Tour de France: Stage 5 review

Stage 5: Rouen to Saint-Quentin, 205km

The man with the largest thighs in the peloton, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), powered to his second consecutive sprint victory, thanks to his well-drilled sprint train, overtaking a fading Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) in the drag race for the line. Goss managed to hang onto second while Juan Jose Haedo (SaxoBank-Tinkoff Bank) finished third, collecting valuable World Tour points for his team. The diminutive Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) was fourth and a subdued Manx missile, Mark Cavendish (Sky) fifth – still suffering from yesterday’s heavy spill.

The peloton had seemingly opted for an easy day, intent on conserving its energy for the weekend, on what turned out to be a fairly benign route  – no croswinds or rain – after the previous stressful few days of racing. This was the only stage in this year’s race where there were no mountain points on offer and, after a rolling start, the last 60km were pan flat.

The breakaway quartet were allowed to stay out in front for much of the day, cruelly giving them false hope of a possible win. Indeed, the sole survivor, poor Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), was only caught by the bunch inside the final 300m. This was after Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) had fallen, with around 3km to go, possibly due to a rolled tyre, taking out green jersey Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale). Note, Farrar hasn’t won a race since his US Independence Day victory at last year’s Tour.

The stage winner’s trajectory was hindered by that crash but Lotto-Belisol kept their act together and it was crack-tweeter Greg Henderson who shepherded Greipel back into position and launched him to victory after the uphill drag into the final left-hand bend. Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) finished in the main bunch,  to wear the maillot jaune for a record-breaking 27th day tomorrow. The top of the general classification, and all the other jerseys, remain unchanged.

VeloVoices rider of the day

I’ve selected Euskaltel’s 32-year old Pablo Urtasun who formed part of the day’s breakaway quartet because he came so close to fulfilling his dream of a stage win today. I was willing him on, to what would have been a sensational victory for the Euskaltel hard-man, in only his second Tour, and who only a few days ago suffered concussion after a crash in Stage 3.

One felt that the break was doomed from the start by the might of the sprinters’ teams, but their hesitation, coupled with that unfortunate crash with around three clicks to go, gave the quartet a slender chance. Tour debutant Cofidis’ Jan Ghyselinck went just as they passed under the red kite, but Urtasun timed his sprint to perfection, caught the Belgian within sight of the line, but couldn’t hold off the charging pack.

Urtasun eventually finished an exhausted 25th and will no doubt look back proudly on his effort in a few days’ time. Afterwards, he said:

“I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am happy to have been in the mix to dispute a Tour win. But on the other, opportinities for Tour victories are few and far between. We really needed another five seconds, the last 20 kilometres went very quickly perhaps if it had rained, that might have helped. But, I played my cards, was strong in the last 500 metres but came up 150 metres short. We are making the best of what would not normally be a favourable week for the team.”


Sadly Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) has succumbed to his injured knee, as opposed to his intestinal troubles, climbing off his bike after 40km of racing. Meanwhile the cycling wounded, who have become new best mates on account on their not dissimilar afflictions – Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick-Step) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) – continued to ride together at the rear of the peloton. Talking about their new bromance, Martin said on the team’s website:

“We are always together in the back of the peloton, where there is room for discussion. It is true, even if we suffer, we talk a little bit together. We talk about the race, the weather, the conditions of the road. It’s funny because each day, we give each other our medical reports. I will explain to him my condition, and he will tell me his condition. We are always kind of updated about our injuries. It’s  funny in these kind of conditions, while you are suffering, you can  sometimes find some good guys to share your thoughts with.”

The feverish Brice Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM), still in quarantine away from his teammates, is still the Lanterne Rouge.

And as you can see from this video from after the stage today, emotions run high in the Tour de France. Here is Tyler Farrar taking it to the Argonaut bus – he seemed to believe that one of the Argos-Shimano riders was the source of his accident and, well, he wanted to have a chat with that man.

Tactical analysis

There was much talk at the start of the stage at how Sky were faring much worse than BMC in the crashes largely, it was felt, due to the fact that BMC brought Classics riders like George Hincapie, Marcus Burghardt and Manuel Quinziato to form an impenetrable fence around their leader and keep him well to the fore.

Sky might not have the same Classics talent but today, to keep in position, Bradley Wiggins formed part of Mark Cavendish’s lead-out train. It served its purpose, even though Cavendish was a bit off his game and finished fifth, as no Sky rider was caught up in the crashes in the final straight. Expect Sky to deploy a similar strategy in tomorrow’s sprint stage.

The crash, however, has meant the green jersey contest has hotted up again. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) looked invincible at the stage start, indeed the commentators were speculating that Cavendish might not bother to contest the intermediate sprint. Hello, you don’t give up on a jersey in the first week! This competition is going to go to the wire. With Greipel winning again, Goss coming second and Sagan being taken out by the uber-unlucky Farrar, it’s game on.

Sagan still leads the points competition with 157 points. Goss is second with 137 and Greipel is third with 132, despite not contesting the intermediate sprints. Sagan was looking rather subdued on the podium – don’t forget, he’s still a Tour rookie. There’s nothing easy about this race and not even his superb bike-handling skills could save him being taken down by a rider-less bike. It takes as much luck as skill to get to Paris.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website

Bon anniversaire, Philippe Gilbert!

Gilbert hits the big three-oh (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

He may not have been able to match the glorious success of last season, but Philippe Gilbert only needed one year to prove that he is one of the greatest classics riders of his generation.

Now at 30, he is something of a late bloomer, with the Belgian spending his early career as a journeyman rider on the journeyman FDJ team, giving little hint of the classics potential which would later be revealed.

Gradually as he moved on to the Lotto outfit in 2009, his palmares began to fill out. He took 3rd, 4th and 4th respectively at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege after winning the prestigious classic Omloop Het Volk the year before.

Two years later, and the extraordinary feat of winning the Ardennes triple was achieved by the Belgian – only Davide Rebellin had done it previously. As if that wasn’t an astonishing achievement in itself, Gilbert became the Belgian road race and time trial champion, won the Clasica de San Sebastian, the Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec, the Strade Bianche and Brabantse Pijl amongst others.

It is testament to the rider that this season could be seen as a disappointment. It’s not only the fact he wins so many races that make him so popular, but the way he wins them. He – much like Alberto Contador – isn’t afraid to attack, and take risks. Inevitably, sometimes it doesn’t come off – but the racing is never dull when PhilGil is involved!

Tour de France preview: Stage 5

Stage 5: Rouen to St-Quentin, 196.5km, flat

With a finish line on the edge of Champs-Elysees Park in St-Quentin, this can only be a stage for the sprinters. Orica-GreenEDGE sprint coach Robbie McEwen won here when the Tour previously visited in 2006. Flat and fairly uneventful before the last few kilometres, this will give the peloton a chance to spin the last few stages out of their legs. Mark Cavendish has won stage five of the Tour in three of the last four years so he’ll want to make that four out of five.

The run-in to the finish contains a couple of tight bends just after the 3km and 2km markers, and then a very sharp left-hander at 1.3km, where positioning will be vital and there is high potential for a crash. And although it’s fairly straight from there, whoever has the inside line on the slight left kink 130m from the finish could have a distinct advantage. With McEwen lending his experience of the finish, this could help propel Matt Goss to victory, although Cavendish, Greipel and company will be right up there too.

Cycling the Alps’ interactive videos of the route can be found here.

Link: Official website