Friday, 8 July 2011

Cav takes the win in epic photo-finish homecoming stage as British Champion Wiggins crashes out with fractured clavical

On a day when journalists prepared to wax lyrical about an historic homecoming for Mark Cavendish fate decided to prove once again that anything can happen in the Tour de France and nothing is certain. Less than 24 hours ago Team Sky was revealing in the glory of Geraint Thomas in the White Jersey for six stages and their first stage win as Evald Bossan Hagen took a victory in Liseux. High on cloud nine, they were blissfully unaware of what fate had in store for them on stage 7.

With winds making the peloton nervous as it fought hard to bring down the time gap between them and the four man breakaway that had spent most of the day out in front, tension was riding as high as the elation of Team Sky the night before. As the race headed into the final 35km chaos ensued at the front of the peloton, the section GC favourites try to avoid for this is where the havoc and mayhem of the sprinters can make it a risky place to be. All eyes where immediately on the riders down, shock turning into horror and disbelief as it became clear the worst of those affected was Bradley Wiggins, leader of Team Sky and British National Champion.

Prior to the Tour he had been on the best form of his career and his aspirations for a podium finish in Paris seemed about to be realised. Trying to stand and get back on his bike, helped by team mates who had stopped to help him, his agony was clear and though no one liked to admit it out loud everyone knew then his Tour was over. Later Team Sky confirmed everyone's fears: Wiggins had sustained a fracture to his left clavicle.

Waiting for their leader ultimately added to Team Sky's woes as Geraint Thomas lost the White Jersey he had defended since the start of the Tour to Robert Gesink of Rabobank. Meanwhile up ahead Leopard Trek came to the front of the peloton which had by now fractured into two groups, pushing up the pace, determined to thrust Andy Schleck up into the GC position vacated by the exiting Wiggins. The move proved advantageous to HTC-Columbia who came to the front with 5km to go, stretching out the peloton into one long line in a thrilling run into Chateauroux where Cavendish was hopeful of a spectacular return to the podium he first graced in 2008 for his first stage win. An epic sight to behold, the team showed where their strength lies, each man taking his place to bring their sprinter to where he needed to be.

As the race came into the final home stretch hearts began beating wildly while everyone held their breath. Petacchi and Greipel were determined to make sure Cavendish fought for what he wanted; with the battle line in sight it was every man for himself. Even Cavendish himself seemed shocked to have made it, nosing ahead of his rivals it was only clear from the aerial position and the photo-finish that the Manxman had taken the victory by a wheel length. British hearts leaped at the awe inspiring agony and ecstasy of a truly heart wrenching day.

Post victory hugs with team mates over, Cavendish made his way to the waiting press. ITV's Ned Boulting broke the news about Wiggins premature departure. Unaware of the incident the shock was etched on his face as he fell from cloud nine to the ground in seconds "gutted" by the news of his friends fate; his immediate reaction that included a profanity entirely forgiveable.

Tomorrow the peloton now minus Boonen and Pauriol who along with Wiggins appeared on the withdrawal list today heads to the heart of France for the heart of the race. A lumpy route in the Massif Central will take its toll on the legs as sprinters drop to the back after a week in the limelight. Here seems a likely place for Hushovd to relinquish the Yellow Jersey that he has worn for the majority of this first week in the saddle. But who knows what cards fate intends to deal tomorrow?

No comments :

Post a Comment