You could be forgiven for waking up late to just watch the final 10k of today’s stage. The preceding 160k didn’t have a whole lot to offer, and after a couple of anxious and exciting days in this year’s Tour I’m sure that many riders, considering the grey and wet weather, were content to chill out for most of today’s stage. Particularly considering Stage 4’s finishing climb, which at 2km at 7% would be a bit more challenging than Stage 1’s, while also being manageable enough that plenty of people would be jostling for position throughout it.
Here’s what we were paying attention to:
1. The officials suspended the 3km rule that elicited some complaint on Stage 1. The rule is designed to allow sprinters and those contesting a potentially dangerous finale to be allowed to do so without everybody else fighting to be at the front (to avoid crashes and losing time) when they’ve no intention of competing for the win. Was it wise to suspend the 3km rule, considering that a power climb is very different than a sprint finish? Or was it unnecessarily reactive?
2. From the bunch, behind the breakaway, Tyler Farrar overpowered Cavendish for intermediate sprint points. Also in the mix were OPL’s Phillipe Gilbert, Andre Greipel, and Green Jersey-wearer J.J. Rojas (Movistar). Movistar is doubtless pleased with Rojas’s Green Jersey, even if he only wears it temporarily. The Points Competition is developing nicely – we’ll keep our eyes on how it develops. Farrar is certainly sprinting well, but it would be folly to write off Cavendish, who does start slowly.
3. Did you see Roman Feillu’s incredibly sick motorpacing back to the field with 10k to go?
4. The five-rider break stayed away impressively, entering 10k to go with still a minute over the field. A rule of thumb is that to have a chance of holding off a sprint, a breakaway will need a minute at 10k to go – more if there’s a climb. With OPL pounding away at the front, though, they were doomed. Kudos also to Jeremy Roy, in his second breakaway of this Tour, winning the Combativity award.
5. On the slopes leading to Mur de Bretagne, there were plenty of fireworks as many of the favorites were at the front. Contador got things started off, but was unable to dislodge others. In the end, it was Cadel Evans, who showed from his 2010 Fleche Wallone victory that he knows how to wait, with a late, patient sprint. Contador was on his heels and coming around him hard – in fact, it came down to a bike throw and Contador initially celebrated, but the replay and finish line photo showed an Evans victory.
6. I’ll have to wait for the replay, but was Gilbert a bit overenthusiastic? Did he drag everybody up to his teammate Van den Broeck’s wheel when VDB had a bit of daylight between him and the rest? Was there a miscommunication – VDB thinking it was an attack, and Gilbert thinking it was a leadout? And, was that the match he needed to win?
7. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Thor Hushovd finished 5th, making it up the powerclimb at about 60rpm and defending his yellow jersey. He fought to the end, sprinting for a place to ensure no time gaps opened up.
8. With 20k to go, Cadel Evans was momentarily caught out by a crashing camera moto as he was replacing a puncture, but BMC got him back on fast, despite a hot pace at the front. Well done on them for avoiding a potentially disruptive event. He said, “When you’re back there behind the peloton with 15k to go and the crosswinds and all, you’re not sure if your Tour is over or not.” Kudos to Evans and BMC for getting him back and setting up the stage win.
This Tour’s got incredible stages thus far.