July 6, 2010 16 Comments
What goes around, comes around.
Yesterday, Sylvain Chavanel was somewhat fortunate when Fabian Cancellara put the safety of the peloton ahead of preserving his race lead, gifting him the yellow jersey. Today, karma was quickly rebalanced when a combination of a devastating Saxo Bank attack and Chavanel’s extreme misfortune handed the maillot jaune straight back to the Swiss rider on a day when the Paris-Roubaix cobbles shattered the peloton like multi-coloured shrapnel across the roads of northern France.
On a normal day at the Tour de France, somebody generally has the benefit of a relatively – and I use the word advisedly – easy day. On a flat sprint stage, the overall contenders generally hide quietly from the wind in the shelter of the peloton; in the mountains, the sprinters form a mobile self-help group – referred to as the autobus - which typically trails in half an hour or more behind the leaders.
Not today. Today it was everyone for himself, a genuine test of strength, courage and luck which, once the dust had settled on the 13.2 km of cobbled roads which presented such a unique challenge to the riders, resulted in a general classification which will please some contenders considerably more than others tonight.
The biggest loser of all was Frank Schleck who, after the peloton had safely negotiated the three shortest sections of cobbles, came down in a crash on the next, longer stretch just as his brother and Cancellara launched the decisive move which would shatter the group of leading contenders and throw the race into disarray.
Schleck lay, unmoving, on the ground for several minutes while doctors examined him. His collarbone is broken, and he will play no further part in the Tour. It is a significant blow for his brother, who would have relied on Frank for both physical and psychological support on the tough mountain stages.
Lance Armstrong also had a bad day – or at least a bad luck day. He suffered a puncture almost immediately after Cancellara and Schleck attacked. Subsequently adrift, there was at least some encouragement from the burst he put in to rejoin a group ahead of him, allowing him to limit his losses on the day. It didn’t help that his two most trusted lieutenants, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden, also suffered punctures on the cobbles.
Armstrong was gracious afterwards in conceding that he hadn’t had the best of days:
It’s very frustrating. But again, I’m not going to make any excuses. When we came in, I was in good position. The crash split the group. We hung tough, tried to come back, but got the flat at the wrong moment. There’s nothing I could do about that, just try to change as quick as you can and try to come back.
We lost significant time, so we have to keep our head up, and take our chances on the climbs. It’s just bad luck. My chances took a knock today, but I’m not going home. We’ll stay in the race and keep trying.
Up ahead, the attack had reduced the front group to just five: Schleck, Cancellara, Britain’s Geraint Thomas, Cadel Evans and Thor Hushovd. They quickly caught Ryder Hesjedal, the last survivor of the day’s break, and continued a punishing pace all the way to the finish.
Cancellara buried himself for the cause, taking huge turns at the front to maximise the advantage over Alberto Contador‘s group and, further behind, the group containing Armstrong. Over the same Paris-Roubaix roads on which he had won less than three months ago, he had to concede victory today to the superior sprinting speed of Hushovd (who had finished third that day). Regaining the yellow jersey was pretty good compensation for his efforts, though.
Second and third across the line were Thomas and Evans, who move up to second and third in the general classification. (Thomas also assumes the white jersey as the best young rider.) They and Andy Schleck will have been delighted to have put 1:13 into Contador, who lost time on the run-in with a late puncture, and over two minutes into the likes of Armstrong and Ivan Basso.
The defending champion had ridden well in circumstances where many thought he might be exposed, but he nonetheless crossed the line with a face like thunder. Not because of his puncture – these things happen – but because he had a teammate, Alexandre Vinokourov, in the group who continued to drive on to the finish as Contador dropped away, gaining time not only for himself but for Bradley Wiggins. Public discord in the Astana camp may not be far away. Watch this space.
In addition to his stage win, Hushovd will have been delighted not only to have taken over the leadership of the green jersey competition, but to have also extended his advantage over his biggest rival, Mark Cavendish, who now trails him by 62 points:
I’m very happy. Yesterday I missed out on going for the points, and a lot of guys came to me today to say they understood why I was upset at that decision. I’ve won the green jersey twice, and this morning I said to myself I was going to war in a bid to get it back. I will do everything to keep it.
While others are still within sight of the big Norwegian, a dispirited Cavendish will know he probably requires Hushovd to slip up if he is to overhaul him. The Manxman may now have to refocus his sights on stage wins instead.
As for Chavanel, he was quickly spat out the back of the group after the big attack, but would have held on to the yellow jersey without too much problem had he not required two bike changes which would contribute to a total loss of four minutes, enough to ensure that his tenure of the race leadership was a short one. But, in Armstrong’s words, that’s the way the ball bounces. Chavanel would accept that he got lucky yesterday, but he would have been hoping that his fortunes would not turn quite this quickly. C’est la vie. But at least he is still in the race, unlike Frank Schleck.
So, Thor Hushovd will be as happy tonight as Mark Cavendish is miserable. It’s mixed emotions for Andy Schleck; time gained, but his brother lost. It was a case of damage limitation for Armstrong and Basso. And Contador, Evans, Wiggins and in particular Thomas will have been extremely pleased with today’s result.
In most years, the Tour’s most memorable stages come in the high mountains – the stages where the leading contenders go mano a mano, where the race is won and lost. While not absolutely decisive, we may yet look back on today’s stage as the turning point in this year’s race. And even if it isn’t, it provided us with a level of spectacle, excitement and drama which will linger long in the memory.
Stage 3 result:
1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 4:49:38
2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) same time
3. Cadel Evans (BMC) s/t
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) s/t
5. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) s/t
6. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) s/t
7. Johan van Summeren (Garmin-Transitions) +0:53
8. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:53
9. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:53
10. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +0:53
11. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +0:53
13. Alberto Contador (Astana) +1:13
32. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +2:08
43. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) +2:25
64. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +2:25
Did not finish – Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank)
General classification (yellow jersey):
1. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 14:54:00
2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +0:23
3. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:39
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) +0:46
5. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) +1:01
6. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) +1:09
7. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) +1:19
8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:31
9. Alberto Contador (Astana) +1:40
10. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +1:42
13. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +1:49
14. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +1:49
18. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +2:30
24. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +2:53
49. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) +3:20
Points classification (green jersey):
1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 63 pts
2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) 49
3. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 44
4. Robbie McEwen (Katusha) 38
5. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 37
Climbers’ classification (polka dot jersey):
1. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) 13 pts
2. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 8
3. Rin Taaramae (Cofidis) 8
4. Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia) 5
5. Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4
Stage 4 preview:
Start & finish: Cambrai > Reims
Distance & type: 153.5 km, plain
Prediction: The sprinters will be desperately hoping that all goes to plan on this an apparently straightforward stage. It is a by-the-numbers short, flat blast, so expect a by-the-numbers breakaway, chase, catch and bunch sprint. Ideally suited for the pure sprinters. Mark Cavendish in particular will be looking to put a disastrous start to the race behind him with a confidence-inspiring victory, but with so many riders banged up from the cobbles and crashes of the last three days, this could be a difficult one to call.