Result: Edvald Boasson-Hagen of Team Sky won his second stage of the race as he attacked a large breakaway group with 11km to go to cross the line solo in Pinerolo.
Here’s how it happened: A break containing 14 riders broke clear after about 50km of racing which included yesterday’s runner-up Boasson Hagen and the French champion Sylvain Chavanel.
Altogether there were four French riders in the front group in search of the stage victory, as they still hadn’t won a stage in this year’s Tour.
As the break crested the summit of the big climb to Sestrières, 62km from the finish, the gap back to the peloton was over six minutes. The Spaniard Ruben Pérez had attacked the group on the climb and was alone out front with about a one minute advantage on the rest of the breakaway.
The gaps remained fairly unchanged on the incredibly long 40km descent but with a final short climb just 16km from the finish there was plenty more action to come.
With 12km to go, Pérez was caught and Chavanel launched a counter-attack. The only rider capable of following the French champion was Boasson-Hagen.
Ruing the fact that he didn’t attack earlier in yesterday’s stage, just one kilometre later, Boasson-Hagen attacked Chavanel and made it all the way to the finish to win the stage solo.
Back with the GC favourites, with 8km to go, Alberto Contador attacked just as he did yesterday. But this time the other favourites were more alert and the attack was neutralised as they crested the final climb together.
But it all kicked off on the twisting narrow descent as Contador and Samuel Sanchez managed to gap everyone else. There were plenty of riders over-shooting corners and coming a-cropper in a hugely exciting finale.
But ultimately, the Schlecks caught Contador and Sanchez on the line to postpone the big GC battle until the major mountains stages tomorrow and Friday.
The Big Winners: Norway. Incredibly, this was the fourth stage win by Norwegians in this year’s Tour de France. Boasson-Hagen has won two and world champion Thor Hushovd has done the same.
Along with Britain (thanks solely to Mark Cavendish), Norway have won the most stages in this year’s Tour de France, out-shining more traditional cycling nations such as France, Italy and the Netherlands who all haven’t won any.
The Big Loser: Thomas Voeckler. The yellow jersey wearer was one of the riders who went flying off the road on the final descent. He found himself in the front garden of a house as he had to dust himself off and return to the road.
He ended up losing 27 seconds to the other overall contenders. It doesn’t seem like much, but he’ll need every second he can get as he attempts to defend his advantage in the remaining Alpine stages. His lead over Cadel Evans in second place has now been cut to just 1’18″.
What about the Irish? Nicolas Roche tried once more to get into the break of the day. Having made a move early in the day along with Thor Hushovd, the pair were reeled in and they ultimately missed the 14-man group which formed.
But as the peloton reached the third last mountain of the day, 80km from the finish, with the breakaway six minutes ahead, Roche attacked from the bunch. He brought Kevin de Weert and Johnny Hoogerland with him as the trio began to chase the big group of riders up front.
De Weert was in 12th overall and harbours ambitions for a top 10 place, as such he drove the trio himself as Roche and Hoogerland were given a free ride. Over the top at Sestrières, Roche’s group were a minute and a half down on the leaders.
But it all came back together like a contracting accordion in the final kilometres as all of the time gaps between each group were reduced.
Roche ended the stage in 14th place, four minutes behind Boasson-Hagen and just 26 seconds ahead of the favourites chasing behind. He has moved up one place on GC from 22nd to 21st.
So what happens tomorrow then? The third major summit finish of the race. The route has three Hors Categorie climbs on it, the Col Agnel, the Col d’Izoard and the Col du Galibier. The finish-line at the top of the Col du Galibier will be the highest ever in the history of the Tour de France.
It will be the second to last chance for the climbing specialists to gain time on the expert time-triallists before the test against the clock on Saturday.
Essentially, this means the Schlecks need to attack and gain time over Contador and Evans, either on this stage or the next, otherwise neither brother will win the Tour, again.