Thursday, July 09, 2009

TDF 2009: Stage 6: Hushovd wins in dramatic final push

In a dramatic final sprint to the line, Thor Hushovd of Cervelo took the first place in the stage from Girona to Barcelona with Oscar Freire second. Freire of the Rabobank team started out his sprint a little too soon, losing first place to Hushovd.

Hushovd who has often been called the "God of Thunder" has previously won 7 stages of the Tour, and although he beat out Mark Cavendish, the Columbia HTC rider still holds the Green Jersey.

Time trialing champion David Millar who was in an early stage breakaway and then virtually on his own for the last 30 km of this 181.5 km stage, was caught a little over one kilometer from the line, the peleton bearing down on him like a war ship on a small fishing vessel.

“I tried to avoid look around on the final climb. I just thought, ‘I’ll get there and then deal with it.’ But when I did see them I knew there was no hope," Millar told the Amaury Sports Organisation, the official tour organizer, about seeing the peleton behind him.

But prior to that pivotal moment, Millar's ride into Barcelona was inspiring enough to put goosebumps on the arms of the most hardened criminal, with thousands of cheering fans who braved the weather to see the first lone figure of Millar framed by the boulevard, pedaling furiously towards the finish.

It could have been a spectacular win for Millar, who is Scottish but lives in Girona where the stage started. He said he wanted to win a stage near his home, and was off the front in a breakaway group early on in the stage, at the 46K point.

When Millar broke away from the main peleton he was chased down by Chavanel (QSI) and then later joined by Stephane Auge (COF). At 111 km, the 3-man break was caught by Txurruka (EUS). This group stayed away for the majority of the race until Millar sped away from all three. Txurruka continued to chase Millar but the other two riders were caught by the peleton at the 30 km mark.

Another rider Remy Pauriol (COF) bridged up to Txurruka, and the two chased Millar through the straightaway to cheering wet crowds as they entered Barcelona, but were soon absorbed by the peleton at the 8 km mark while Millar kept a one minute lead ahead.

The distance between Millar and the peleton narrowed considerably in a nail biting countdown to the last kilometer as the riders came closer to the finish at the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. The peleton included the powerhouses of the big teams of Rabobank, Milram and Columbia trying to give their sprinters, Oscar Freire, for one, a chance to win in Barcelona.

With more than 7 km to go the peleton suffered a crash which caused some slowing, and shed a few riders, splitting the peleton in two, and giving extra speed to the riders in the front which included Freire, Hushovd, Cancellara and Armstrong.

That meant some riders will not have made the final peleton finish and may lose precious time in the overall standings.

Because of his work in the stage, Auge won enough points to take the sprinter's Red Polka Dot Jersey.

Though Pauriol attacked on the last climb and caught Txurruka with 16km to go, both riders were caught 11km from the line. There was a crash involving Rogers (THR) and Haussler (CTT) and a number of others with 8km to go.

Tom Boonen of Quickstep who showed so much promised at the beginning of the Tour and came despite issues of cocaine use out of competition, also crashed on the streets of Barcelona.

Tomorrow's race from Barcelona into the Pyrenees, to the Andorre Arcalis will be a very demanding stage, bringing an entirely different group of riders to the lead. Among them will be at least one of the favorites--perhaps two-- of the Astana Team, Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong.

Other climbers sure to come out of the woodwork are Carlos Sastres, the 2007 TDF defending champion, Andy Schleck, the younger of two brothers in the Saxo Bank team, and Mauricio Solo of Barloworld. But we haven't seen much from Sastres this Tour yet, and it's not certain we will.

We could expect a breakaway from Marseille-based Frenchman Remy de Gregorio (FDJ) who in last year's tour got away in the mountains but has never won a stage.

We might also want to watch out for Roman Kreuziger, Liquigas, who showed his mettle early in the tour this year in a breakaway, and Cadel Evans (SIL) who was among the favorites at the beginning of the tour but suffered some setbacks only to fight today by coming in 9th in the stage. though still 2 minutes 59 seconds behind the leader, Evans might try to make up some time in the mountains.

Climber Robert Gesink of Rabobank is out of the race.

The final stage standings
1. Thor Hushovd (CTT)
2. Oscar Freire (RAB)
3. Jose Rojas (GCE)
4. Gerald Ciolek (MRM)
5. Franco Pellizotti (LIQ)
6. Filippo Pozzato (KAT)
7. Alessandro Ballan (LAM)
8. Rinaldo Nocentini (ALM)
9. Cadel Evans (SIL)
10. Fabian Cancellara (SAX)

The overall standings of the top ten are
1. CANCELLARA Fabian 33 TEAM SAXO BANK 19h 29' 22"
2. ARMSTRONG Lance 22 ASTANA + 00' 00"
3. CONTADOR Alberto 21 ASTANA + 00' 19"
4. KLÖDEN Andréas 23 ASTANA + 00' 23"
5. LEIPHEIMER Levi 24 ASTANA + 00' 31"
6. WIGGINS Bradley 58 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM + 00' 38"
7. MARTIN Tony 76 TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC + 00' 52"
8. VANDE VELDE Christian 51 GARMIN - SLIPSTREAM + 01' 16"
9. LARSSON Gustav 34 TEAM SAXO BANK + 01' 22"
10. MONFORT Maxime 77 TEAM COLUMBIA - HTC + 01' 29"

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