Tour de France: Stage 4 review

Stage 4: Abbeville to Rouen, 214.5km

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.

Andre Greipel (image by Panache/ccarls1)

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.”

Observations

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!

Tactical analysis

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 Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website

Tour de France preview: Stage 4

Stage 4: Abbeville to Rouen, 214.5km, flat

Another flat stage for the sprinters – the four fourth category climbs en route are little more than inconvenient speed bumps – but the GC contenders can’t afford to sit back and daydream. Once the peloton gets to Mers-les-Bains from Abbeville, the peloton rides for approx 110km along the coast. If the wind is coming in from the English Channel, that could split the peloton and echelons could form that would put riders caught out at a distinct disadvantage.

It also means the sprint teams are going to have some work cut out for them to get their men in position for the finish in Rouen, especially with two tight turns in the final kilometre as they cross the Seine before a flat 750m final straight. Expect the usual suspects for this one: Cavendish, Greipel, Goss and Sagan, if they all come together at the end, although this could also be a perfect stage for a breakaway to stay away and cross the finish line first. Don’t bet on it, though. Those sprinters are hungry for success – and will be looking to deliver fireworks on the Fourth of July.

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

Link: Official website

Tour de France: Stage 3 review

Stage 3: Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer, 197km

The ‘Tourminater’ aka Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) easily triumphed once more on a stiff ramp and celebrated with a new Forrest Gump-style victory dance. He insouciantly sailed over the line ahead of runner-up Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky). Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was third, while Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) finished fourth to retain the maillot jaune.

Ruben Plaza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) initiated the day’s five-man breakaway, which was never allowed more than a five-minute advantage. Andriy Grivko (Astana) and mountains jersey wearer Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) – the latter in his third consecutive breakaway, earning him today’s most combative rider prize – were the last to be taken back. By then the race had already imploded with around 30km remaining, after a series of crashes and punctures on narrowing roads split in the peloton.

French housewives’ favourite Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) launched his attack 5km from the finish on a course where last year he won his national road race. After almost coming to grief at a roundabout, he was reeled back in by the decimated, BMC-led chasing pack whose trajectory was halted in the final few hundred metres by a Vacansoleil rider falling in their midst.

As the final climb ramped up, Sagan jumped away and powered to his second win in three days, emulating a feat – two wins in a debut Tour – last achieved by Tom Boonen. He now has a firm hold on the green jersey, while Cancellara‘s still looking imperious in yellow.

VeloVoices rider of the day

This was a tricky one. In the end I went for Saxo Bank’s Michael Morkov. This is the third consecutive day he’s been in a breakaway, hoovering up King of the Mountains points to consolidate his hold on the jersey. A smart move, as his leader-less team needs both points and exposure.

Like Sagan, he too is a Tour virgin but, as his super smooth pedalling style reveals, he’s one of Denmark’s many, and probably most decorated, track stars. I’m hoping Saxo’s kit provider is finally going to spring for some spotted shorts and socks to go with the shirt, helmet and matching handlebar tape. At this stage, a spotted bike would be totally over the top – although team chef Hannah Grant has obviously been busy:

Morkov is also clearly a fan of the film Mary Poppins because in the post-race interview below (audio only) he described Sagan’s victory today as “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

Observations

With about 20km of the stage remaining, it looked as if Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), escorted by a handful of his teammates, had punctured but it was instead a problem with his derailleur. His team car couldn’t get up to him so he resorted to the Mavic neutral service vehicle which was visibly ‘tangoed’ by the excitable orange-clad posse all shouting instructions in Spanish and Basque to the French-speaking mechanic. Fortunately, he rapidly resolved the problem and Samu and his boys shot off in pursuit of the leading group.

The various crashes in the final hour produced the first three abandons of the race: Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky) fractured his left tibia and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) broke a collarbone, while Maarten Tjallingii withdrew after making it to the finish with a fractured hip.

Tactical analysis

Event director Jean-Francois Pescheux warned that today’s stage contained potential perils and that the Tour could be lost here. After a few seemingly innocuous spills and punctures in the first 100km of the race, it all blew apart in the final 30km. Those with the wit or luck to be up the front of the peloton took advantage of the crashes, punctures and narrow roads to decimate the bunch. So who were today’s losers?

Despite crashes, punctures and mechanicals, none of the GC contenders lost any time on today’s stage. Three riders – Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) – all of whom might have hoped to be in contention for today’s stage win, were distanced by the crashes and didn’t figure. Voeckler finished nearly 7½ minutes down complaining about the injured knee which nearly kept him out of the Tour.

More significantly, Sky have lost a valuable workhorse in Siutsou which puts team leader Bradley Wiggins at a disadvantage. Similarly Robert Gesink’s chances are diminished by the loss of Tjallingii. Garmin-Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal may be in a similar situation if Tom Danielson’s shoulder injury prevents him from taking the start line tomorrow.

Conversely, who were today’s winners? One word: Sagan, who cemented both his growing reputation and his grip on the green jersey, extending his lead over Sky’s Mark Cavendish to 43 points.

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