At last, we get a rock 'em sock 'em mountain stage with carnage spread over two giant mountains. The race was blown up like a pinata by CSC and Saunier Duval swept in to pick up the candy.
It was a familiar sight in the mountains: Saunier Duval went 1/2 as Piepoli crossed first and Cobo second. Not far behind was Frank Schleck, who was desparately seeking prize that CSC was seeking most: the yellow jersey. But he'll have to wait for the next mountain stage. Cadel Evans may have been far down the road, but he was able to snag a 1 second lead, and he tearfully accepted his prize. Saunier Duval's Riccardo Ricco may not have been part of the finishing duo, but he finished with the Evans group and also took enough points on the Tourmalet to take two jerseys, KOM and best young rider.
CSC have been the harbingers of pain this Tour. If see them at the front, you know that something hard and nasty is brewing. Last time we saw them digging in at the front the peloton was split in half. They setup their cards early as Fabian Cancellara worked hard to make the breakaway and stay up the road over the Col du Tourmalet. Back in the peloton, Gustov kicked it up, stringing out the leaders on the Tourmalet. Next was Jens Voigt. Riis said he had been saving Voigt, winding him up as a spring, and today he was sprung. With a face screwed up in agony, he pulled the ever-dwindling selection up and cover the rest of the Tourmalet.
The damage was huge -- Valverde and Cunego had been cracked. Not all hope was lost for Valverde and Cunego, though. They were only half a minute down and had the descent to catch on for the Hautacam. But CSC wasn't done yet: they still had one more pain bringer, Fabian Cancellara, waiting in the wings. Cancellara dropped back and banished hope for Valverde. Even with a couple of Caisse d'Epargne teammates, there was little chance of outdoing Voigt and Cancellara.
On the slopes of the Hautacam, Saunier Duval emerged unscathed from CSC's attacks. It was quickly a blur of CSC and Saunier Duval jerseys jumping up the road: Piepoli, Sastre, Cobo, Frank Schleck, back and forth. Piepoli, Cobo, and Schleck were the survivors, and soon the Saunier Duval tandem was able to shed Schleck. The Saunier Duval tactics weren't as well-honed as CSC's -- at one point Schleck was able to use Cobo to bridge up to Piepoli -- but in the end they stuck.
Further down the road the Evans group contained the rest of the riders who can hope to be on the podium in Paris. Garmin-Chipotle's Christian Vande Velde was a happy man as he was able to stick with the attacks and put in some of his own in order to slot into 3rd in the GC. As usual, I'll leave it to the eloquent words of Jonathan Vaughters to summarize their day:
Go F*ckin' Christian!!!!!!!!!!!!!! JV
Gerolsteiner's Bernhard Kohl also did well as he jumped off the front of that group to vault up to 4th in the GC. CSC's Carlos Sastre was probably a little less happy to have to stick with Evans as he had to sacrifice GC aspirations to preserve Frank Schleck's position. Menchov can be happy that he stuck with the group after all the bad luck he's had this Tour. A good time trial could get him on the podium in Paris.
The biggest losers on the day were Valverde and Cunego at almost 6 minutes back (there goes my prediction). They can almost certainly say farewell to the GC as it's hard to imagine they making up that time on Evans. Kim Kirchen lost four minutes and the yellow jersey today.