Tuesday, July 06, 2010

TDF 2010: Stage 3: The Hell of the Tour Yields New Winners

Today's Stage 3 of the Tour from Wanze in Belgium to Arenberg, France, passed through seven pave roads known for their place in the epic race Paris Roubaix. You know the one, cobblestones, mud, crashes and mayhem--in short, the "Hell of the North."

It's almost as if the planning committee for this year's race course was bored and wanted to spice things up by adding new difficulty and unpredictability to the results. And so they did.

And although the mud and rain wasn't there, it was the type of course that only a seasoned European rider could stomach.

Today that rider was sprinter Thor Hushovd whose experience in the hills and varied flats delivered him to the finish line with more energy to spend on the final sprint. In winning the stage he took the Green Jersey from Sylvain Chavanel who had powered up the sprint points in stage 2 while also winning the Yellow Jersey.

The Red Jersey awarded for most aggressive rider went to Canadian Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin Transitions, whose breakaway from the beginning of the stage to nearly the end created the fast pace of the chase and the splits in the peleton behind him. His shy acceptance of the award at the end of the day was a highlight and a welcome difference from the egomaniac chest pounding of some other riders.

Another rider who really shone at today's stage was Brit Geraint Thomas who came in second behind Thor Hushovd in the sprint, winning the Young Rider's jersey. In 2009, Thomas set the world track record in the pursuit, at the 2010 Dauphiné Libéré, he was the leader in the green jersey competition for three stages. 

Chavanel's amazing effort yesterday disappeared in the dust of the cobblestones today when he had to change bicycles more than three times with flats sustained from the cobbles. He lost his lead of 2 minutes 57 seconds to Fabian Cancellara of SaxoBank who took back the Yellow Jersey at the podium.

Alberto Contador, who had never raced on cobblestones before, managed to stay in the top 10 of the general classification, whereas Armstrong slipped to 18th due to a flat tire.

Many riders were stymied by the narrow roads, so any flats had to be cured by the offer of a teammate's bike or wait for a their team's vehicle to arrive and lose precious time.

Frank Schleck’s Tour is over after a fall on the fourth of seven sections of cobbled roads but his brother survived the carnage and rode along with Fabian Cancellara and Cadel Evans to take time on his main rivals Contador and Armstrong who both punctured and lost time.

Cancellara took back the yellow jersey that he lost in stage two while British National Champion Geraint Thomas gave Team Sky its first appearance on the Tour’s podium with his second place, taking the white jersey as best young rider.

The 213 km stage started out with Chavanel riding out in front with his QuickStep team, with every intention of keeping the Yellow Jersey. Christian Vande Velde of Garmin Transitions didn’t start due to broken ribs and back problems as a results of a crash in stage two. Niki Terpstra of Team Milram abandoned because of fever.

The stage featured three intermediate sprints – in Saint-Servais (Namur, at 35km), Nivelles (71.5km) and Pipaix (151.5km) – and one climb, the cat-4 cote de Bothey (at 48km).

But the seven sectors of ‘pavé’ totaling 14.15km, would be the virtual piece de resistance of today's race, with the first occurring at 85km to go. The final six sections were from 44km to 10km to go.

At 13 km from the start, Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin Transitions went out ahead and was joined by Stephan Cummings (SKY), Pavel Brutt (KAT), Roger Kluge (Milram), Pierre Rolland (BBox), Erviti (GCE) and Stephane Auge (Cofidis).

Trouble started right away in the peleton when some riders went down on perfectly flat road where sidewalk indentations on either side created unexpected challenges, before they even reached the pave sections.

Even though QuickStep controlled the peleton, by 48km the break had gained almost five minutes. But after the second intermediate sprint, the pace of the peloton picked up significantly with the Quickstep and Liquigas teams powering behind them to narrow the gap to 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

After 112K there was a crash that took down a number of riders, including David Le Lay (Agr2 La Mondiale) who quit the Tour.

On the approach to the first pave, Omeignies, QuickStep was joined by RaboBank who sent their team to the front, followed by Team Sky.

But RadioShack made it to the stones first – arriving 2’00” behind the break. Between the first and second sections, the peloton rode at a fast tempo, now with Saxo Bank and Cervelo setting the pace. Another crash took place between the first and second sections of stones, again, this time on a narrow flat portion of road bordered by hedges.

At the second section of pave, Saxo Bank took the front and Jens Voigt led onto the cobbles, 1 minute 20 seconds behind the lead break. A few kilometers later, the peleton moved over the border from Belgium to France, and to the next sections of stones--which came at every five to 10 kilometers--where the challenges began.

A crash took out Frank Schleck on the fourth sector of pavé, splintering the peloton and ending the Tour for Schleck who was fifth overall last year and helped deliver his brother Andy to second place on the podium in Paris. George Hincapie flatted and David Millar was caught behind the same crash that brought down Frank Schleck.

Cancellara rook off with Andy Schleck on his wheel, and they were joined by Cadel Evans of BMC, Geraint Thomas of Team Sky and Thor Hushovd of Cervelo, plus about five other riders. Out in the front break group, Hesjedal had dropped his fellow riders and was burying himself at the front of the stage. Cancellara was powering his teammate Schleck to the finish with the intent of narrowing his teammates time disadvantage in the general classification. In the hills that come later, Schleck has the best chance of succeeding, and indeed reaching the podium.

Armstrong and Contador were 30 seconds behind the chase group, with Bradley Wiggins and others with them before they reached the next section of pave.

With further splits, Contador was 30 seconds behind Armstrong at the start of the sixth section when Armstrong punctured:  His group was 50” behind the stage leader, and had to be brought back to the action by Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych. He was passed by a group that included Contador who had been a minute behind the chase group: now it was Contador's chance to be ahead of Armstrong.

Armstrong powered along with Popovych until he decided to take off the front on his own, intent on making up the time he lost from flatting.

Shortly after, Chavanel punctured (for the first of three times) marking the beginning of the end of his tenure as Yellow Jersey winner. He would later finish 95th, almost 4 minutes behind the stage winner.

Hesjedal was caught just after the last section of pavé and about six kilometers to the finish, and he rode to the line with Andy Schleck, Cancellara, Evans, Thomas and Hushovd.

Cadel Evans set the tempo for much of the final kilometers and used the situation to put time between him Armstrong and Contador. In the final kilometer Hesjedal tried one last attack but that simply prompted Hushovd to start his sprint. He easily won the stage, punching the air and his chest.

Cancellara finished sixth among the group of six but managed to win back his yellow jersey.

Armstrong dropped from fourth overall to 18th after losing 2 minutes and 8 seconds in the stage. Contador lost less time than Armstrong but dropped from seventh to ninth, at at one minuets 40 seconds behind the leader. He came in with the third chase group, with a tire that had flatted just before the finish.

No doubt riders will be complaining to the Amaury Sports Organization about today's stage. But it made for good sport, and definitely added an element of the unknown to a race that last year may have been too predictable.

 Standings in the General Classification after Stage 3:
1.    CANCELLARA Fabian    13    TEAM SAXO BANK    14h 54' 00"   
2.    THOMAS Geraint    39    SKY PRO CYCLING    14h 54' 23"    + 00' 23"
3.    EVANS Cadel    121    BMC RACING TEAM    14h 54' 39"    + 00' 39"
4.    HESJEDAL Ryder    54    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    14h 54' 46"    + 00' 46"
5.    CHAVANEL Sylvain    131    QUICK STEP    14h 55' 01"    + 01' 01"
6.    SCHLECK Andy    11    TEAM SAXO BANK    14h 55' 09"    + 01' 09"
7.    HUSHOVD Thor    95    CERVELO TEST TEAM    14h 55' 19"    + 01' 19"
8.    VINOKOUROV Alexandre    9    ASTANA    14h 55' 31"    + 01' 31"
9.    CONTADOR Alberto    1    ASTANA    14h 55' 40"    + 01' 40"
10.    VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen    101    OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO    14h 55' 42"    + 01' 42"

Standings in Stage 3
1.    HUSHOVD Thor    95    CERVELO TEST TEAM    4h 49' 38"   
2.    THOMAS Geraint    39    SKY PRO CYCLING    4h 49' 38"    + 00' 00"
3.    EVANS Cadel    121    BMC RACING TEAM    4h 49' 38"    + 00' 00"
4.    HESJEDAL Ryder    54    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    4h 49' 38"    + 00' 00"
5.    SCHLECK Andy    11    TEAM SAXO BANK    4h 49' 38"    + 00' 00"
6.    CANCELLARA Fabian    13    TEAM SAXO BANK    4h 49' 38"    + 00' 00"
7.    VAN SUMMEREN Johan    58    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    4h 50' 31"    + 00' 53"
8.    WIGGINS Bradley    31    SKY PRO CYCLING    4h 50' 31"    + 00' 53"
9.    VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen    101    OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO    4h 50' 31"    + 00' 53"
10.    VINOKOUROV Alexandre    9    ASTANA    4h 50' 31"    + 00' 53"

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