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Florian Stalder was BMC's best finisher up Ventoux, providing essential support to teammate Frei on the way (foto by Tim de Waele)
Florian Stalder was BMC's best finisher up Ventoux, providing essential support to teammate Frei on the way (foto by Tim de Waele)

Strong Ventoux ride finds Thomas Frei entering top 20 of Dauphiné

11. June 2009

Le Mont Ventoux

Racing up the Mont Ventoux is a daunting task even for the most seasoned professionals.  As Thursday's stage marked the beginning of four tough stages in the Alps, the day would act as a real proving ground for anyone with ambitions to succeed at the Dauphiné.  

Not unexpectedly, the leader board received a dramatic shake up with Alejandro Valverde taking second on the stage and the race lead for good measure.  Sylvester Szmyd (Liquigas) won the stage, while Cadel Evans finished over 2 minutes back, relinquishing the leaders jersey by 16 seconds.  Several of BMC's riders had very strong rides.  Florian Stalder and Thomas Frei rode in together just three minutes behind Evans while Mathias Frank rolled in just a few minutes later.  On the strength of his strong rides yesterday in the time trial and today up Ventoux, Thomas Frei is now in 20th place on the GC with three more tough stages to go.

Foreshadowing future successes

Though Ventoux is the climax of the stage, over 130 kilometers including one category 3 and three category 4 climbs have to be raced to get there.  "The whole stage was so fast and a lot of breakaway attempts were being made that the day was very difficult even before we reached the Ventoux," Mathias Frank reported.  "On the second to last climb Markus Zberg did a wonderful job working for me and getting me into the right position for the start of the final climb."  The frantic pace and hairy descents made it difficult to eat or drink properly coming into the Ventoux.  "The real mind-blower for me was the speed at which we came into the climb. It was like a full on field sprint," Brent Bookwalter explained.  "I certainly have a newfound appreciation for big mountain stages. You can't really comprehend them until you've seen the size and repeatability of the top riders' efforts."  Though Bookwalter on his first race up the Giant of Provence suffered stomach cramps and worked his way to the top with a steady group, Mathias Frank, Thomas Frei and Florian Stalder found themselves riding near the front with the strongest climbers in the world. 

Frei finds his climbing legs 10 km from the top

Having suffered a dip in energy over the second to last climb, Thomas Frei expected that he would have to ride the climb up Ventoux at his own tempo and hope to save strength for the mountain stages yet to come.  "After about 100km the legs suddenly felt very bad and so I figured I would have to go up Ventoux at my own rhythm," Frei reported.  "I took two gel packs, though and with about 10 kilometers to go I started to feel much better and could really give it some gas."  Meanwhile, Mathias Frank who had been riding with the yellow jersey group up half the climb hit the wall just as Valverde put in his winning attack.  "Maybe I was a little excited and tried too hard early on, but I saw with 10 kilometers to go that I was on my limit while Evans and the other members of the group looked like they could keep going at that pace the whole way up," Frank said.  Frei managed to catch his teammate about 7 kilometers from the top.  "Thomas did a great job catching me and then he and Florian were able to work and ride together to the finish," Frank said. 

I hope my legs don't break, walking on the moon

The famous moonscape of the climb's final five kilometers provides no protection from the massive gusts of wind which are always present.  "The final five kilometers were insane with a strong wind which was either from the side or front; really it nearly blew me off once or twice," Frei said.  "Florian did an amazing job working for me, though and I really thank him for all his efforts."  The BMC duo steadily picked their way through the stragglers and came to the summit in 24th and 25th place.  Mathias Frank had to ride most of the way up on his own which was quite a challenge in the unrelenting wind and gradient of the climb.  "On that climb everything can change so fast and then when you are alone in the wind you can lose a lot of time," Frank explained.  "But near the top I was trying to take it as easy as possible and I already have my attentions turned to making a break or helping Thomas gain time in the stages yet to come." 

Still a lot of climbing ahead

With the Hors Categorie Col d'Izoard and the climb up to Briançon to come on Friday, everyone is hoping for a speedy recovery after the trials of today.  "Now that I am in the top 20 I will take things day by day, give my best effort for the team and see where we land on Sunday," Frei said.  "We have a strong team here and a fantastic team spirit, so I'm sure that we will still be able to shake things up a bit."