Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Thor triumphant in the "Hell of the North".

Stage 3 saw the Tour de France enter the now infamous roads of the Paris-Roubaix as the peloton journied from Wenze in Beligium over the border into France, finishing in the Arenberg Forest. 7 sections of pave awaited the riders, with the final section just 10km from the finish. Early in the day the general consensus had been that staying near the front of the pack was the safest way to ride, but with such a narrow route, and an ever changing surface, there was sure to be some tumbles as the peloton hunted down a breakaway that included yesterday's abandoner Christian Vande Velde's team mate, Ryder Hesjedal.

Of the tumbles, Frank Schleck faired the worst; a crash that pulled down Garmin-Transition rider David Millar resulted in a fractured collar bone for the Luxembourg Champion. For what seemed like an age he lay on the ground as spectators crowded round. Millar picked up his bike and was off on the chase for time, while other riders stopped to check on Frank. It was clear even before his brother confirmed via twitter that he would need surgery, that for Frank the Tour was over.

Up the front Fabian Cancellara drove the pack on, as the pave pulvarised the peloton. With the bunch split into five chasing groups, Hesjedal pushed, kicking away from the riders that had survived the pave to remain in the breakaway, as behind him the remaining 190 riders charged onwards.

With Chevanal plagued by mechanical problems, Fabian Cancellara had the yellow jersey back in his sights, as the Frenchman suffered not one but two punctures, that saw him swap his bike twice. By sheer luck his team car was not far away on both occasions, as ASO had earlier changed the rules to stop mechanics being dropped on the route with waiting bikes that had not been scanned for the fabled motors, whose spectre was haunting the Tour following the accusations made against Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix winner, Fabian Cancellara.

Cancellara's efforts to bring the charge forward were rewarded as he grabbed time back from the unfortunate Frenchman. The front section caught Hesjedal in the final 10km as the headed for a sprint finish that would certainly be contested. Hushovd, who had been so angered by the neutralisation of the stage 2 finish, had managed to survive up front, avoiding crashes and the pave that had troubled so many. Victorious in the sprint, he saw it as revenge for the result of the day before. Second over the line was Sky rider and former Junior Paris-Roubaix champion, Geraint Thomas, who was rewarded with the Young Riders Competition jersey, moving up to second place in the GC.

Chavenal may have lost the yellow jersey to Cancellara, but all was not lost for his team as Pinaeu retained the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey. Having lost out to Hushovd for the stage win, Hesjedal was rewarded with the accolade of Most Courageous rider.

Not everyone felt elation at the finish however. An insensed Jens Voigt voiced his anger at the inclusion of the roads infamously labelled the Hell of the North.
"..I see it with an angry eye. Back in the day, the first time they rode the Tourmalet, the Frenchman that won it, as he crossed the line, he said:"You murderers!" I want to take that quote and with all of that emotion and scream it again. Because of this reckless and dangerous game the oranisers have played with thre riders' health, I lost one of my best friends in bike racing due to a broken collarbone. You cant imagine how angry and pissed off I am over the decision to include this stage of the Tour" he said. "It was a daft decision to include this stage in the Tour. For months, we've said, people, this is too much of a spectacle, this is too dangerous, did they listen to us? No."

While some may not agree, it is an opinion that has been voiced by many over the last two days. Robbie Hunter had earlier commented on route of stage 2 as dangerous. If this is the drama that ASO envisaged, then it has paid off. 198 riders are down to 189 already and the race hasnt even entered the mountains yet.

Stage 4 will see the sprinters have their day, as Cavendish is sure to be on the look out for points now his rival is in the Mailot Vert. Starting in Cambrai, the peloton will travel southeast. In the north, the exposed roads can be windy, but the peloton is less likely to be troubled by this in warm weather. After a flat stage, a sprint finish in Reims, a town which has hosted the Tour ten times in the past, is expected. There are nine roundabouts in the final five kilometers leading to the finish, which is sure to cause chaos if the last few days can be anything to go on. In 2002, Robbie McEwen won his second of twelve Tour wins in Reims. Can he be victorious again today?

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