After yesterday’s cobble-fest, the Tour’s organizers granted the riders a bit of a respite today, with a straightforward 153.5km ride from Cambrai to Reims. While the finish was a bit dodgy—9 roundabouts in the final 56km—everyone appears to have come through unscathed—a true accomplishment given what we’ve seen over the past few days. Here’s what we noticed:
1. Yes, the Tour regained its traditional rhythm today, with several teams enjoying a chance to rest and recover. One team not willing to rest on its laurels was Radio Shack, who spent much of the day riding tempo at the front. It’s been suggested that a deal was made between The Shack and HTC-Columbia, but I wonder if another team—like Lampre—didn’t persuade Bruyneel and his boys to chase in exchange for help later on.
2. In the end, it was a great win for Petacchi, one made all the more possible thanks to Danilo Hondo’s disruption of HTC’s leadout. Hondo’s acceleration before the final kilometer caused several riders previously following HTC to jump across the road, leaving Eisel alone in the wind and forcing the rest to re-organize. Hondo’s move might have made the difference between winning and losing for Petacchi.
3. Thor Hushovd seemed to fade in the last 250 meters, possibly feeling the effects from yesterday’s massive effort on the pavé. Look for him recover in time to tighten his grip on the green jersey over the coming days.
4. As for Mark Cavendish, he clearly doesn’t have the speed he had last year. (To Be Continued…)
5. Garmin-Transitions looks lost in sprints without Tyler Farrar. Julian Dean and Robbie Hunter seemed disorganized, grabbing wheels where they could before finishing second and fifth. With a little more planning and communication, they could still take a stage in a Tour where anything seems possible.
6. Edvald Boasson Hagen seems to be gaining confidence each day. With so many days left that suit his talents, he seems a lock for a stage win at some point.
7. Another young rider who seems to be developing quickly, Daniel Oss sprinted to a fine 8th-place finish. Look for this kid to win some major races one day—to me he looks to be future classics champion.
8. Did you notice the bottom of the results sheet today? Robert Gesink and David Zabriskie finished over 2-minutes behind Petacchi. For Gesink, those are two minutes he might regret losing. (Gesink had a mechanical inside the final 3km, and received a 0’00″ in the official results.) For Zabriskie, it’s another head-scratching performance from an inconsistent rider.
Yesterday, we took a look at the “Virtual GC”—meaning the general classification of riders expected to be their teams’ best candidates for the maillot jaune. With several days of field sprints on the menu, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the “Virtual Point Classification”.
For the sake of discussion, let’s stick just to the sprinters and rouleurs most likely to take the jersey in Paris. One could argue that GC contenders with stage win potential should be included as well—but since they rarely actually win the competition, let’s leave them out—for now, at least.
So, after today’s Stage 4, here’s how things look:
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 80 points
2. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 70
3. Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 62
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling Team 38
5. Mark Renshaw (Aus) Team HTC – Columbia 30
6. Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin – Transitions 30
7. Robert Hunter (RSA) Garmin – Transitions 22
8. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram 19
9. Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 18
10. Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank 18
11. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC – Columbia 15
12. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin – Transitions 7
13. Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto 5
14. Steven Cummings (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team 4
As you can see, the list of contenders for the green jersey is actually quite small—only 14 “sprinters” have points, and there’s almost a stage win separating the top-3 from the rest.
1. The biggest surprise—too some—has to be the fall of Mark Cavendish. Boy Racer’s only managed to score 15 points so far, and looked so out of place in today’s finish that he needed a tantrum to ease his nerves. You’re supposed to throw your bike at the line, Mark, not at your bus. (Although the helmet was a nice touch.)
2. Right behind Cavendish—with 8 fewer points—sits American Tyler Farrar. Farrar made no promises regarding the green jersey competition, claiming he we would wait and see how the race progressed before making a determination. He was here hoping for at least a stage win or two, a remote possibility following the broken wrist he suffered in Stage 2. Still, Tyler mixed it up a bit today—perhaps that’s a good sign for the future?
3. Of the Top-3, it’s interesting to see veterans Alessandro Petacchi and Robbie McEwen holding their own. Petacchi’s never won a green jersey—his fragility over a three-week tour hurts his chances for the overall title. However, McEwen’s won the green jersey three times; he might like to see Hushovd thwarted in his bid to equal the Australian’s achievement.
4. The real threat to Hushovd just might come from Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen. The most complete rider of them all, Hagen can finish well enough on the flat days to score points in the top-5 or 10, while perhaps winning a stage or two on transitional days. And don’t forget his time trialing—he scored points in the Prologue and could do so again the day before Paris. If I’m Thor, he’s Public Enemy #1.
5. Finally, you might have noticed that I left Vinokourov on the list. Something tells me that Alberto Contador might jump to a quick lead in this year’s Tour, possibly freeing Vinokourov for some stage wins. Considering Vino’s—shall we say—“ambitious” riding style, it’s easy to see him going on the attack on several occasions, perhaps earning enough points to make himself relevant by the end of the race. While the overall green jersey might be a stretch for him, a top placing is not out of the question.
And there you have it—our first “Virtual Green Jersey Classification” of the Tour. We’ll check back periodically to see where things stand.
Have a great evening—share your comments below.