Tour de l'Aude
Axat - Station de ski Majanes Donezan, 98km
This was the hardest stage of the race - 98km and a lot of them uphill. There were 2 'hors category' climbs and a lot of rolling countryside in-between. The ride from Axat to Majanes Donezan took a picturesque course through beautiful Pyrenean valleys and villages. There was a strong headwind again today, just to add to the rider's challenge.
The attacks came early, with Trixi Worrack (Nurnberger) making an early attempt to get away, but the Buitenpoort-Flexpoint pair of Amber Neben and Susanne Ljungskog went after her. They put in a big effort at the foot of the first HC climb (Col du Garaval) and went away together. By the summit, they were away by over a minute, a gap which they maintained to the finish.
At the finish, there was a double celebration; Neben raised a celebratory fist as she became the new race leader and Ljunskog took the stage with a punch in the air.
The race was blown apart, Judith Arndt (T-Mobile), Claudia Hauser (Nurnberger), Priska Doppmann (Univega), Edita Puckinskaite (Nobili), and jersey leaders, Svetlana Bubnenkova (Colnago Fenixs) (mountains) and Madeleine Sandig (Buitenpoort-Flexpoint) (young rider) were the only to manage a finsih within 10 minutes of the leading pair.
Edwige Pitel (Bianchi Aliverti) finished next, she is going to be sore overnight. A fall on some train tracks very early in the stage meant that she has grazed much of the skin from her right thigh. Those remaining in the race finished in small groups.
When asked whether it is possible to defend the yellow jersey on the final stage on Sunday, Amber Neben replied "Its possible, but its going to be difficult." Neben took over the race lead today and could be back-to-back winner of the Tour overall, depending upon the result of Stage 10.
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