pailhères, descending to the valley floor and the spa town of Ax-les-Thermes and the village of Les Cabannes before once more climbing. The final long steep ascent of Plateau de Beille (pictured) was initially
9% gradient, but further up still very steep, with the race finish was just over the summit.
At the final steep climb the riders in the breakaway gradually decreased in number until just Rasmusson and Contador were left to battle for the stage win. There was obviously some discussion over how best to work together but in the end, although Rasmusson claimed double points for the mountain classification and sprinted for the line he was beaten to the finish by Contador in his first Tour stage win. It also means he is up to second place in the overall classification for the yellow jersey behind Rasmusson. It was good to see the cameraderie of the tour in action again, with Contador offering his rival Rasmusson some water to help cool down on the ascent even though a bit later there seemed to be some disagreement over what each had promised the other with regard to the stage.
POLKA DOT (climber) – Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
GREEN (points) – Tom Boonen (Quickstep Innergetic)
WHITE (under 25) – Alberto Contador (Discovery)
COMBATIVE – Antonio Colom (Astana)
LEADING TEAM – Discovery Channel Team