The Germans can really ride bikes
We’ve known this for quite a while, really, but the German riders have really come to the fore so far, even though arguably the country’s best rider is at home.
There has been a German on the podium in four of the first five stages so far, with Tony Martin a semi-permanent fixture in post-race ceremonies with two top-three finishes and having collected the yellow jersey twice.
With Marcel Kittel deemed not fit enough to be in the Giant-Alpecin squad there were questions as to how well John Degenkolb would be able to fill his shoes.
While the Paris-Roubaix winner couldn’t take Tuesday’s stage over the cobbles he did manage second place behind Martin and came home in sixth on stage five.
There aren’t that many out-and-out sprint stages in this year’s race, which makes it even more impressive that Greipel is cleaning them up and building himself a tidy lead in the green jersey competition.
Lotto-Soudal’s Greipel leads Peter Sagan by 32 points already and has a buffer of 65 over Cavendish. This revamped points system is great, isn’t it?
Cavendish beaten in the sprint again
We could spend all week analysing why Cavendish hasn’t won either of the two sprint stages he’s contested so far and not come to a conclusion as to what’s going wrong for the Brit.
On stage two he looked to sit up when it was clear he wasn’t going to win, saying afterwards that he had nothing left to give after opening his sprint very early. On that day he said Mark Renshaw had let him go too soon, leaving him isolated against a strong bunch of sprinters.
Three days later and it looked as if Cav opened the gas too early once more, having lost Renshaw’s wheel.
It looked a three-horse race between Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Démare, but surging sprints by Greipel and Sagan saw them come from nowhere to speed past the trio.
Sagan flung his bike at the line to consign Cavendish to third place, and with it fewer points than he’d have been wishing for, while Greipel timed his sprint to perfection to claim the win.
As mentioned earlier, there aren’t many more bona fide sprint stages left for Cavendish to win, so he may get a bit more desperate to win as the Tour progresses.
Bad news for Cofidis
Nacer Bouhanni’s day and entire Tour was over just 12km into stage five when a big crash left him sprawled at the side of the road along with several of his Cofidis colleagues.
It’s a huge blow for the French outfit – perennial wildcards at the Tour – because they had effectively built their whole team around the sprinter for this race rather than just bringing the usual ensemble of middle-of-the-road Frenchmen they usually put out.
Bouhanni hasn’t shone through this season, nowhere near his Giro d’Italia red jersey-winning form of 2014, but he’s still a credible threat in a sprint.
Unfortunately he never got the chance to actually contest one – missing the split on stage two and coming sixth in the bunch gallop behind Martin on stage four.
Expect now to see Cofidis revert to their age-old tactic of simply throwing a rider in a breakaway and hoping to get through the rest of the Tour unscathed.
Alex Dowsett struggled through
Dowsett was in the wars yesterday, coming off his bike on a slippery corner on stage four and riding the final 20-odd kilometres on his own well off the back of the pack.
Stitched up and ready to go for stage five, Dowsett found himself unable to help team leader Nairo Quintana on stage five, quickly finding himself on the wrong side of a split in the peloton and rolling home 14 minutes down.
The thinking behind Dowsett’s selection for the race was that he could help protect Quintana over the first week until they reached the Colombian’s favoured mountain habitats.
Now, though, it looks as if stage four’s spill may have knocked his confidence a bit as he crossed the line third from last alongside former Team Sky buddy Steve Cummings.
Dowsett was by no means the only Movistar rider to miss the split, though, with Winner Anancona and Jose Herrada also in the group. Fortunately Quintana made it through unscathed and in contention for the overall title.
A deserved combativity award for Matthews
The judging criteria of the Tour de France combativity award is usually a thing of mystery, with the prize often handed out to a rider who makes repeated futile attacks or to simply someone who made it into the day’s breakaway.
From pretty early on in stage five, Matthews looked to be struggling with the high pace, finding himself alone alongside the team cars trying to work his way back up.
What was particularly poignant is that the team were wearing special jerseys on stage five to commemorate all 295,000 Australians who fought in World War One, 46,000 of whom never returned from the battlefields.
The race passed near several battlefields from the 1914-1918 war, including Bullecourt, Pozières, Péronne and Villers-Bretonneux – all key points for Australia in the war.
Orica sports director Matt White said: “It’s very special [to be awarded prix de la combativité], especially today, with the memorial that was going on today. Michael has worked very hard to get through the stage and it was very special as Australians, as Anzacs, the 100 year memorial as well.
“There’s no comparison between war and sport. People lost their lives in WW1, and this is sport. You’ve all got to put it into context. The Tour de France is motivation enough but it was a nice gesture on a day which is very special to all Australians.”