Things were fairly quiet for the first 211.5 km today. A trio escaped for a breakaway and lasted almost the entire stage. RadioShack-Nissan’s tireless warriors, Jens Voight and Yaroslav Popovych, made tempo at the front of the peloton, assuring that the breakaway didn’t get too big a lead. At the back, the wounded riders, among them Tom Danielson, Luis Leon Sanchez, and Tony Martin, were happy just to keep up with a mellow peloton.
With 8.5 km to go and the sprinters teams driving the pace of the main field, the breakaway was finally caught. Soon after, Sylvain Chavanel and two other riders made a counter-attack. Trailing Cancellara by a mere 7 seconds is clearly making Chavanel a madman. This was the third stage in which Chavanel has tried to jump ahead to a solo victory. He knows his chances to grab the yellow jersey are fading, and it must be killing him. He failed again today; he and his companions were absorbed into the peloton with 3.5 km to go.
Griepel’s Lotto Belisol team worked perfectly to launch him for the final sprint. He had few challengers due to a massive crash with 2.5 km to go which shattered the peloton. Nothing creates a mess like sprinters going full speed suddenly touching wheels. Veteran sprinter Italian Alessandro Petacchi was able to avoid the pile-up but couldn’t catch Griepel once he made his move. Ale-jet, as he is known to his fans, is slowing down at the ripe old age of 38, but give the guy a break: he’s won 51 grand tour stages and claimed the sprinter’s jersey in all three grand tours. It’s hard to keep up with the young bucks.
American sprinter Tyler Farrar’s bad luck continues, as his teammate Robbie Hunter, leading him into the sprint, was the first to hit the pavement. Farrar has gotten stuck behind almost every crash in this year’s tour. Mark Cavendish and his leadout man teammate Bernhard Eisel (who later thought he was the first to hit the tarmac in the crash and needed to get his forehead sutured) sat on the ground looking dazed for a bit. Both were able to ride the short distance to the finish.
Cavendish must have been fine, as he reportedly stormed onto his team bus in anger. He didn’t just miss an opportunity for a stage win; he fell even further in the green jersey, or points, classification. Even finishing fifth would have earned him 22 points, but instead Peter Sagan nabbed them. Sagan now leads the green jersey competition with 147 points, while Cavendish trails with only 86. It will be a tough deficit to overcome the way Sagan is riding. He also leads the white jersey, or young rider, competition, awarded to the cyclist under 25 years of age with the fastest overall time. If there were an award for bizarre stage win celebrations, he’d have that one in the bag so far.
As expected, there were no changes in the overall standings after today’s stage. When a crash occurs with 3 km of the finish, all the riders who were in that group receive the same time, even if it takes them longer to get past the debris to the finish line. This rule was created so that a crash near the finish wouldn’t alter the outcome of the entire race. I’ve even seen cyclists walking or carrying their bikes a short way when the damage is severe. The team cars, which carry the spare bikes and wheels, aren’t permitted on the barricaded part of the course near the finish. The GC contenders typically stay far enough back from the sprinters to avoid getting caught up in the mad dash but stay close enough not to lose time. As long as no gap exists between riders, the rider at the rear is awarded the same time as the lead rider. The first 159 riders today all came in at 5:18:32. With them was Fabian Cancellara, who maintains his hold on the yellow jersey for another day.
Melanie Friedlander is a contributor to Steel City Blitz and spends the NFL offseason following professional cycling. You can follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/girlsurgeon.