This stage was expected to be the most boring in the Tour. BUT, on a flat sprinters stage won by a sprinter, the whole GC was shook up. Froome lost 1:09, Valverde lost 9:54 dropping from 2nd to 16th place overall. Incroyable.
Nothing was what it seemed. Even the usual turgid, typo-ridden cyclingnews.com report appeared as well-written prose.
“…the race took a twist just before 100km mark. The hot canicule crosswinds of central France suddenly created waves in the cornfields and sparked echelons in the peloton.”
canicule: from the french “canicule”: heat-wave.
echelon: from the french “echelon”: step-like arrangement.
As in this stuff:
When someone puts the hammer down, the line strings out and suddenly everyone on the end gets slammed into the gutter, and another diagonal line splits off.
And when the hammer is down it’s very hard to jump across to the line ahead.
FIRST the canicule crosswinds arrived, and Cav’s team, drove hard to get the split. When the other sprint teams realised that Kittel didn’t make the front line, they joined in.
THEN Valverde broke a wheel. The echelons were too close to have team cars between them so he had to take a teammates back wheel.
When the other GC teams saw Valverde in trouble, they joined the sprinters in driving the front and Valverde, even with 4 helpers, couldn’t bridge back on. Eventually losing almost 10 minutes and, BOOM, going from 2nd in the Tour to out of contention.
THEN, Saxobank took their chances, burnt all their matches and really put the hammer down further splitting the front group.
Michael Rogers called the move. Nicholas Roche recounted how it went down: “I said to Michael, ‘let’s do something.’ Mick looked back, and Alberto gave the nod. Then Michael said, ‘let’s go!’ And off we went. It was something that was decided in three seconds.” Fuglsang: “The moment they start going you can see it and you can hear it because people start screaming and it goes crazy.” The split caught out Froome and he lost over a minute. Froome still leads, but the big winner of the day was Contador who is now 3rd at 2:45 down.
Cav’s after race interviews usually consists of: “…the guys did great. I’m so happy. blah, blah.”, but suddenly he turned eloquent:
“I nearly missed the final split. Kwiatkowski got me half way across and then I shouted to him to move left. I sprinted and just managed to get in the echelon. When echelons form it’s similar to falling through ice… you’ve got five seconds to save yourself or it’s all over. I sprinted across the gap, then we were gone. We’re a Belgian team and we’re used to racing in crosswinds.”
Let me draw your attention to the perfect storm approaching on Sunday: Bastille Day, longest stage, Mt Ventoux finish, Thomas Voeckler, and the fact that no italian/spanish/french rider has won a stage yet. It’s going to be animated.