Bone up after stage 3:
1. That crash.
Crashes are part and parcel of Le Tour, with nervous riders wrestling for position. But this was a doozy, with 60km remaining in the stage a high-speed stack on a section of straight road brought down half the peloton, including race leader Fabian Cancellara. It was a spectacular pile-up with cartwheeling limbs and jerseys ripped to shreds, and it was followed by a second big chute seconds later. The race had to be stopped and then neutralised for a few kilometres while riders were treated – a very unusual event – and some big names withdrew immediately. There will be some very sore bodies over the next few days, and it just shows that even in dry conditions and straight roads, disaster can strike at any time.
2. Simon Gerrans is out, again
It just is not Gerro’s year. He’s had more crashes than a broken laptop this season. He’s out of the Tour de France in the first week for the second year in a row, yet again a victim of bad luck. His understudy for the punchier stages, Michael Matthews, also went down in the crash and looked pretty grim, so it will be interesting to see how Orica-GreenEdge handles the situation over the next few days, given that South African Daryl Impey has also withdrawn.
3. Why was the race neutralised?
It’s highly unusual to see the race stopped and then held behind the chief commissaire’s car mid-stage, even after big crashes. So why did it happen today? Was it anything to do with the fact that Fabian Cancellara, patron of the peloton and wearer of the maillot jaune, was languishing back in the team cars looking miserable and sore, but Team Sky decided to jump on the front and put the hammer down? Attacking the race leader after a crash is extremely impolite, and perhaps it was a step too far for the men with the flags.
Cancellara is another rider who’s had a shocking season of bad luck, a big crash at E3 Harelbeke in March ruined his Spring Classics campaign, and just when his luck appeared to be turning good with the yellow jersey, another crash reminds him of the fragility of existence. He lost several minutes today, and looked miserable doing it. Fair enough: it later turned out that he had fractured some vertebrae and he’s out of the race.
4. Sky train is on schedule
Sky was happy to put riders on the front in the last 40km today, and Richie Porte even put in an appearance on the front, putting in some big turns on the lumpy sections leading to the finish. Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana were also present and watchful, but the big teams are already flexing their muscles and testing each other.
5. Froome takes yellow on the Mur
The Mur de Huy is one of the iconic finishing climbs of the Spring Classics, reliably giving Fleche Wallonne a thrilling climax. Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez knows the climb as well as anyone, having won Fleche Wallonne in 2012 he is one of the best punchy climbers in the business, and he nailed it today – his second career Tour stage win.
The big news though was Chris Froome dropping his GC rivals to finish second, pick up 11 seconds to his rivals and a 6 second time bonus, and take over the race lead. The time gaps won’t be decisive in two weeks, but it shows his form is good. Can Sky defend the jersey for the rest of the race?
Tomorrow: Can Froome overcome this year’s seemingly accursed yellow jersey AND his nemesis stage on the cobbles?
Relative GC (big GC names only)
1. Chris Froome
2. Tejay van Garderen @ 13″
3. Rigo Uran @ 34″
4. Alberto Contador @ 36″
5. Bauke Mollema @ 1’32”
6. Vincenzo Nibali @ 1’38”
7. Robert Gesink @ 1’39”
8. Alejandro Valverde @ 1’51”
9. Nairo Quintana @ 1’56”
10. Dan Martin @ 2’06”
11. Andrew Talansky @ 2’39”
12. Leopold Konig @ 2’52”
13. Romain Bardet @ 2’54”
14. Thibaut Pinot @ 2’58”