Friday, July 09, 2010

TDF 2010: Stage 6; A Sprint to the Finish Before the Mountains

Pic: ASO (c) 
July 8, 2010 
Mark Cavendish did it again, pulling out in front of competitors and scoring his 12th Tour de France stage win. He's now made it into the records books matching the Lion King Mario Cipollini and Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen in number of sprinter Tour stage wins. And the 25-year-old has done it in just four Tour starts.

Fabian Cancellara stayed in the Yellow Jersey, his 21st stage win in the Yellow in his 29 years. All of the other top contenders in the General Classification came to the line with the peloton and their standings are unchanged.

Cavendish was pulled to the front in a leadout by Mark Renshaw, who came in from behind the battle between the Garmin Transition riders Julian Dean and Robbie Hunter who were bringing bandaged elbow Tyler Farrar to the front, and the Lampre riders who were bringing Alessandro Petacchi to the finish. Or so they thought.

“We knew it was going to happen, we knew it was going to be a tactical last climb but it played in our favor a little bit because it stopped us having to follow the chase at the end and we were able to just infiltrate into the lead-out," said Cavendish after the stage. He attributed his win to the "great machine" that makes up his team. "I’m just the guy who crosses the line with my hands in the air," he added. (See the video of his take on the day.)

"I've never seen anyone get by him," said Liggett of the Manx Missile. You could also say that Garmin started their lead-out too soon.

Cav's strong standing as a sprinter in the past three Tour's --last year he won six stages and in 2008 he won four--is just one indicator of the younger generation coming up in the ranks and testing--or besting-- their elders. In this case it's Thor Hushovd who is 32 and Alessandro Petacchi who is 36.

Also rising up in the ranks and biting at the heels of the sprinters are Gerald Ciolek and Edvald Boasson Hagen, who are in the same age group as Cavendish.

And then there is Geraint Thomas who trained with Cavendish in the under 23 Great Britain group, and who finished 11th in the stage and gained three seconds on the rider ahead of him in the general classification.

"Maybe I’ll stand on the podium with the yellow jersey… that’d be cool, wouldn’t it? Just being within a shot of it is massive for me," he said after the race.  Let's not forget that Thomas was here to support Bradley Wiggins--age 30--in his shot to win the Tour de France. It's the Contadorization of the team hierarchy, and my guess is it will progress even further when the riders reach the mountains--if the youngsters' legs can keep up with the more experienced competitors.

Today's stage was the longest of the Tour at 227.5 km or 141 miles, stretching from Montargis to Gueugnon in very hot, humid weather over 30 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit), with several intermediate climbs and sprints.

Three riders broke away early in the race, instigated by Mathieu Perget of Caisse Epargne: he was joined by Sebastien Lang of Omega Pharma Lotto and Ruben Perez Moreno of Euskaltel Eukadi. They kept the peloton away for most of the stage, with a gap as high as 6 minutes and 30 seconds at one point. But that did not last: the leaders were brought in about 5 km from the finish.

With 25 km to go, Frenchman Dmitri Champion of AG2R Mondiale attacked the peloton on the final climb, the Cote de la Croix de L'Arbre (hill of the cross of the tree), and Anthony Charteau of BBox followed.  Just as the peloton was about to catch the break, Perget attacked. He was solo until 18 km to go before being caught by Champion, Perez Moreno, Lang and Charteau. With 15 km to go, they had a lead of 21 seconds, but at 5 km the game was up and they were swallowed by the peloton.

Behind them, HTC-Columbia team kept the pace for the bulk of the stage, sending Bert Grabsch to the front of the peloton where he stayed for a good part of the stage: The former TT world champion is "a machine - you’ve got to actually calm him down or he’ll reel in the escape before we’re really ready," said teammate Bernhard Eisel, reported LeTour.fr.

Most of the GC contenders including Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador played it safe, taking in lots of liquids and moving up to the front at 10 km to the finish: no one wanted to lose time behind a crash in the last few kilometers winding into Gueugnon.

But among the sprinters much was riding on this last flat stage before the challenging stage 7 tomorrow to the Station des Rousses. There won't be a lot of flat stages after today, and the mountainous stages in between this and the next flat one on Stage 11 could kill off some of the sprinters. After that only Stage 18 from Salies de Bearn to Bordeaux features a flat terrain that could bring a sprinter's victory. That means there were only three more opportunities for a sprinter's stage win in the Tour, and this was the last relatively easy one to get to.

Thor Hushovd who finished 10th and retained the Green Sprinter's jersey today with 118 points, has only has four more than Petacchi and 13 more than McEwen (KAT) who was fourth again today. “I’m aware that my lead in the points classification is getting smaller. There are many guys getting closer and closer and if I want to win this jersey I have to do better sprints than what I’m doing at the moment," Hushovd said.

Robbie McEwen (KAT), another sprinter looking for a stage win, crashed in the second stage, taking a chunk of flesh out of his arm which required a Tetanus shot.  At the end of stage 4, he told le Tour.fr that he’s suffering, "I haven’t felt normal since having the injection." Still his team Katusha made an attempt at about 7 km to the finish to come to the front in preparation for the sprint.

Roll of Honor after Stage 6
        Yellow Jersey 13    CANCELLARA Fabian    TEAM SAXO BANK    28h 37' 30"
        Green Jersey 95    HUSHOVD Thor    CERVELO TEST TEAM    118 pts
        Red Polka Dot Jersey  135    PINEAU Jérôme    QUICK STEP    13 pts
        White New Rider Jersey  39    THOMAS Geraint    SKY PRO CYCLING    28h 37' 50"

General Classification Standings at the end of Stage 6

anding    Rider    Rider number bib    Team    Time    Gaps
1.    CANCELLARA Fabian    13    TEAM SAXO BANK    28h 37' 30"    
2.    THOMAS Geraint    39    SKY PRO CYCLING    28h 37' 50"    + 00' 20"
3.    EVANS Cadel    121    BMC RACING TEAM    28h 38' 09"    + 00' 39"
4.    HESJEDAL Ryder    54    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    28h 38' 16"    + 00' 46"
5.    CHAVANEL Sylvain    131    QUICK STEP    28h 38' 31"    + 01' 01"
6.    SCHLECK Andy    11    TEAM SAXO BANK    28h 38' 39"    + 01' 09"
7.    HUSHOVD Thor    95    CERVELO TEST TEAM    28h 38' 46"    + 01' 16"
8.    VINOKOUROV Alexandre    9    ASTANA    28h 39' 01"    + 01' 31"
9.    CONTADOR Alberto    1    ASTANA    28h 39' 10"    + 01' 40"
10.    VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen    101    OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO    28h 39' 12"    + 01' 42"
11.    ROCHE Nicolas    81    AG2R LA MONDIALE    28h 39' 12"    + 01' 42"
12.    VAN SUMMEREN Johan    58    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    28h 39' 17"    + 01' 47"
13.    MENCHOV Denis    191    RABOBANK    28h 39' 19"    + 01' 49"
14.    WIGGINS Bradley    31    SKY PRO CYCLING    28h 39' 19"    + 01' 49"
15.    MILLAR David    57    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    28h 39' 36"    + 02' 06"
16.    KREUZIGER Roman    44    LIQUIGAS-DOIMO    28h 39' 54"    + 02' 24"
17.    SANCHEZ Luis-Leon    161    CAISSE D’EPARGNE    28h 39' 55"    + 02' 25"
18.    ARMSTRONG Lance    21    TEAM RADIOSHACK    28h 40' 00"    + 02' 30"

Stage Standings at the end of Stage 6
1.    CAVENDISH Mark    111    TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA    5h 37' 42"   
2.    FARRAR Tyler    53    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
3.    PETACCHI Alessandro    208    LAMPRE - FARNESE    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
4.    MC EWEN Robbie    75    KATUSHA TEAM    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
5.    CIOLEK Gerald    142    TEAM MILRAM    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
6.    TURGOT Sébastien    158    BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
7.    ROJAS Jose Joaquin    169    CAISSE D’EPARGNE    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
8.    HAGEN Edvald Boasson    36    SKY PRO CYCLING    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
9.    HUNTER Robert    55    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
10.    HUSHOVD Thor    95    CERVELO TEST TEAM    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"
11.    THOMAS Geraint    39    SKY PRO CYCLING    5h 37' 42"    + 00' 00"

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