Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Tour de France: Stage 5 Debrief

Nicki Sorensen's bike was clipped
and dragged by a motorbike,
leading to the driver's immediate
dismissal from the Tour.
A friend of ours, named Dave, has made it his personal mission in life to learn how to say "Screw you guys!" in as many languages as possible. If he doesn't yet know how to say it in Manx Gaelic, he could do a lot worse than watch the final sprint to the the finish of today's Stage 5 in the Tour de France because Mark Cavendish gave us all a practical and memorable lesson.

Turns out you don't actually have to use words - you just switch on the motors and power from 10th place to 1st in 50m, blasting past your rivals before they even know what's going on. Or perhaps they did know what was going on - if something passes you at that sort of speed heading for the finish line, it's either a Eurofighter or Mark Cavendish. They're probably used to it by now: this was his sixteenth stage win in four years.

The stage was once again marked by carnage - crash after crash forced two riders to abandon and one motorbike rider to lose his job after he clipped Nicki Sorensen's bike and apparently didn't notice, dragging it for several metres up the road while the Saxobank rider dived for the verge. According to Norwegian television, Tour organisers were heard on the radio moments later furiously yelling at the motorcyclist and firing him there and then. Christophe Kern, who has been suffering tendinitis in his knees, was also forced to abandon.

Kern and Brajkovic were both
forced to abandon.

Both Wiggins and Contador crashed, needing new bikes. Leipheimer also went down, but the most unfortunate were Janez Brajkovic of Radioshack who appeared to have been briefly unconscious. Medics were with him almost instantly and within minutes he was on his feet, but the decision to quite suggests at least minor concussion and possible broken collarbone. Later on, a Euskatel also fell, apparently hitting the metal crowd barriers. A team-mate remained with him briefly until medics arrived. Christian Knees and Xabier Zandio, both from Sky, also went down early but were back onboard within moments. Quickstep's Tom Boonen looked like he might be about to abandon after a rough crash left him with what at first looked like a broken collarbone but he was back in the saddle rapidly, albeit in some pain by the looks of his facial expressions. Unfortunately, he was unable to catch up with the peloton and had to complete the stage alone.

We were completely wrong when we said any early breakaway groups would be subdued on the Category 4 climb, as they actually increased their lead there and managed to remain out in front through the feeding station and on into the sprint, taking the best of the points. When the peloton showed up, Europcar's Sebastien Turgot - who seemed to be having trouble with a problematic bogey, going by the amount of time he spent picking his nose later on - was first through. Mark Cavendish, somewhat surprisingly, was thirteenth through. However, he had plans for later on.
Cavendish's victory was stunning.

Thomas Voeckler and Jeremy Roy mounted a brave late breakaway attempt, managing to achieve a lead which  for a while stood at over a minute. There was little chance of it lasting, though, and once into the last couple of kilometres they'd been caught and put resolutely back in their places. Meanwhile, Garmin and HTC were arranging themselves around the front of the pack ready to attack the finish line. After the race, Cavendish told reporters that he believes the Tour organisers have deliberately tried to create finishes that don't favour the now-traditional HTC technique of surrounding him until the last moment, then opening up so he can put his foot on the gas and pull his customary rocket-like acceleration over the line - if that's the case, whatever they did today in response did the trick. Approaching the line, Cav was right back in 10th place as yellow jersey Thor Hushovd began powering ahead, but then he came out of nowhere and literally flew, crossing 50m in virtually no time at all and just crossing the line for his sixteenth stage win in four years.

It may have been, as Bradley Wiggins later said, the "Worst stage so far...a really, really horrible stage," but it was one of the most exciting finishes for a long time. HTC rider Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, currently racing in the Giro Donne, was on Twitter and said, "Impressive Sprint by @MarkCavendish. Looking forward what he will tell people who doubt him."

He's already said all that needed to be said. The Missile is back.

Stage General Classification Standings:

1. CAVENDISH Mark 3h 38' 32"  
2. GILBERT Philippe 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"
3. ROJAS Jose Joaquin 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"
4. GALLOPIN Tony 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"
5. THOMAS Geraint 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"
6. GREIPEL André 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"
7. HINAULT Sébastien 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"
8. BONNET William 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"
9. OSS Daniel 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"
10. HUSHOVD Thor 3h 38' 32" + 00' 00"

Overall General Classification standings:

1. HUSHOVD Thor 17h 36' 57"  
2. EVANS Cadel 17h 36' 58"+ 00' 01"
3. SCHLECK Frank17h 37' 01" + 00' 04"
4. MILLAR David 17h 37' 05" + 00' 08"
5. KLÖDEN Andréas 17h 37' 07" + 00' 10"
6. WIGGINS Bradley 17h 37' 07" + 00' 10"
7. THOMAS Geraint 17h 37' 09" + 00' 12"
8. HAGEN Edvald Boasson 17h 37' 09" + 00' 12"
9. FUGLSANG Jakob 17h 37' 09" + 00' 12"
10. SCHLECK Andy 17h37'09" + 00' 12"

Green jersey: Philippe Gilbert; Polka dot jersey: Cadel Evans; White jersey: Geraint Thomas; Leading team: Garmin-Cervelo; Combativity: TBC.

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