On a day of attrition Mark Cavendish blitzed to his 16th career stage victory in Le Tour, while the peloton was battered and bruised much beyond the regular. There were a spate of crashes and withdrawals, partly caused by the vicious cross-winds and partly by the tricky route on the day. For a fan like me, it hurts to see all the hard work and endless hours of painful toil go to a waste because of such unfortunate events.
Each day the Tour doctors issue a medical bulletin, which ranges from innocuous items such as stings and saddle sores to the most common on the list – broken bones. But even by these rather unsettling standards, yesterday’s bulletin sounded like a war record. It was only the incredible will of these riders that propelled all but the most severely injured to remount and finish the stage grimacing in pain. The gallery below does not bring out the scintillating beauty on the Tour, but the incredible bravery of each of these men.
Nobody had expected for such carnage and the confidence was there for all to see as the first breakaway tore free as soon as the riders hit the zero kilometer mark at the end of the neutral zone. This time it consisted of Frenchmen Sebastien Turgot (Europcar), Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) and Tristan Valentin (Cofidis), plus Spanish rider Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar).
First crash of the day arrived at the 60km mark, involving 12 riders, chief among them being Chavanel (Quickstep), Wiggins (SKY), Ten Dam (Rabobank), and Leipheimer (Radioshack). Hardly had 10km passed, when Radioshack’s Janez Brajkovic touched wheels with Rabobank’s Robert Gessink. This was much more serious and while podium hopeful Gessik remounted and continued in pain, the Slovenian rider was not as lucky.
He suffered deep wounds on his forehead and lay in a daze till professional medical help arrived shortly after. Brajkovic had to ultimately be stretchered into an ambulance, needing further treatment, and his Tour ends in a pool of blood and plenty of road rash. Ahead on the road within a kilometer of this, defending champion Alberto Contador hit the tarmac, falling back first and admitted this would cause him a few troubled nights.
While unfortunate, such events are to be expected in this brutal event, however what happened next shocked everyone. Contador’s teammate Nicki Sorensen got entangled with a passing photographer’s motorbike and was pulled along. The Dane was unceremoniously thrown off his bike and away from the peloton while the motorbike kept dragging his machine. Seorensen was justifiably furious and confused, though managed to continue on a spare bike with no major injuries. Fate of the motorbike rider though, seems to be sealed.
Also around the 90km mark fell Yaroslav Popovych (Radioshack) and Christophe Kern (Europcar), latter’s injured knee ruling him out of any further action in this year’s event. Worse was to come and this time two Quickstep cyclists, Tom Boonen and Gert Steegmans’ wheels touched and both came crashing hard. Boonen – the 2007 maillot vert – seemed to have taken a big knock and lost a huge amount of time recovering. In-keeping with the tenacity of Tour de France riders, the pair – with pale faces - continued all by themselves.
Ahead of all this carnage Jérémy Roy (FDJ) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) broke from the peloton with 33km to go. The French duo battled hard and their quixotic venture was highly appreciated by the fans all the way along. Even at this late stage there was no stopping the crashes with Euskaltel’s Ivan Velasco hitting the side barriers hard.
Roy and Voeckler continued to play catch-me-if-you-can with the peloton, and caught they were, with just under 3km to go. Voeckler made a last gasp dash, alas in vain as he was reeled in just after a kilometer. Considering the manic speeds the sprinter’s teams were pulling the peloton with, it was almost surreal to watch a colourful bunch whirr by the narrow lanes of Cap Fréhel.
Toward the end many riders tried their luck, but no one was to deny the Manx missile his much due victory. Cavendish seemed to have lost it as he lay in 10th place with just under 100m to go. But as always the burly HTC-Highroad man turned on the turbos and accelerated with such venom that he left the World champion, the Spanish champion and all the rest stunned in his wake.
This performance seems to have re-validated his “fastest man in the world” tag (all Bolt and Vettel fans we are talking cycling here). But even the never-say-die islander admitted that this was one of his toughest victories. Ceding he was in the red during the slight uphill leading to the finish he said, “I had to give it over 100%. It will take a couple of days to recover from this.”
Everyone please spare a thought for Boonen, Steegmans and Velasco; who despite their terrible falls and searing pain, pulled through sheer willpower to finish within the stipulated time (to avoid disqualification). The way each rider’s team-mate nursed them back – losing time themselves in the process – is a testament to the class of this event and its participants. Bravery, honour, support and above all proud display of the undefiable human spirit.
I know this post was not very uplifting and maybe I overdid with all the gory details of each crash, but I precisely wanted to bring out the immense sacrifice these men make and the risk they take in today’s “health and safety” obsessed world. It is definitely not desirable, but is a manifestation of the Tour’s toughness, where nothing but the very best manage to survive.
Today’s stage 6 hopefully would be benign and is a rolling route as we move from Brittany on to Normandy. It’s the longest stage this year with the riders covering a total of 226.5km in the day. There is a little climb just under 2km from the finish and yet again this can cause the peloton to split up. Philippe Gilbert has another opportunity to double his tally for this year, which he narrowly missed out yesterday and this should again make for a closely fought finish. So till tomorrow then…
Jersey holders: General Classification:
Maillot Jaune – Thor Hushovd Thor Hushovd – 17h 36’ 57”
Maillot Vert – Philippe Gilbert Cadel Evans – 17h 36’ 58”
Maillot à Pois Rouges – Cadel Evans Frank Schleck – 17h 37’ 01”
Maillot Blanc – Geraint Thomas
Fun fact: Romain Feillu’s dash in the wake of his team car was judged to be within the rules by the commissars and did not entail any fine for the Frenchman. However his insistence for the car to go faster than the 70kph he was doing (cycling!) landed the driver on the wrong side of the French traffic police. The poor man was fined although I could not confirm the amount.