A day after the carnage that was stage 5, riders looked forward to a flat route, albeit a tiring one as stage 6 was the longest distance they would cover on any stage this year. As the main pic above displays, they were not offered any respite from the elements, but most managed to end the day with their flesh and bones in the right places.
They stage went to Team Sky and their Norwegian sprinter Edvald Boasson Hagen, who held off a late charge by HTC’s Matt Goss and compatriot Thor Hushovd. It was a maiden win both for the rider and his high-profile British team, which will make last year’s agony diminish further. Sky Procycling have achieved this feat in only their second attempt at the Tour and that should give them a lot of confidence in the coming days.
If the British were ecstatic, it was a far better day for the Norwegians, both their riders in the event finishing in the top three, and Hushovd hanging on to the maillot jaune for another day (by a gap of one second). The Garmin-Cervelo man with a name to die for – would you not like to be called the “god of thunder” – has put in a remarkable performance, finishing strong in all stages, some of which were definitely not suited to his style.
Mark Cavendish, probably still recovering from his superhuman effort in yesterday’s finish was dropped much before the final sprint, and his it was left to his team-mate to pick up points for the team. Alberto Contador came to the fore again, prompted by the slight incline leading to the finish, but he pulled out on second thoughts, having done enough to send the message across.
Much of the route preceding this was what the riders call “French flat” with never-ending crests and troughs to keep the muscles tingling. Thursday began with the sad news of Euskaltel’s Ivan Velasco having to pull out because of a broken collarbone sustained in a crash in the final stages a day before. Though he had remounted and finished within the stipulated time, his condition did not permit for any further action.
Few sign boards claimed the route to be passing “paradise in Normandy”, however it seemed anything but. For one, the peloton was racing along some decisive battlefields of the Normandy campaign and then the rain that had started falling by the second hour made things seem right out of the Deathly Hallows. Distance and conditions though are never much of a concern for these athletes as was vindicated by the speed in the first hour, a nippy 49.4km/h.
As the half-way mark approached, the breakaway of five riders had opened up a gap close to 10 minutes over the main field. They had at one point gained 11min 35sec, which has been the biggest advantage by any breakaway this year. But with Garmin and HTC organising the chase – later to be joined by Movistar – it would have never sufficed. Mark Cavendish got something out of the day as he was first across the intermediate sprint line among the main lot, picking up 10 points for the green jersey classification.
Only crash of the day came towards the end, with the rain finally taking its toll. It was Armstrong’s former team-mate Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) who slipped on the white markings on the road and hit the barriers with 6km to go. The American thankfully suffered no major injuries and managed to finish the stage, albeit losing just over a minute in the process.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) attacked again today, this time inside the final 2km and with Jelle Vanendert (OLO) for company. They managed to pull 100m clear, but were never a match for the hungry peloton with the Gilberts and Millars gunning for glory (personal or the team’s).
In the final dash Boasson Hagen was launched with perfection by David Millar – who has been doing a splendid job for Sky this year – to take victory in 5h 13′ 37″. Mark Cavendish was definitely missed and his green jersey chances this year are hanging in the balance, the uphill finishes favouring Phillipe Gilbert and José Joaquín Rojas, who are 50 and 49 points ahead of him.
Today we start heading southward, beginning with a car transfer to Le Mans – home to the legendary 24 hour car race. According to the Tour’s official website, it’s the flattest of all stages this year and hence should yet again favour the sprinters to shine on the day. At the face of it the route looks pretty straightforward (only considering the ability and stamina of these riders mind you), but rain and wind can raise a tempest in the calmest of scenarios. It’s also where a certain Mark Cavendish won his first Tour stage back in 2008, and with him lying low yesterday I would recommend you to watch out for him. So till tomorrow then…
Jersey holders: General Classification:
Maillot Jaune – Thor Hushovd Thor Hushovd – 22h 50’ 34”
Maillot Vert – Philippe Gilbert Cadel Evans – 22h 50’ 35”
Maillot à Pois Rouges – Johnny Hoogerland Frank Schleck – 22h 50’ 38”
Maillot Blanc – Geraint Thomas
Obituary: The 26-year-old Australian road cyclist Carly Hibberd has been killed after being hit by a car while training in Como, northern Italy. It’s a shocking loss to the sport merely couple of months after the death of Wouter Weylandt in the Giro. Please pay your tributes here.