It’s hard to believe, but we are already over one week in to the 2011 Tour de France. It’s been quite the rollercoaster, so far the tour has had more than its fair share of terrible crashes, taking big names with big hopes out of the running. But there have also been some truly heroic performances, some great team work and plenty of twists and turns which have kept us, and many others, glued to the screen. So sit back, relax, and let’s take a look at the tour so far.
With the Tour organisers opting not to have a Prologue this year the riders and teams were thrown straight into a 192km road stage. This was designed to give all 198 starting riders a fighting chance to take victory in the first stage.
FDJ, Vacansoleil and Europcar gained some valuable TV exposure with an early 3 man break from the pack. The coastal wind had a few teams worrying but it was road furniture and encroaching fans which caused the most havoc. André Greipel set the tone of the day for Omega Pharma Lotto claiming the honour of first crash of the Tour just 20 minutes in. Several other Omega riders followed suit including Jurgen Van De Walle who tumbled while attempting to warn riders behind him of road furniture. A big crash with around 10k to go split the peloton in two after an inattentive fan clipped an Astana rider causing a domino effect in the peloton. Thankfully no one was seriously injured but some big guns of the Tour were caught up in the chaos including last years winner Alberto Contador.
Despite earlier crashes by the Omega Pharma Lotto the team were able to set up the man of the Spring Classics, Philippe Gilbert, to take the win. Cadel rolled over in second and Thor Hushovd in third.
Stage 2 saw the return of the Team Time Trial on an almost totally flat 23km course situated in Les Essarts, the heart of the Vendée. Gilbert was sporting the Yellow Jersey with BMC’s Cadel in Green, Thor looking pretty in Polka Dot and Britain’s Geraint Thomas wearing the White Jersey. This was a key opportunity for the big organised teams such as Team Sky to gain some valuable time for their GC riders with speeds of around 50 to 60 km/h the norm. Each team’s time was taken when the fifth rider crossed the line of the aero helmeted and skin suit clad teams.
Saxo Bank were first out the starting blocks but a disorganised looking rabble shed 3 riders before the second check point finally crossing the line but only managing to finish in eighth putting Contador further behind the leaders.
With the pressure on some teams to make up time on yesterday’s performance the stage was by no means crash free with HTC’s Bernhard Eisel falling foul of a tight corner in the first bend leaving his team to finish fifth. The highly anticipated Leopard Trek outfit took third over HTC by a hundredth of a second with world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara seemingly bullying his team over the finish line.
Despite a nervous middle section by Cadel and co., BMC finished four seconds outside of Team Garmin-Cervelo who took top honours with an impressive and disciplined line simultaneously putting Thor Hushovd in the Maillot Jaune.
Stage 3, Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon and the first time the sprinters were able to show us their stuff. Again, coastal winds were playing on the minds of the teams for the early part of the 198km stage.
The new system of one intermediate sprint per day was designed to lead to longer periods of attacks but with a five man break away group it was 6th place and 10 points that the front runners in the peloton were contesting. Mark Cavendish thought he’d take the spoils making amends for Saturdays mix up which saw him miss out on vital points in his bid to win the Green Jersey. However the Manx Missile and Thor Hushovd faced the scorn of the race commissars who deemed both riders’ actions inappropriate with slight contact being made in the mid-race points classification battle.
With under 10k to go the peloton had to navigate some dubious roundabouts with a recreation of stage one at this year’s Giro between Petacchi and Cavendish’s duel looking to be on the cards. The lead out train of HTC Highroad looked impressive as the finish line neared but it was on form Garmin-Cervelo who set up Tyler Farrar for his first ever Tour de France stage victory, he also became the first American rider to win a stage of the TdF on the 4th July. Feillu of Vacansoleil took second and Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil third. An impressive couple of days for Garmin with Thor Hushovd retaining the Yellow Jersey.
Although of reasonable length, Stage 4 from Lorient to Mur-de-Bretagne was a particularly meandering and undulating days racing. The predictions suggested that the 2km climb to the finish would separate the men from the boys so to speak.
On the day, an early breakaway managed to ease almost 5 minutes clear as the pace of the peloton eased. Omega Pharma-Lotto were among the teams prominent in reeling this lead back although they suffered a setback when Jurgen Van de Walle was forced to retire due to the injuries he sustained in the big crash on Stage 1.
While Gilbert was tipped to win this one, it was Cadel Evans who just about managed to hold off the onslaught from Contador in the closing stages. In fact, it was so close that Contador believed he’d won. Many thought Contador had gone too early as he tried to make a break for it in the closing stages but was quickly caught. However, a valiant effort saw him give Cadel Evans a run for his money. Apparently, the difference between the two was the width of a tyre and a rim. Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana came through in third, Sky’s Rigoberto Urán managed fourth, while pre-stage favourite Philippe Gilbert secured a solid fifth place.
Another relatively short stage, Stage 5 from Carhaix to Cap Frehel featured 70 coastal kilometres towards the finish. The big fear going into this stage was strong winds.
However, as it turned out, the peloton was far too busy destroying itself to really care! Some big names involved in the crashes were RadioShack’s Janez Brajkovic and Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador who’s certainly having a Tour to forget.
In an interesting incident, Saxo Bank Sungard rider Nicki Sorenson was also brought down by a TV motorcycle which got too close for comfort. It emerged that the motorcyclist was later sacked for causing the unnecessary collision.
Towards the finish though, it was Mark Cavendish who eventually triumphed, claiming his 16th Tour stage win. Philippe Gilbert was a strong second.
In contrast to the last two stages, Stage 6 from Dinan to Lisieux is the Tours longest stage by a considerable margin – taking in a total of 226.5km.
The day started off fairly slowly, with the peloton keeping a steady pace and allowing a small breakaway to reach a maximum advantage of 11:30. Nevertheless, with just over 80km to the finish this lead had been slashed to less than 5 minutes.
Lampre-ISD’s Adriano Malori was the last member of the breakaway to fall, although the Italian National Time Trial Champion was only caught 2.7km from the finish, at the base of the final climb.
In the end, Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen took both his and his team’s first Tour stage win, fending off HTC-Highroad’s Matt Goss and Garmin-Cervelo’s Thor Hushovd. Hushovd was to retain the yellow jersey going into Stage 7.
Stage seven saw the riders depart Le Mans and head south to Chateauroux on a pan flat, 218km stage. As expected the stage resulted in a group sprint, with the HTC-Highroad train engaging the big ring and delivering Mark Cavendish perfectly to the final 200m, where he beat Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) and André Greipel (Omega Pharma Lotto) to win the stage. It was a tour de force from HTC; judged perfectly, they controlled the final kilometres allowing Cav to do what he does best.
Sadly, at 90km, Quick Step’s Tom Boonen pulled over to the side of the road and got in the team car. Badly concussed, he made the difficult decision to abandon the race. Unfortunately the bad news didn’t stop there, Team Sky’s leader, Bradley Wiggins, in perhaps the best form of his life, got caught in a large crash with only 40km to go and broke his collarbone. Another casualty of the crash was RadioShack’s Chris Horner, who suffered a broken nose and concussion. Amazingly, he finished the stage, but on finishing he had no idea how he’d got there, or what had happened, and was quickly taken to hospital, where it was decided he would not start the next day.
Hushovd retained the yellow jersey, with Cadel Evans remaining in second place. Unfortunately Geraint Thomas lost the Young riders jersey to Rabobank’s Robert Gesink, in a day that Team Sky will want to forget. On a lighter note, after the race Cuddles had a little disagreement with a reporter, but unfortunately his aim was a bit off and he got Cav with his water bottle squirt instead! Classic.
Stage eight saw the riders attack their first mountain stage: From Aigurande to Super-Besse Sancy the riders covered 189km, taking in two cat 4 climbs, a cat. 2 climb, and a 6km category 3 ramp up to the finish in a day that was perfectly suited to climbers, GC contenders and all-round hard men. As it turned out, it was Movistar’s Rui Costa who took the win, a remarkable feat given he’d been in a breakaway since the 8th kilometre. In an exciting finish, he dropped his fellow breakaway companions and held off Vinokourov to take his first TdF stage win. The other remarkable performance of the day came from Thor Hushovd, who retained his yellow jersey by keeping up with Evans and the main lead group of 22 riders which included the likes of Contador and Leipheimer, an impressive performance for the big man from Norway which he put down to, in part, his altitude training.
A strong ride by Gilbert saw him claim back the green jersey, and Gesink held on to the young riders jersey. American Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) did well to get the King of the Mountains jersey, out-climbing the other members of the breakaway, but unfortunately this effort left him unable to match Costa on the climb up to Super-Besse.
Stage 9 was the sort of day best forgotten. 208km from Issoire to Saint-Flour, this medium mountain stage had several cat 2, 3 and 4 climbs (including a cat 4 ramp to the finish) in a brutal, rolling stage. It was whilst descending the second climb of the day, the cat. 2 Pas de Peyrol, that the first big crash occurred, this caught most of the peloton and caused a number of very serious injuries.
Alexandre Vinokourov went off in to the trees to the right, breaking his elbow and the head of his femur. Once retrieved by his team mates, he was flown to Paris where he underwent surgery, it’s too early to tell but many fear this could end his career. Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo) managed to avoid a fallen rider, but in doing so clipped the barrier and went over the edge. He briefly tried to get back on his bike, but quickly retired with a broken wrist. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) went down very hard, breaking three ribs, his shoulder blade and collapsing a lung. He is reported to be spending the next few days in intensive care, but hopefully will recover. In another piece of bad luck for RadioShack, Andreas Kloden went down hard, injuring his back. He is expected to start Stage 10 but time will tell what damage this has done to his chances of a strong GC position. David Millar and Thor Hushovd had a lucky escape, Thor using his ample skills to bunny-hop a bike, avoiding adding their names to the massive injury list.
After the crash, the peloton called a truce to allow those caught up in the crash, helping team mates to rejoin. However this played in to the hands of the breakaway group consisting of Hoogerland (Vaconsoleil), Flecha (Team Sky), Voeckler (Europcar), Casar (FDJ), Sanchez (Rabobank) and Terpstra (Quick Step), who were able to extend their lead to over eight minutes. It was at this point Voeckler realised that, if he could maintain a decent gap, being only one minute down on the yellow jersey of Thor Hushovd he could go into the rest day wearing the Maillot Jaune.
However the drama did not end there. Just 36 km from the finish, in what was surely one of the most shocking scenes in modern tour history, a French press car swerved in to Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha and Vacansoleil’s Johnny Hoogerland to avoid a tree in the road, sending Flecha down hard on the tarmac and Hoogerland flying in to a barbed wire fence. Flecha was given a new bike, and Hoogerland a new pair of shorts and quite amazingly they both managed to finish the stage inside the time. Hoogerland required 30 stitches, and spent much of the rest day in cold compression, but he was still able to stand on the podium to take his polka dot jersey at the end of the stage.
The stage victory was taken by Sanchez (Rabobank), who had enough left in his legs to outkick Voeckler in the final 100m. It was Voeckler however who would stand on the podium in the yellow jersey, thanks to the gap he put in on Thor Hushovd, resulting in quite a change at the top!
The Standings so far:
1st Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)
2nd Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Rabobank)
3rd Cadel Evans (BMC)
1st Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
2nd Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Movistar(
3rd Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad)
King of the Mountains:
1st Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil)
2nd Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar)
3rd Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad)
Young Riders White Jersey:
1st Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
2nd Rein Taaramae (Cofidis)
3rd Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ)