Stage 6: Epernay to Metz, 207.5km
Another stage, another crash and this time it was a whopper. An early breakaway, led by Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) and joined by Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Romain Zingle (Cofidis) and Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), was allowed to go out. An early crash brought on the road rash and, in the case of Andre Greipel, a dislocated shoulder. Matt Goss (GreenEDGE) took the fifth place intermediate sprint points, pipping Mark Cavendish (Sky) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) on the line.
With 25km to go, a huge 70kph crash took out most of the main field, narrowly missing the maillot jaune of Fabian Cancellara. While Cadel Evans (BMC), Denis Menchov (Katusha), Bradley Wiggins (Sky), and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) from the GC hopefuls came through unscathed, and sprinters Greipel, Goss and Sagan still upright, behind them was devastation which took several minutes to sort out.
The breakaway was still out but the slimmed-down chasing group caught them at 2km to go – all but Zabriskie, who flew off the front before the catch, getting into time trial mode and hoping to hold the sprinters off for a much-needed Garmin win. This, however, was not to be, as Lotto and GreenEDGE got their men into position. SuperSagan latched onto Greipel’s wheel and came around Greg Henderson to go neck-and-neck with the battle-scarred Gorilla to take a magnificent sprint win, bellowing as he went over the line in what, we later found out, was an impersonation of The Incredible Hulk. Well, he is in green.
VeloVoices rider of the day
I would normally have said SuperSagan was rider of the day, but I have to give that honour to Dave Zabriskie. With all the rumours swirling around him and his possible participation in the USADA investigation of Lance Armstrong, he came out of the peloton almost at the gun and rode hard all day to the point where, if the sprint trains had been a touch more disorganised, he would have time-trialled his way to the stage win. Garmin-Sharp have been having a hell of a Tour – not in a good way – and Zabriskie’s fighting spirit surely must have given the team a bit of cheer, on what was a hideous day.
When asked in an interview if this was a statement about the news reports in the past few days, Zabriskie smiled that enigmatic smile of his and drawled: ‘Nah, it’s just bike racing.”
It was on this stage last year that Bradley Wiggins crashed out of the Tour and from the looks of the carnage today, anyone not in it was very lucky. It was a straight road, wasn’t raining, nothing technical, yet most of the peloton was either brought down or held up by this random crash.
There will be days of speculation ahead about what this means to the GC but for this column, I thought I’d just observe how most of the guys, bruised, bloodied and battered, got back on their bikes to pedal (some very slowly) to the finish. One was Garmin’s Johan Vansummeren, who quite simply looked like he’d been attacked by a pack of wolves as he came over the finishing line, his jersey nearly ripped from his body, his shoes destroyed. But he was on his bike and he finished.
You can’t win the Tour in the first week, but you can lose it and I’m afraid the list of those in the latter category got very long today. The crash at 25km from the line took out someone from every team, including Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Frank Schleck (RadioShack), and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) from among those hoping to do something in the mountains to bolster their GC dreams. Mark Cavendish (puncture) and Edvald Boasson Hagen were also caught up in the carnage, as was Mark Renshaw (Rabobank).
Although many of the above named GC hopefuls were lucky to only lose a couple of minutes, Hesjedal came in over 13 minutes down, dropping from ninth to 108th in one fell swoop. Several riders were taken to hospital after the stage (at the time of writing, details are still sketchy). Looking like discarded extras from an episode of Casualty as they were forced to abandon were Vacansoleil’s Wout Poels (three fractured ribs), Katusha’s Oscar Freire (broken rib), Lampre’s Davide Vigano, Garmin’s Tom Danielson and Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Mikel Astarloza. It was also rumoured that Pierre Rolland (Europcar) might have suffered a broken collarbone. He was looked after by Thomas Voeckler, who wasn’t in the crash but waited to help bring him over the finish line. Chapeau Thomas.
Several others are – including Vansummeren and Hesjedal – are questionable, and countless others are reckoning themselves lucky to be carrying relatively minor injuries. It will be a battered and bruised peloton which will face the first serious climbs tomorrow.
What does this mean going forward into the mountains? Anyone who is not Bradley Wiggins, Cadel Evans or Denis Menchov needs to attack, attack, attack. Tomorrow’s final climb is a cat 1 leg breaker, short and steep. These are the types of climbs that can damage Wiggins (and Evans to a certain extent) so they’ll have their hands full chasing down attackers. But anyone caught in the crash today has to use every single stage they can to claw back the minutes and gain yet more to buffer them against the time trial specialists. If they don’t, it really will be a two-man race. If they do, it could be a real humdinger.
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