Wednesday, July 08, 2009

TDF 2009: Stage 5: Cap D'Agde to Perpignan Preview

Today's stage will once again follow the southern coast of France from Cap D'Agde to Perpignan, a course that has a couple of grade 4 and 5 climbs, but then halfway becomes mostly flat.

The 196.5 km / 122 mile course goes inland for a while through the Corbieres wine growing region, then the last third is all on the edge of the glittering Mediterranean, where roads are narrow, and the views spectacular.

The conditions are likely to be windy and combined with the flats will bring on early breakaways, splits, and an unpredictable finish for sprinters. For one, who will be in the line when the sprint comes?

Some of the favorites include Tyler Farrar of Garmin Slipstream, and Mark Cavendish of Columbia HTC, Tom Bonnen of Quick Step, and Thor Hushovd of Cervelo.

But Columbia HTC may not have the strength after yesterday's time trial--or the desire after other TDF teams refused to pull in stage 2, leaving them out in front to pull up to the breakaway group.

That could mean if another team steps up to the plate, there will certainly be competition from their sprinters at the end.

Lance Armstrong is 0.22 (or 22 hundredths) of a second behind the Tour leader Fabian Cancellara--perhaps the closest margin between first and second in the history of the Tour.

If Armstrong rides as intelligently as he did in Stage 2, he's likely to take advantage of any changes in the field and capitalize on them. So the chance that he will take the Yellow Jersey today is better than 50 percent.

Cadel Evans of Silence Lotto is 2 minutes 59 seconds behind Cancellara in the standings, so his chances as a tour favorite are diminishing. Another big loser is Denis Menchov who crashed in the first kilometer of the team time trial yesterday, losing too much time against his competitors.

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