That tradition continued today.
Ag2r’s Maxime Bouet and BBox Bouygues’ Pierre Rolland were part of a six-man breakaway for most of the 111 miles of Stage 10. But the two Frenchman faltered toward the finish and Portugal’s Sérgio Paulinho, a RadioShack teammate of Lance Armstrong, won instead.
Afterward, compatriots acknowledged the effort: As the two young French riders headed for the team buses in Gap, spectators applauded and shouted words of encouragement.
Rolland was the country’s last hope.
“Throughout the stage, I said to myself, maybe it’s my day, maybe it’s my day,” an exhausted Rolland told reporters at the finish line. “But that last effort was too much for me – I cracked.”
A Frenchman hasn’t won on Bastille Day since 2005, when David Moncoutié prevailed in Digne-les-Bains, about 50 miles south of here.
'No stress,' says Schleck
The stage started with several groups attempting to escape over slightly rolling terrain, but nothing took until the six riders pulled away about 19 miles into the race.
As the day continued, their gap over the main field – including overall race leader Andy Schleck – widened. Paulihno and Kiryienka crossed the line a whopping 14 minutes and 19 seconds ahead of the peloton.
In this three-week Tour de France, conserving energy is crucial to performance. With no riders in the breakaway posing a threat to Schleck or second-place Alberto Contador, the two main contenders for the yellow jersey, a decision was made by Schleck’s SaxoBank team not to chase.
Instead, the peloton took in the independence day scene – French flags flapping in the wind; spectators barbequing and tanning along the course.
“It was a nice day … after the breakaway there was no stress for us,” said Schleck. “I had time to see children writing my name on the road.”
The peloton finished in a sprint, which was won by Team HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish.
It was a preview of the next few stages as the Tour makes its way west toward the Pyrénées.
Known as transition stages, these mostly flat courses are sprinter’s heaven and will likely determine the winner of the green jersey, worn by the best sprinter.
Points are awarded for each sprint throughout the race and whoever collects the most by the race’s end takes home the jersey.
Cervélo’s Thor Hushovd, the 2009 winner, is currently in the lead; the pressure is on Cavendish to deliver after a slow start to this year’s race.
“It's the first sprint day for a few days and we'll do our best for a win,” he told AFP before today’s stage.
Lance Armstrong, meanwhile, continued to fall back. While the top riders remained in the same standing as at the end of Stage 9, Armstrong failed to cross the finish line with the peloton and dropped another two minutes behind the leader. Now in 31st place, he is more than 17 minutes behind Schleck.
Overall standings after Stage 10:
Full results here
Tour de France 101: