Tour de France riders returned to the road today following the first rest day of this year's race. They knew the route would be a tough one as they ventured into the high mountains for the first time. The 194km (120.5 mile) Stage 10 ran from Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine and featured three difficult climbs, including one Beyond Category. It was a day of exciting moves and aggressive riding that ultimately led to a French victory that is sure to make the home crowd very happy.
Early in the stage a group of very talented riders made a breakaway from the peloton in an attempt to grab Tour glory. Amongst them were the likes of Luis-Leon Sanchez, Jens Voight, Dries Devenyns and the immensely popular Thomas Voeckler. The tough climbs broke what was originally a 25-man group into smaller factions with five or six riders surviving over the course of the day. They all rode hard and took turns challenging each other, but in the end it was Voight, who valiantly rode himself back into contention for the stage win after getting dropped on the big climb, Michele Scarponi and Voeckler who battled to win the day. The Frenchman Voeckler, who has had a tough Tour thus far, managed to have just enough gas left in the tank to claim the stage win, three seconds in front of Scarponi and seven in front of a fading Voigt.
Voeckler's win will definitely have French fans celebrating tonight. Last year Voeckler made a surprise move mid-way through the race to claim the Maillot Jaune and then gamely held on to it in the early mountain stages. He's not the kind of rider that can win the race overall, but his tough riding and refusal to give up are certainly admirable. He's been nursing some injuries this year which have kept him at the back of the pack, so it was great to see him earn the victory today.
The stage win wasn't the only thing he gained today. His tough riding also earned him the Polka Dot Jersey as the leader of the King of the Mountains competition. He'll now try to defend that title in the mountain stages to come.
Bradley Wiggins kept the Yellow Jersey firmly on his back, not allowing his rivals to gain any real time on him. Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale attempted a breakaway at one point in an effort to close the gap on the leader, but he was eventually reeled back in by the surging peloton. Peter Sagan kept the Green Jersey as the top sprinter in the race despite losing an intermediate sprint to Matthew Goss and Tejay Van Garderen still holds the White Jersey as the best young rider in the race.
Tomorrow will definitely be a day to watch. It is the toughest day so far and possibly the toughest day overall in this year's Tour. Stage 11 is 140km (86.9 miles) in length and runs from Albertville to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles. That is a relatively short stage for the Tour, but this one features four massive climbs including two Beyond Category mountains and a Cat 1 up-hill finish. If any of the GC contenders have a hope of earning time on Wiggins, they'll have to be aggressive tomorrow and test his legs on this big mountains.
It's going to be a tough ride that will leave everyone in pain. Stage 11 will take no prisoners.