It was a fairly innocuous stage for most of the 214km, with the peloton riding along the Normandy coast as a three-man break of David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) were allowed to dangle off the front for the majority of the stage. The wind didn’t kick up as strongly as expected and, other than a freak downpour halfway through the coastal ride, the stage was pretty uneventful until the last 3kms. The peloton was controlled most of the day by RadioShack’s Jens Voigt and Yaroslav Popovych who, when not driving the peloton themselves, directed teams like Katusha, GreenEdge and Lotto to help at the front.
After the breakaway boys mopped up the lion’s share of points, the intermediate sprint at Fécamp featured Mark Cavendish (Sky) edging out Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), Mark Renshaw (Rabobank), and Peter Sagan (Liquigas) to take 13 points. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) was mysteriously absent, appearing to want to save his energy for the sprint finish. The Manx missile continued to show that he can get the better of Goss and that he is interested in pursuing the green jersey.
With under 8km to go and the break caught, the peloton was at full gas! Attacks came fast and furious with Phillip Gilbert (BMC) and Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) the biggest threats. As Chavanel was only 7sec off the yellow jersey, RadioShack made sure he didn’t get away. In fact, the yellow jersey himself, Fabian Cancellara, took a turn on the front, eliminating the gaps in front but splitting the peloton to bits behind. The tempo was high, the sprint trains were forming, there was much jostling for position and then – BOOM – at 2.6km, there was a massive crash in the front field that sent Cavendish onto the road hard, along with his teammate, Bernie Eisel and Garmin’s Robbie Hunter. Greipel, meanwhile, was safely tucked away behind a perfectly formed Lotto train at the front.
As the sprint survivors of the crash crossed La Seine, it was down to Greipel, Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), Sagan, and Goss. The Lotto train, driven by a rampant Greg Henderson, proved too much and Greipel took the sprint with Henderson celebrating behind him. Petacchi finished second and Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano) finished a strong third. Goss and Sagan were fourth and fifth respectively and the Velvet Samurai remained well positioned to keep a firm grip on the green jersey.
Fabian Cancellara and the other GC contenders were held up behind the crash but were within the last 3km so the top 10 in the GC remained unchanged.
VeloVoices rider of the day
The rider of the day goes to Andre Greipel who wisely decided to forgo the intermediate sprint points and focus on what he knew would be a fast finish. The Gorilla was anxious to leave his cage for the Rouen victory banana and would not be denied when the gate opened. He and his Lotto teammates learned from their Stage 2 defeat that they needed both one more rider in the lead-out train and patience. While Cavendish was unlucky to be caught up in the crash, Greipel made his own luck by being at the front, surrounded by teammates dedicated to seeing him over the line first. After the finish Greipel was gracious and full of praise for his team:
“I’m just so happy to have those guys on my side, such strong riders to lead me out. It’s what we wanted to do, winning a stage. I’m so happy.”
One has to wonder how badly you need to be hurt for a rider to abandon the race during the stage? This morning it was announced that Rabobank’s Maarten Tjallingii abandoned due to a fractured hip sustained in a crash yesterday. He abandoned this morning because he finished the stage. He rode up that killer climb at the end of Stage 3 with a fractured hip. So excuse me while I laugh at footballers who get paid 10 times more than a cyclist yet fling themselves to the ground at the slightest tap of a boot. Man up and take it like a cyclist!
There have been big crashes almost every day so far and it seems that Team Sky is involved in most of them, losing a strong mountain man in the form of Kanstantsin Siutsou yesterday when he crashed and broke his left tibia, and today seeing Mark Cavendish and Bernie Eisel hit the deck hard. Yes, the first week of a grand Tour is nervous and yes there will be crashes, but teams with the big money riders must protect their assets. In these big crashes, we don’t hear names from BMC or RadioShack on the casualty list – and certainly not the names of Cadel Evans or Cancellara.
Is there also a bit of disharmony on the Sky bus? Peta Todd, Mark Cavendish’s girlfriend, called the team out in a tweet just after the accident for not protecting Cavendish. And, let’s face it, with a lead-out train like he had with HTC, these sprints wouldn’t be as scrappy and Cavendish would be much more protected. Cavendish may have been saying that he wasn’t riding for the green jersey, that it was all about the yellow, but why has he been contesting the intermediate sprints? With SuperSagan at 147pts and the top of the leader board and Cav in 4th with 86, unless something dramatic happens – like Sagan’s legs fall off – the green jersey is out of his reach. And it seems to be stirring up some discontent. How will this play out throughout the rest of the Tour? We shall see.
VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitter, reviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.