Result: Thor Hushovd won a three man sprint to win his second stage win of the Tour from a breakaway. Amongst the overall favourites, Alberto Contador attacked bringing Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez with him, leaving both Schlecks and Ivan Basso behind.
Here’s how it happened: It was a classic ‘transitional’ stage somewhere between flat and mountainous where a breakaway was always likely to succeed. As such, there was chaos for the first 100km as every team wanted a rider up the road.
Whenever a group of escapees formed, there was always one team that wasn’t happy with its composition and set about chasing it down. It took until 60km to go to the finish before a group of ten riders finally asserted themselves and stole away off the front of the peloton.
The break included Edvald Boasson Hagen, world champion Thor Hushovd and, as usual, Jérémy Roy who just won’t give up in his quest for a stage win.
The breakaway gained about six minutes on the bunch in horrible rainy conditions. But as the peloton behind reached the only climb of the day, with 15km to go, Alberto Contador attacked. Nobody was expecting it on a stage like this which would usually be reserved by the G.C. riders as a recuperation day.
The Schleck brothers, Cadel Evans, Samuel Sanchez and the yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler all tagged on to the back of Contador. And shortly after, the bunch all came back together. Meanwhile, the Canadian Ryder Hesjedal attacked the breakaway at the front of the race as he attempted to win the stage alone.
With 12km to go, Contador attacked again, and this time he broke the race apart. Voeckler began to be distanced along with the Schlecks, while Evans and Sanchez were the only two capable of staying with Contador. This G.C. trio began to work together in order to widen the gap back to the Schlecks and Basso.
Back up front, Hushovd and Boasson Hagen, the only two Norwegians in the race and both stage winners already this year, caught Hesjedal on the slippery descent. The three fought it out amongst themselves for the stage win, but as Hesjedal and Hushvod are team-mates, they ganged up on Boasson-Hagen to ensure Hushovd won the sprint and his second stage of the race.
Behind, Evans managed to open a gap on Contador and Sanchez on the run-in as he gained 3 seconds. Frank Schleck came over the line just 21 seconds behind Evans, Basso lost 54 seconds to the Australian and Andy Schleck was dropped further and ended up losing 1’09″.
The Big Winner: Alberto Contador. The reigning champion is back and on the attack. With the spineless performances we saw from the Schlecks in the Pyrenées, it was refreshing to see a rider attacking properly and finally blowing the G.C. race apart.
Contador has finally announced himself in this year’s Tour and with the major Alpine climbs still to come over the next three days, the rest of the overall contenders should be very worried indeed. Today he clawed back over a minute on Andy Schleck.
The Big Losers: The Schlecks. Contador finally showed them who is boss. The two brothers were caught by surprise as they expected a straightforward day in the saddle.
Andy in particular had a stinker. They will be ruing the day they didn’t take advantage of Contador’s poor form in the Pyreneés last week.
What about the Irish? Nicolas Roche the G.C. rider is gone. Enter Nicolas Roche the stage hunter.
He tried to get into the break of the day and momentarily ended up off the front in a group at the beginning of the stage. But his was one of the unfortunate groups which failed before the elastic back to the peloton snapped.
He ended up in 75th place on the stage, losing 4’24″ to Cadel Evans. He now sits in 22nd overall almost 15 minutes behind Thomas Voeckler. This is no bad thing as he now has a greater chance of being allowed clear in a break tomorrow.
So what happens tomorrow then? The high mountains are back. Although the monster climb to Sestriéres is on the route, the summit is more than 60km from the finish. On paper, you’d be inclined to think the G.C. riders will take a back seat and allow a breakaway to succeed. But after today’s antics, we can’t be too sure.
The stage finishes in Pinerolo in Italy which is the only occasion throughout the race that the route sneaks out of France. Incidentally, the last time the Tour was contained entirely in France was way back in 1986.
After the riders have crossed the summit at Sestriéres, there is another shorter climb just 8km from the finish. If a group of riders do make it this far, this final short climb will be a perfect place for one of them to launch an attack and try to win the stage solo.