Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tour de France: Stage 5

Chablis to Autun 182.5 km

GNB Sports welcomes you to a kick-ass Stage 5.

Would you like white or red wine? The towns today are up to 2,000 years old. The Tour traverses the Chablis wine region and Morvan hills, on its way to Burgundy. Tasty.

One rider abandoned pre-race today, leaving 185 riders to start. Remy di Gregorio who came in last yesterday due to being in the crash early yesterday, went to the hospital overnight and sadly is out with a fractured elbow.

Three intermediate sprints, but the big story is, lots and lots of climbing. There are eight categorized climbs today:

  • The Category 4 Côte Grandes-Chatenaines (which summits at 39.5km)
  • Cat. 4 Côte Domecy-sur-Cure (52.5km)
  • Cat. 3 Côte Champignolless-le-Bas (58.5km)
  • Cat. 4 Côte Coulon (86.5km)
  • Cat. 3 Côte Saint-Maurice (98.5km)
  • Cat. 4 Côte Chateau-Chinon (119km)
  • Cat. 2 Haut-Folin (135.5km)
  • Cat. 3 Côte Croix de la Liberation (174km)
The climbs are already shaking up the field. CSC has announced they won't defend the Yellow Jersey. They obviously don't believe they can protect Fabian Cancellara against the attacks which have already started. We shall see.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts, a 3-man break finally got away and by 30 km the break is already a solid 4 min ahead with a single chaser at two minutes . Over yet another two climbs and the breakaway pouring it on, they are now out to 8:12 on the field with 100 km to go. The chase has caught the break so the break now is four people. The peloton is in an angry mood and a serious chase is on already with the gap coming down from a maximum of around 15 minutes.

Today is the first test of the true favorites of the tour. They're going to have to sneak out of hiding on the category-2 climb near the end, and we will see some shake-up in the GC classification by day's end. We've already seen the King of the Mountains jersey change hands, at least the virtual one. Sylvian Chavanel (COF) is in the break for the second day on the road and is scoring big in points on the climbs; he's taken the virtual polka-dot jersey away from teammate Stephan Auge with more climbs to come. The other three in the break are Gilbert (FDJ), Bonnet (C.A.), and Cheula (BAR) who after struggling for one hour eight minutes all by himself, finally bridged the gap a few minutes ago, catching the leading trio to make it four men in the break. Good work Cheula.

Brett Lancaster on the Milram team has just abandoned per race radio. He went down in that nasty crash on Stage 1 into the central traffic island. He's also had a stomach problem he's been suffering from and that's just tough to get through. One of the six Australians in the race. The race is now down to 184 riders.

Trivia: First American to ride the Tour was Jonathan Boyer in 1981. How many Americans have followed in his footsteps? Answer: After Jonathan Boyer, 31 Americans have made it to the Tour. This includes one non-US national who is licensed by the U.S. but doesn't speak a word of English.

In wooded rolling hills, the peloton has roughly halved the break to 6:22 min with 86 km to go. The peloton remains committed to hauling in the break. The times drop: 85 km and the break has 5:50 min on the field. How did the break possibly lose 30 seconds in just one kilometer? The break is on the tough Côte Saint-Maurice category-3 climb, 3 km long with an average gradient of 5.2%. Doesn't sound hard to you? Rent a bike and we'll ride together. *smiles sweetly*

Climbs are classified from easiest, category-4, to hard, category-1, to hardest, the mighty HC (hors categorie), literally "outside category." The harder the climb, the more climbing points the first three riders over the top win towards the polka-dot jersey, the King of the Mountains.

The boys are driving hard, working to pull back the break which is coming down quickly, now down to 4:20 at 75 km. It seems to us the peloton would like the break pulled back before the cat-2 climb which is still a ways off. The field is strung out over several hundred meters, most teams putting at least one man up front to share the pace.

CRASH! Andreas Kloden is down in a ditch on the left side of the road, a number of riders on top of him. This is the first time we've seen Kloden since he came in second in the prologue last Saturday. He's on a lot of people's lips to win the Tour de France. Now he's all alone, struggling to chase back to the peloton with just one other rider to help him and the peloton hammer is down. ...okay, better... Astana has sent a third man back to help pace him to the field. Kloden doesn't look injured and he did fall in soft grass. They're back through the cars and tagging on to the back of the peloton. Good. Overall 3rd place GC rider Kloden is back to the field, getting checked out by the Tour doctor. He seems fine. This is the danger of the early days of the Tour, and even of Stage 20's final ride into Paris: all seems fine, just tooling along, when BAM, a year of training, even a career can be gone.

CRASH! Again, a crash. Someone's food bag got dumped into this rider's wheel and he's down, big-time. It's Geoffroy Lequatre (COF). His right arm looks as if it may be broken. I hope that isn't the case. Even if his arm isn't broken, he's now miles behind the peloton and unless someone stayed to pace him back -- and he's not a key rider, there isn't any reason someone would -- he probably won't make it back, and thus may well not cross the finish line in time to make the time cutoff.

Every day a time cutoff is set based on when the first rider crosses the finish line. It isn't always a lot of time, although it can be for example on a long mountain stage. If a rider fails to cross the finish within the time cutoff, they are eliminated from the tour. Today the elimination time could be as little as twenty-five or thirty minutes, meaning anyone who gets dropped not only can't rest, but will have to work very hard to make it in without being eliminated. The peloton rides tightly together because packing in tightly together the wind resistance is shared by everyone, allowing everyone to go much faster for enormously less effort. Anyone chasing to rejoin the peloton must expend massive amounts of energy and still may be unsuccessful in catching up.

Breakaway and virtual King of the Mountains leader Chavanel just crossed over the top of a cat-4 climb. The peloton is starting up the slopes, 3:30 back with 58 km to go. More importantly, after this comes the cat-2. Finally, up, up, up! We love climbing.

Haven't heard anything on Lequatre since the crash. No clue how he's doing. The breakaway are climbing the slopes of the cat-2 Haut-Folin, 7 km of pain. The field have crested the cat-4 and are heading onwards. And CRASH, yet again, but this one is nothing to speak of. A little smack-up. The point is, you have to pay attention. Bikes running into the soft grass on the side of the road, wheels bent, and changed by mechanics, everyone back riding again in moments.

The peloton is firmly on the ascent of Haut-Folin now, a steady 8 km climb. Some riders will be dropped here without mercy. Race radio reports Geoffroy Lequatre is up and chasing back to the peloton; we've not seen him yet. The gap is 1:42 to the break and the breakaway itself is breaking apart into two groups, no three. We can't call it a break anymore. It's every rider for himself, finding their own rhythms and racing to the top, trying to get the points for winning at the top. The race referee has pulled everyone out of the gap between the break and the field and the field is charging straight up behind what was the break and is now four individual riders in three groups, just 1:10 back and gaining with every time check, 50.7 km to the finish but all that matters now is this climb.

The riders are 1.7 km to the summit with the field 2 min back. Chavanel takes first over the top with 10 points; that gives Chavanel 37 points today having gone first over every categorized climb today with one more climb to go, after the final sprint point. Chavanel is way ahead in the King of the Mountains. This will certainly take him in polka-dots all the way to the Alps.

The break is 2:02 away, 38 km to go. Only two riders remaining in the break. The other two riders were just captured by the peloton on a long curving left-hand bend, everyone simply hanging on as the field is all strung out at over 50 km per hour. A number of riders are dangling behind the peloton trying to make their way back to safety through the team cars, including Carlos Sastre (CSC), one of the best climbers on the Tour. What happened to cause him to fall behind? No clue. And why didn't a CSC rider stay to help pace him back? Again, no clue. We never get all the answers. Grrr.

The peloton simply hasn't got control of the break. The break are 1st and 2nd of King of the Mountains, and Chavanel could be in Yellow tonight if they can just stay out in front all the way to the end. The break pushes themselves over 60 km per hour off these little hills, trying to pull off the upset. Only 25 km to go and 1:45 ahead, with a very harry decent off the final category-3 climb. The decent is fast, tricky, and the riders will need a good kick to the line.

Vinokourov has CRASHED. A teammate back to help him. Vinokourov has road rash all down his right thigh, his shorts ripped wide open. Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) is the number one favorite to win the entire Tour, and his team manager has six riders doing a team time trial to bring him back. They're riding 55 to 60 km a hour, chasing all the way back to the peloton. The only rider who didn't come back to help is Kloden who already had his own fall earlier today.

This is quite a day. We never would have imagined this many crashes, so many of them involving GC contenders. Vinokourov can't even take the time to think if he's hurt (and he is.) He must get back to the peloton. No one dare panic. Up front, the breakaway continues to ride as fast and as hard as it can, not slowing for anything. They believe they have a real chance to win this stage. And they might.

The danger is the gap is down to 44 seconds and we're not over the final cat-3 climb. Everyone once they hit the top will think, "I can win this" and take dangerous risks on the decent. The breakaway will almost certainly be caught shortly, down to 33 seconds now. Back behind the peloton, Vinokourov is losing time to the peloton. The favorite of the Tour is losing time on the field. He has a major injury to his hip and side. Half his shorts are torn off on the right side. You can see blood swelling out on his hip, but he isn't panicking, just trusting his team to get him back because he simply can not afford to go into the mountains having lost significant time to his rivals.

Cancellara has managed to hang in with the leading group. It's true -- when you wear Yellow, you ride as if you are two men. Chavanel has 4 km still to reach the top of the final cat-3 climb of the day. The long way down is very steep, extremely twisty, and the kind of final decent which could produce disaster. Finally -- the break is captured, and now it is anyone's race. Vinokourov has destroyed his entire team pacing him back to the field, but he's back in the field on the tail of the peloton and climbing hard. His team paid the price but that's the price they're there to pay. Vinokourov is here to win the Tour and he simply must get back to the field or the Tour is lost.

The front end of the main field is on the decent; 8 km to go and descending is chaos. Very steep, serious risks, riders almost skidding off hairpin bends. Vinokourov is almost back into the front of the race. Wow; 6 km to go. Braking through these bends with Tom Boonen, riders are taking maximum risks. Cancellara will keep his Yellow Jersey and no one saw that coming at all. At 4 km there are three very nasty hair pin bends and we shall see what happens; 4.5 km to go right now and we hurtle into the bends. The Yellow Jersey rides off the road on the bends! But he's not hurt; he keeps his bike upright with great bike handling and he's back on the road and everyone's descending all together. Vinokourov's group is 60 seconds behind and pressure is growing on the front end of the field.

It's 2 km to the end. Left hand turn, a sweeping right hand turn up towards to the finish, there's George Hincapie up near the front and he's looking for Yellow himself. Vinokourov still 60 seconds behind trying to save his Tour de France. David Millar has gone early; it won't work. Hincapie has disappeared from the front. The Yellow Jersey is in front. Eric is up front. Battle of the sprinters to the line. Hincapie has cut back up front. Erik Zabal. But the person who wins on the line is Filippo Pozzato (LIQ) at 78 kph (almost 50 mph) and riding uphill!

Alexander Vinokourov crosses the finish at 1:21. Won't necessarily cost him the Tour, but he needs to grab the time back; Saturday we enter the Alps and he is down time to his rivals. And Cancellara stays in Yellow. Tomorrow is relatively flat which will allow Vinokourov and his team some room to recover before moving to the mountains. Still no report on rider Geoffroy Lequatre who appeared to have hurt his arm but was reported riding to rejoin. Hopefully we'll know tomorrow.

Stage 6 is viewable LIVE in the United States on Versus: Friday, July 13, 8:30 - 11:30 AM ET/5:30 - 8:30 AM PT.

Today's video highlights -- Great Tour coverage at VeloNews

TDF Stage 5 Results -- Top 10:
1. Filippo Pozzato (LIQ) 182.5km in 4h39'01" (39.244km/h)
2. Oscar Freire (RAB)
3. Daniel Bennati (LAM)
4. Kim Kirchen (TMO)
5. Erik Zabel (MRM)
6. George Hincapie (DSC)
7. Cristian Moreni (COF)
8. Stefan Schumacher (GST)
9. Bram Tankink (QSI)
10. Jerome Pineau (BTL)

TDF: Standings after Stage 5

1 033
CANCELLARA, Fabian SUI CSC 24:28:56.000 00:00:00.000
2 196 KLÖDEN, Andréas GER AST 24:29:29.000 00:00:33.000
3 151 POZZATO, Filippo ITA LIQ 24:29:31.000 00:00:35.000
4 201 MILLAR, David GBR SDV 24:29:37.000 00:00:41.000
5 114 HINCAPIE, George USA DSC 24:29:39.000 00:00:43.000
6 113 GUSEV, Vladimir RUS DSC 24:29:41.000 00:00:45.000
7 015 KARPETS, Vladimir RUS GCE 24:29:42.000 00:00:46.000
8 073 ASTARLOZA, Mikel ESP EUS 24:29:45.000 00:00:49.000
9 054 DEKKER, Thomas NED RAB 24:29:47.000 00:00:51.000
10 169 VAUGRENARD, Benoît FRA
FDJ 24:29:48.000 00:00:52.000