5. Crosswinds, echelons… PELOTON SHREDDED.
A flat stage, but another potential banana peel for the GC contenders, as the race crossed the WWI battlefields of the Somme. Strong crosswinds were always expected, but it was a day of miserable wet weather as well, making for slippery conditions.
If you’ve ever ridden in a strong crosswind you’ll know how bloody horrible it is, and the inevitable splits in the peloton did indeed occur. Crosswinds are one occasion where riding in a group doesn’t offer much protection. Allowing the slightest gap to the rider in front of you can lead very quickly to being blown off the wheel, and it’s extremely difficult to ride back on.
So it happened, and a large group of riders were left to grovel home over 8 minutes behind the leaders.
No major damage to key riders’ ambitions. Poor old Thibaut Pinot, who is fast becoming the pantomime patsy of this Tour, struggled and crashed again but didn’t lose any more time at the finish.
4. A truce on the Somme
The big teams clearly decided that it wasn’t worth it to rip each other apart in the wind, and each put half a dozen riders on the front in a block formation, keeping the speed comfortably low. Etixx-Quickstep, Astana, BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo, Sky and Movistar all in agreement – you won’t see that too often.
The race didn’t really light up again until the final 10km, when the sprinters started to salivate over possible a stage win.
3. ANZAC memorials
The race passed the Australian and New Zealand war memorial at Villers-Bretonneux, and the Orica-GreenEdge team marked the occasion with black armbands. An appropriate commemoration of the centenary of a famously awful conflict.
2. More crashes, more withdrawals
A couple of decent stacks today on the wet roads and strong winds.
The big names to withdraw today were Cofidis sprinter Nacer Bouhanni, with a broken wrist, Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Albasini (who finished the stage with a broken arm) and Cannondale-Garmin’s Kiwi Jack Bauer.
Michael Matthews is still in the race – struggling with his injuries, but still in the race. He won the combativity prize today for his guts and determination to stay in the race. I’m sure he’s repeating that phrase to himself constantly through gritted teeth, “Stay in the race, stay in the race, stay in the race…”
1. A proper bunch sprint
Finally a chance for Greipel, Cavendish, Degenkolb, Kristoff, Demare and Sagan to race head-to-head.
Etixx-Quickstep made another complete hash of the finish, with Cavendish losing Mark Renshaw’s wheel and being forced to freelance. If it wasn’t for Brad Haddin dropping Joe Root on 0 in the first Ashes Test, it would’ve definitely been the worst drop involving an Australian and a Brit of the day.
Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff went early, Cavendish followed and hit the front looking the goods, but he faded again in the final metres, and had the best seat in the house to watch Andre Greipel fly up the inside with a perfectly timed sprint to pinch the chocs again.
Peter Sagan was 2nd yet again, finishing extremely fast but leaving his sprint slightly too late. Another tactical error for the Slovak who is becoming more famous for pinching arses than stages.
Greipel is having a great Tour, with two stage wins and the green jersey. It’s a pleasing return to form for one of the nice guys of cycling.