It was a tale of two days for Team Sky, who having scored their maiden victory in Le Tour on Thursday, lost their leader and podium hopeful Bradely Wiggins to a crash yesterday. The stark contrast in emotions was evident in Ben Swift’s statement, “You can’t go through more different emotions. We had a little glass of champagne last night, it was a big moment, and then it’s overshadowed by today.”
The fateful crash came with 37km left to go on the stage as the peloton approached the intermediate sprint steaming along at 60km/h. It involved around 25 riders present at the center of the peloton and when the dust settled – rather the riders untangled themselves, Wiggins was the last man left lying. As he got up clutching his arm, the worst fears crept into the minds of all his team-mates who had stopped to look after the Briton.
Seriousness of his injury was then confirmed as soon as his team mounted their bikes and continued leaving behind their leader. Wiggins tried to get back on but Sky’s doctor Richard Freeman was convinced that the ambulance was what would transport him back. Rémi Pauriol (FDJ), another causality of the crash, also had to bid adieu to the 2011 Tour for good. Chris Horner (Radioshack) was catapulted badly in the melee, but remounted and raced back receiving treatment rolling alongside the medical car.
The American outfit created by Armstrong seem to be running into bad luck this year almost every day. Levi Leipheimer and Yaroslav Popovych were involved in separate crashes yet again today, and while both escaped major injuries, time lost will hurt the American’s chances in the general classification. And one never knows what the knock on effect of all these crashes would be in the mountains.
One rider to succumb to the effects of a previous crash was Quickstep’s Tom Boonen. The Belgian fell hard on stage 5 and had been suffering since, riding two days with what I think is a broken collar-bone. This probably is not the way Boonen would liked to have ended probably the last Tour of his career, though no one can accuse him of being soft. His withdrawal left 192 riders competing in the Tour – after Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) was disqualified having finished outside the time limit on thursday.
Meanwhile back where things were not as bad, the four man breakaway of Perez Urtasun (EUS), Mickael Delage (FDJ), Gianni Meersman (FDJ) and Yannick Talabardon (SAU) continued to keep the peloton at bay till inside the last twenty kilometers. They had broken free right after the neutral zone, and were all but caught till the accident briefly interrupted the chasing pack.
The stage today otherwise had no classified climbs in the 218km route and the finish was on straight and broad roads. Perfect then for the sprinters and all but Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) and Boasson Hagen (Sky) had manged to reach the end without being involved in the earlier crash.
HTC-Highroad yet again formed a textbook perfect train in the lead up to the finish. With Cavendish at the tail end of the formation and riders decoupling in a premeditated schedule, it seemed like a foregone conclusion for the Isle of Man rider to win the stage honours. André Greipel (OLO) accelerated viciously but seemed to have started too early and was spent right before the line to finish behind Cavendish and “Ale jet” Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre).
“I know my rivals and the speed Greipel went past, it was obvious he’d come from a few places behind me and he’d gone early. Unless he has his very best form he wasn’t going to hold it to the line so I knew he was going to die,” said an ecstatic Cavendish who earned his 17th stage victory at the place where it had all begun.
Riders held up in the Wiggins crash – including all eight surviving members of Team Sky, finished more than three minutes behind the main pack. As an upshot Geraint Thomas lost his white jersey to Robert Gesink, but that would be the least of the team’s worries. This large group included many top ten contenders and the general classification list saw some upheavals as a result.
Wiggins’ withdrawal is the biggest news of the Tour yet and the triple Olympic champion is obviously disappointed as he was looking good to better his fourth place finish of 2009. ”Everyone was jostling for the front,” he said. “We were constantly told on the radio that we’ve got to stay in the front … I couldn’t get up off the floor for love nor money, and once I did make it to the side of the road I kept saying I wanted to get back on the bike, but there comes a point where you just can’t do it.”
The survivors move ahead and today get their first taste of the mountains. While the climbs on stage 8 are not serious enough to trouble the top contenders, they should see the yellow jersey change shoulders. We are now in the Massif Central and this route will take a toll on the legs, especially that of the sprinters who have been the focus of most attention till now. It has one category 2 climb, but more importantly the finish is uphill making Philippe Gilbert yet again a favourite to win today. So till tomorrow then…
Jersey holders: General Classification:
Maillot Jaune – Thor Hushovd Thor Hushovd – 28h 29’ 27” Maillot Vert – Jose Joaquin Rojas Cadel Evans – 28h 29’ 28” Maillot à Pois Rouges – Johnny Hoogerland Frank Schleck – 28h 29’ 31” Maillot Blanc – Robert Gesink
ps: The commissaires – in an act seemingly to justify their existence - fined riders yesterday for “breaches of protocol.” Two participants were fined 30 Swiss Francs each for throwing bidons while others lost 100 Swiss Francs for the heinous crime of “public urination.” Well there is a rumour of a rider who has a wee into his bottle on the go to save time, so I wonder what would punitive action he would invite if caught!!!