Blitzy start, an early breakaway, composed chase by peloton, attack on the final climb and a close sprint finish. Ah feels good that things are back to normal on Le Tour. Thankfully this report would be more about the technical aspects of professional cycling and not a lament about the brutal nature of the sport – supported by gory images.
To top a peaceful day in the Massif Central, we were treated to an exciting sprint finish, André Greipel edging out arch rival Mark Cavendish by half a bike-length to claim his maiden stage victory in the Tour. Both riders showed tremendous skill and tenacity to have fought till the line, despite having survived a hard day through the rolling terrain.
There is no love lost between Cav and Greipel and both have exchanged many heated words, despite working as team-mates till last year. This uncomfortable scenario led to the German leaving HTC for Omega Pharma-Lotto this year, as he considered his earlier employers were not giving him his due and instead favouring the Manx missile.
There were no hard feelings in Cavendish’s post race comments, but the hurt was there for all to see. He said, “I didn’t hesitate but I didn’t commit early enough. I kind of rolled round Rojas on the last corner and kicked with 170m to go and Greipel just came past and beat me. I’m happy for him. I feel I made a mistake but Greipel beat me so there’s nothing I can say about that.”
Monday’s break ensured there would be no further crash ridden stories, but it brought a different twist to the Tour with its first doping incident. Russian Alexandr Kolobnev withdrew after testing positive for a banned substance in a sample he had provided on 06 July. Though the Russian has strongly pleaded his innocence, his team are being quiet about it till the B sample is verified.
Doping control has come down hard in recent years, but their insensitivity seemed to stretch a bit too far when they roused the injured Johnny Hoogerland (and his team) early on the day for a drugs test. While authorities claimed to have followed standard procedure, one expected more compassion from them towards a rider who has had three sets of 13 stitches on his legs.
The crashes continued to take a toll despite the relative peace, with Yaroslav Popovych being the latest to fall out and did not make to the start on Tuesday. His withdrawal leaves Radioshck with just six riders remaining in the Tour, making them one of the worst hit teams this year.
But the rest day seemed to have done rest of the peloton some good as they recorded the fastest start to a stage this year, with the average speed for the opening hour being 51.6km/h! As things settled with distance, there was the usual breakaway with the main group ambling within manageable distance of them. At the half way mark the six riders were 3′ 48″ ahead of the peloton.
First action of the day arrived late with just 16km to go as Omega Pharma-Lotto exploded the peloton on the last climb of the day. Their obvious aim was to break the sprint teams and in the process drop as many rivals of green jersey holder Philippe Gilbert as possible. An aim in which they partly succeeded as the main bunch was whittled down to around 25 riders within a few minutes.
The maillot vert himself attacked within a kilometer of the summit of Côte de Mirandol-Bourgnounac followed by four riders including the maillot jaune. It was exciting – and a bit unusual - to see the two jersey holders break and pull a gap of around 10 seconds between them and the main bunch.
The World No 1 put in all the hard work as the other three bickered behind him, and continued ahead solo once they fell back during the descent. But his brave charge was reeled in by the peloton, which contained all the leading sprinters sans a few (Matt Goss, Alessandro Petacchi and Tyler Farrar being the notable casualties of the climb).
The final kilometer to the finish line contained a few nasty corners and considering the speeds at which the riders were charging, it was a near miracle we did not see any mass pile ups. As Greipel surged ahead to a memorable victory, the results behind him did not bring about any changes to the provisional podium or the jersey wearers.
Today’s stage is lighter than the earlier, probably in anticipation of the hell awaiting the riders in the Pyrenees from Thursday. It is also the last opportunity for the sprinters to hog the limelight, as the final two sprint stages will definitely be overshadowed by the battle for overall victory. Watch out then for a hurt Cavendish, or big name riders with no honours to their name yet. For me this is just the last bit of filler till the serious stuff begins on stage 12. So till tomorrow then…
Jersey holders: General Classification:
Maillot Jaune – Thomas Voeckler Thomas Voeckler – 42h 06’ 32” Maillot Vert – Philippe Gilbert Luis-Leon Sanchez – 42h 08’ 21” Maillot à Pois Rouges – Johnny Hoogerland Cadel Evans – 42h 08’ 58” Maillot Blanc – Robert Gesink
ps: Sunday’s crash caused by the French TV car was as bizarre as they come, but it certainly is not the only one. This crash back in 2007 was the day Le Tour “literally” went to the dogs