Looking at the stage classification following today’s run from Limoux to Foix and you’d think it had ended in a routine – and predictable – breakaway victory, won by one of this Tour’s most impressive riders, Luis Leon Sanchez.
With 50km of the stage remaining, I’d have thought the same too – before Cadel Evans (BMC) punctured and punctured again, the victim of carpet tacks spread over the road. In an impressive show of etiquette, Sky and Liquigas agreed to neutralise the descent, allowing BMC to pace their leader back into the main field, with the peloton finishing almost 20 minutes down.
It was a day in which a very strong breakaway went away, including Rabobank’s Sanchez, Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar). With a lead of over 15 minutes the major headache for the better climbers in the group was the presence of Sagan, who would inevitably beat them in a sprint. Recognising this, on the final climb of the Mur de Peguere – a tough 9.3km at 7.9% – Sanchez forced the pace. Initially, it appeared his attempt at cracking Sagan had worked, but as the climb went on the Slovak began to grind his way up towards the leaders, and astonishingly had caught them by the time they’d reached the summit – with Sanchez and Gilbert beginning to drop backwards.
Three-time Tour stage winner Casar then attacked, but Sagan and Izaguirre quickly caught him on the descent, with Gilbert and Sanchez rejoining with around 15km still to go. Around 4km later, Sanchez made an individual bid for glory, jumping from the group to try to win solo – and he did. The four behind were unable to close down the Spaniard’s punchy attack, as he won his fourth career stage at the Tour. Sagan won the sprint for second to increase his stranglehold on the green jersey.
VeloVoices rider of the day
After a relatively anonymous 2011 – with the exception of a win at the Tour – it was terrific to see Luis Leon Sanchez picking up a victory. He’s tried incredibly hard throughout this year’s edition to secure a win for an otherwise-anonymous Rabobank outfit – who are now down to just four riders – and he’s finally achieved it. It’s a well-deserved victory, especially after all the work he did in trying to crack Sagan and then dragging himself and Gilbert across to the lead group – and still having the energy to launch a successful 11km solo move.
The real interesting fallout from today’s stage will be which disgruntled individual or organisation was responsible for spreading the tacks all over the road – said to be responsible for 30 punctures throughout the stage. Rumours that it was Chris Froome aiming for the wheels of Dave Brailsford’s Jaguar are as yet unconfirmed.
On a more serious note, neutralising the descent to allow Evans to catch up was a very magnanimous move from Bradley Wiggins and Sky, and one recognised by the BMC riders as they waved thanks to the Liquigas and Sky team cars on their way to rejoining the peloton. Pierre Rolland (Europcar), however, chose this moment to attack, having not realised what was happening behind him. He later sat up to allow the others to catch up to him and finished in the pack.
Astana’s Robert Kiserlovski was less fortunate, however. He crashed near the summit – seemingly as a result of the sabotage – and is thought to have broken his collarbone.
The rainbow jersey of Mark Cavendish was again visible carrying out domestique duties, distributing rain capes to his teammates and even pacing the peloton up the climbs. Whatever may be being said in private in the Sky hotel, the world champion is publicly fulfilling his promise to ride in support of a potential British winner.
It wasn’t a stage of great tactical interest, with no changes to any of the jersey classifications. Peter Sagan won the intermediate sprint to collect the maximum 20 points and extend his lead, with his grip on the points classification becoming tighter and tighter with every passing stage. He now leads Andre Greipel by 97 points, and as long as he makes it to Paris the green jersey now seems assured.
Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) continues to hold on to the polka dot jersey, 14 points ahead of Rolland, his nearest rival. Tejay van Garderen remains in white, leading Thibaut Pinot by 1:54.
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