Short and sweet – with slighly lumpy finish – describes today’s Stage 5. Most sprinters must feel that they are running out of opportunities to shine in this year’s TdF. First of all there aren’t many stages designed for the sprinters, and most of them felt that their chance at glory was robbed in Stage 3‘s chaotic finale. I found it notable that most top sprinters tried to latch onto HTC’s well-drilled train, only to follow it off the rails and lose their chance. Did the hard TTT effort adversely affect the HTC train? Is it their usual slow start to the GT sprint gallery? For sure the Green jersey contenders are fighting for every single intermediate sprints, and the sprinters teams will not want to lose their chance again today. So it must be great relief for Mark Cavendish and his squad to finally earn that win today, even if it took a lot of effort and see-saw battle between escapees, last-gasp attackers, and chasers. Cav has his detractors but today – just like in Milan-Sanremo in 2009 – he won without a sprint train. Unabashedly, he admitted in the post-race interview that HTC is geared for sprinting glory in the TdF more than anything else, and that for sure both the organizers and other teams will want to keep a lid on their dominance.
One of the surprises is Philippe Gilbert mixing it up in the finale, netting second place. Does he have designs for the Green Jersey? Where was actual OmegaPharma-Lotto sprinting specialist Andre Greipel?
Say what you might about Tyler Farrar being lucky in Stage 3, but he and his team *made* their fortune, and in today’s Stage 5 they continued to drive at the front to stay out of trouble. Notably, Thor Hushovd was in the mix today, as the focus of the team may be switching to Green Jersey contention for Hushovd. With Cavendish likely to be relegated and losing some points in the TdF, Hushovd’s chances are actually quite good.
Speaking of fortune, every TdF is crash-marred, but has this edition been particularly brutal on the GC contenders? Alberto Contador seems to have met the pavement in unfortunate ways in every single stage so far (except for the TTT stage maybe). It is said that the fittest riders stay out of trouble by maintaining good focus and riding near the front, does this mean that Contador is showing up under-par? Some GC contenders have it worse: examples include Janny Brajkovic’s unfortunate tumble as the peloton sped towards an intermediate sprint point. The calamity is not limited to GC riders as Nicki Sorenson being hooked by a camera moto and having his bike dragged behind the moto as he slid across the grass. Incidentally, good on you Christian Prudhomme for sending that moto driver on his way without allowing them to finish the stage. Nor have the sprinters themselves been much luckier, with Tom Boonen taking a serious tumble just as he had the Great Expectation of winning a stage and salvaging his “doomed season.” After all, only he can be called a failure despite his Gent-Wevelgem win.
Has the design of this year’s TdF made things dangerous by offering so few opportunities for the sprinters? Or is it just a few persons’ fault? The moto driver who crashed out Nicky Sorensen was reportedly fired over the radio today by TdF director Christian Prudhomme. How’s that for real-time drama? Today’s breakaway seems to know they shall not succeed, and melted back to the peloton as if they had had enough play-time and TV-time and had to go home for dinner. Is this an argument for or against race radios? Certainly we know who plays to win (Tommy Voeckler and Jeremy Roy), and who plays to get TV time. Several teams were notable for their ambition: Astana and Vacansoleil. Alexandre Vinokourov is sitting pretty at 32″ behind in GC – might he have ambitions to steal Yellow in tomorrow’s stage? The true GC contenders may not be taking as much risk as they did on Stage 3, what with so many sore bodies after today’s crash-fest.
What did you think of today’s Stage?