Thursday, 20 May 2010

A bad day for Armstrong

Once again the cycling world has been subject to much controversy. Landis' revelations about his use of PED, despite denying the allegations following the 2006 Tour, would have been enough of a knock in itself, but his allegations regarding former team mate Lance Armstrong made for a dark ominous cloud over stage 5 of the Tour of California. It therefore didnt come as much of a surprise that Armstrong crashed out early on. Despite a brave attempt to carry on after crashing, it was apparent that x-rays were needed to establish the extent of the damage. He wasnt the only one to suffer though, as Stuart O'Grady crashed with a suspected collar bone injury on the dangerous Calaveras Road, Haussler (CTT) abandoning his race having been caught up in the same crash that ended Armstrong's Tour.

Meanwhile, a breakaway of 6 riders notched up over 6 minutes time gap from the rest of the pelaton, which was for the most part split into two chasing groups. Hunter, Rogers and Cavendish grabbed the first set of points in the race for the Green Jersey, while Menzies (UHC), Powers (JCB) and Martens (RAB) grabbed the second set. In the first KOM Mach (BPC) took the top points, with Nierman (RAB) and Hovelynk (QST) taking 2nd and 3rd respectively. For now Anderson remains in the lead in the KOM competition.

With 53km to the finish, the breakaway had 4.30 mins on the front of the pelaton, which, still fractured into two groups, had Cavendish and Boonen back in the 2nd group, a massive 12.30mins down. By 32km to go however, the time gap from the breakaway, lead over the summit of the second climb, China Grade, by Day (VAU), Renshaw (THR) and Mach (BPC), was down to 2.35 to the front of the pelaton. Strung out in single file down the descent into Bakersfield, the main field slowed to give the breakaway group over 3 minutes, as they worked together to maintain their advantage. However, by 19km the advantage had diminished to a little over 2minutes, as the pelaton worked hard to bring them back into the fold as they headed into the circuits in Bakersfield.

At 18.80km, Mark Renshaw pushed away from the other 5, however it was a shortlived attempt as by 17.50 they were back together. Meanwhile the roar of the pelaton was never far behind as the time deficit came down to 1.50 minutes. At 16km Day (VAU), Renshaw (THR), Niermann (RAB) and Hovelynck (QST) pushed away again, leaving the other two guys behind. Once more they regrouped at 12.60km from the finish while behind Garmin, Radioshack and HTC Columbia came to the fore to lead the pelaton ever closer to catching them.

As they came across the line for the premier passage, the time gap was down to a little over a minute, as the self-styled Argyle Armada lead the pelaton as it thundered down for the start of the last 10km. Dickenson and Day, sensing the beast behind them gave a kick to see if they could do something special, but once more the valiant attempt was quashed by the other four who stuck like glue to their wheels. At a little over 8km, Dickenson was caught by the bunch, as Day and Renshaw pushed to maintain their 25 second lead. Jens Voigt of Saxobank kicked off from the main bunch to chase down Day and Renshaw, and followed by the pelaton, by 5km Day was the only rider remaining to be caught of the original breakaway of 6.

With Day in his sights, Voigt gave it his all, but a little under 4km Garmin and Liquigas had brought him back. Day however was still out in front, hoping to make his mark on the Tour. His spirited attempt was put to paide though, as he was caught with a little more than 3km to go. Zabriski and his compatriates in the Armada came to the fore with HTC Columbia to fight it out for the line, but it was the White Jersey of the Young Leader, Sagan who stole the show, snatching the victory from Rogers and Zabriski who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively, making it a disapointing end once again for HTC-Columbia, whose sprinter Cavendish failed to secure the victory he so hoped for yesterday.

Once again we are reminded that anything can happen in cycling, and nothing is certain. Levi Leipheimer, winner of the last three Tours, and also named in the allegations made by Landis, finished seventh behind Horner (RSH), Martens (RAB) and Martin (THR). Voigt, having made the biggest effort to catch Day, finished 9th behind Hesjedal (GRM) while United Healthcare's Sutherland finished tenth.

Over 9 minutes down, the 2nd half of the pelaton, including Cavendish, finally came home. Rogers' day out in front was rewarded with the Golden Jersey taken from Zabriski, with Leipheimer moving up into third place in the GC.

News courtesy of CF Live as this blog went live was that Armstrong needed stitches in his elbow and under his eye. With Armstrong now out of the Tour and once again being questioned about allegations of doping, it must be hard now for Lance especially with his 2nd Tour de France since his come-back a little over a month away. Unfortunately it seems it is impossible for a Tour de France to go on without a cloud of controversy or scandal hovering over. But some solace must be found in the comments on Twitter and the signs spoted in the crowds as they lined the way to the stage 5 finish. Little credit is being given by many of the fans to Landis' statements, and Radioshack and Johan Bruyneel publically supporting Lance, distancing themselves from Landis who Bruyneel suggests needs "help". For many their is nothing new in these allegations, all of which to date have no proof and despite it being a distraction from the Tour it does nothing to deminish the support of the fans for Armstrong.

Stage 6 poses to be the hardest of the tour as the pelaton makes the journey from Pasadena to Big Bear Lake, as the climbers look to make their mark on the Tour.

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