Sunday, 4 July 2010

Chaos at the finish sees the peloton decimated in the scramble for victory on stage one of the Tour de France

Almost as soon as the race flag went down, 3 brave riders, Wynants (QST), Perez Lezaun (EUS) and Boom (RAB) made there mark bringing the hammer down to breakaway from the 196 riders who had survived the Time Trial prologue stage of yesterday. BMC rider Frank was the only rider to fail to start, joining Cerevelo's rider Florencio who had been pulled yesterday by his team for breaking internal policies on the list of those who were now out of contention for GC glory.

Amassing a lead of a little over 7 minutes, they made sure that if the fireworks kicked off as the peloton approached the coastal roads and there crosswinds coming through the dunes, they were already clear away from any involvement. While the predicted fireworks were not lit, drama came in the form of crashes; first to fall was HTC-Columbia rider Adam Hansen, who suffered a suspected dislocated clavical, shortly followed by Garmin-Transistions rider and current mailot vert Millar who was caught up in an incident involving a spectators stray dog.

With 66km to go,
the sprinter's teams Cervélo (Hushovd), Garmin (Farrar) and HTC-Columbia (Cavendish) reported for duty at the front of the peloton, lead by the injured Hansen. Knowing the course would soon narrow, the riders knew it was now or never to bring the leaders back into the pack ready to set up their men for the ride into Brussels where the finish line awaited.

Back up front, the leaders shared the points in all three sprints, denying points to Cavendish and Hushovd who are both vying for glory in the points competition, making a bunch sprint finish grab for glory on the finish line all the more likely. With 56km to go, and around an hour of cycling left, the peloton headed into Antwerp, bringing the time gap down to around a minute and a half. Huge crowds awaited them, in places 6-7 people deep, cheering the riders as they made there way through the Gallo-Roman city, hinting at the flavour of the Tour of Flanders, their much loved Spring Classic race.

While the Belgian riders were sure to want a victory in their home region, Tyler Farrar was also sure to aim for a coup de gras on this, the 4th of July. Thus he would make his mark on the Tour now his team, minus Wiggins who had moved to the newly founded Sky team at the end of last season, were now no longer divided in working for the British rider versus Farrars compatriot Christian Van de Velde.

With 35km to go, and knowing the roads into the Beligum capital would be twisty and smaller and an introduction to the pave, it was time for individual kicks off the front of the peloton and fractures were starting to emerge within the bunch, as they caught sight of the breakaway trio. As they headed into the final 20km, Wynants (QST) remained in the lead, joined by Alexandr Pliuschin of the Katusha Team, the time gap which had got down to around half a minute now up again to around a minute. Still, Farrar, Hushovd and Cavendish were never far behind, as Garmin-Transitions and Cerevelo came to the fore to work at bringing the time gap down as they made there way to the finish.

The last 10km were sure to be dramatic, as the peloton played their waiting game. HTC-Columbia had already made it clear that the familiar 10km attacking tactics seen so many times in last years tour would not be possible with their team setup in this years tour. With baited breath spectators and commentators alike waited to see who would make the first move as they worked hard to close the lead down. HTC-Columbia joined Cerevelo and Garmin-Transitions on the front along with Lampre to make their intentions clear, as the peloton swallowed the leaders at 8.7km to go.

The compact peloton made there way into the final 5km, confirmation came that Wynants (QST) had been awarded the accolade of "Most Combatitive Rider" for his efforts in a lead over 200km of the stage. Meanwhile Eisel of HTC-Columbia stamped down on his pedals, pushing the peloton ahead for his man Cavendish, as Hushovd seemed to be boxed off by the tight bends, and Freire was shortly caught in crash that took out Brit Jeremy Hunt of Cerevelo, taken out by Cavendish who hit the bend and was unable to recover his balance. The drama continued with a crash just short of the Flame Rouge that signaled the final km, and with meters from the line a third crash took out Robbie McEwen.

What should have been a simple bunch sprint finish with all the big names in contention ended up in a fight for the line amongst those who had managed to steer clear of any danger in the scramble for recovery from the relentless crashes.
Petachi (LAM) managed to crossthe line in 1st place, followed by Cavendish's team mate Renshaw (THR) in 2nd and Hushovd (CTT) made it to 3rd. Confusion and carnage seemed to be the only words to describe the action as Farrar walked across the line having been entangled in one of the crashes that saw so many of the GC and sprint big names fall.

What should have been on paper an easy victory for the HTC-Columbia lead out train to take Cavendish to, was in the end more a matter of luck than judgement for the victors. Meanwhile in the opening stage of the Tour of Austria, Cavendish's team rival Greipel stormed to victory, ensuring that it wasnt all bad for HTC-Columbia today.

With the crashes occuring within the final 3km, the GC were unaffected, ensuring Cancellara remained in yellow. Tomorrow
the race gets down to the nitty-gritty a bit more with rolling valleys and a nod to the “Ardennes Classics” as it follows a part of the routes covered in the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. While there are no very hard slopes, it may be sufficient to eliminate the major sprinters, like Cavendish, whereas Freire could have more luck. It's a rugged route on which all sorts of things could happen, much like today. In 1995, it was on a similar stage that Miguel Indurain attacked on the ‘bumps’ of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and broke away with Johan Bruyneel.

The peloton will travel 201km from Brussels where they finished today, to the city of Spa. The first set of climbs awaiting the peloton, km 98.0 - Côte de France - 2.2 km climb to 6.2 % - Category 4, km 128.5 - Côte de Filot - 3.9 km climb to 4.5 % - Category 4, Km 136.0 - Côte de Werbomont - 4.5 km climb to 3.5 % - Category 4, Km 161.5 - Côte d'Aisomont - 4.5 km climb to 5.2 % - Category 3, Km 167.5 - Col de Stockeu - 3.0 km climb to 5.9 % - Category 3, Km 189.0 - Col du Rosier - 6.4 km climb to 4 % - Category 3, are sure to see some drama.

Hansen however wont start as it was confirmed following the stage that he had actually fractured his clavical and not dislocated it as previously suspected.

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