Here's what we were talking about on stage six of the Tour de France
This Tour is BRUTAL
We’d had 191km of perfectly calm riding and everyone was about to go home thankful that the conditions hadn’t caused the carnage we’ve seen in recent days. Then: BAM!
A crash in the last kilometre is bad enough but to bring down and potentially end the race of the man in the yellow jersey is downright brutal.
Tony Martin looked to clip the wheel of the Europcar rider next to him, who in turn went crashing into Vincenzo Nibali. All three hit the deck quite hard, bringing down a few others behind them as well.
Martin took his time to get up and then slowly pedalled up the deceptively steep climb to the finish line flanked by three of his teammates, who gave him a helping hand over the line.
The worst thing about the incident is that Martin has looked genuinely ecstatic to be in the yellow jersey for the last few days – his smile has lit up the podium both days, none of this nonchalance you see from some of the other big-name riders.
The Tour may have lost a big character on stage six, as the injury list lengthened even more. Six stages in and we’re already 10 men down from the 198 that started in Utrecht, plus whoever pulls out after today.
Alejandro Valverde and Damiano Caruso were almost added to that injury list earlier in the stage as they suffered two innocuous and pretty ridiculous falls.
Valverde reportedly slipped on some gravel as he was taking a comfort break at the side of the road and ripped his shorts up, while Caruso catapulted over a straw bale when he misjudged some road furniture.
We don’t need any more riders to pull out injured, let’s hope these next few stages can pass without issue and everyone makes it through to the first rest day to patch themselves up.
Daniel Teklehaimanot is everyone’s new favourite rider
While the end of the stage was full of despair for Martin, the rest of it evoked huge feelings of joy for Daniel Teklehaimanot, who became the first African rider to wear the polka dot jersey.
The Eritrean, who was the first rider down the ramp in Utrecht on Saturday, got himself out in the three-man breakaway and then dominated all three climbs on the route to take the lead in the competition by one point.
Teklehaimanot knows what it’s like to ride in a spotty jersey, having taken the mountains classification at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, but it is his lifelong goal to wear the polka dots in the Tour de France.
It looked as if his breakaway companions, Perrig Quemenneur and Kenneth Vanbilsen, were going to challenge him for the final point – meaning he would not win the jersey – but as it turned out Teklehaimanot had a free run to the line.
MTN-Qhubeka, and particularly the smiley Teklehaimanot, have brought a bit of joy to a hellish first week of the Tour.
What a strange finale
It was great to see Zdenek Stybar win the stage, especially considering what happened to his Etixx teammate Martin, but what was not great was how the sprinters just let him ride away.
The Czech burst off the diminished front group with about 150m left, with Peter Sagan and co behind him just looking at each other and wondering when to strike.
It was if they didn’t even see Stybar, winner of this year’s Strade Bianche, bomb up the road ahead of them and by the time they realised they may have to do something about it, it was far too late.
The results show that Sagan was only two seconds behind Stybar, but he may as well have been a mile away, that’s how little the finish was contested. Sagan said afterwards that everyone expected him to take up the attack, but he wasn’t so keen to give them all a tow.
Sagan is still rewarded for his efforts, though, by being gifted 30 points for coming second on the stage – designated a sprint stage by organisers, despite the very steep hill right at the end.
The points move the Slovakian to within three points of Andre Greipel in the green jersey competition, with John Degenkolb also picking up a few points thanks to his fourth place.
Low winds provided some respite
After four days of carnage it was quite nice to see the peloton be able to ride their bikes without fear of getting caught out by the wind or rain.
Despite following the coast for the vast majority of the stage the wind off the Channel was pretty light, meaning the riders could relax just that little bit more.
Having suffered a lot in the past two days, Movistar’s Alex Dowsett was able to provide good support to team leader Nairo Quintana, while Greg Henderson – riding with two broken ribs – was also present in the lead group after a torrid last few days.
The organisers hate flat stages
By awarding 50 points to the winner of the stage, it appears that the race organisers were classing this as a sprint stage, but how they thought an out-and-out sprinter would get up that final hill is a mystery.
Admittedly, we seem to be entering a new age of sprinters who can climb hills pretty well – think Sagan, Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff – but this Tour has already shown there’s life in the old boys yet.
Greipel has won two stages and Mark Cavendish has been up there in both of them. But gone are the days when there’s six or seven flat stages that these kind of guys can win each Tour.
Now the organisers chuck a hill in at the end, or close enough to the end to eliminate the pure sprinters and leave it up to Sagan and co.
Friday’s stage looks to be a flat finish, one that Cavendish will likely be targeting, but then Saturday’s stage is as flat as a pancake until the last two kilometres, when the riders take on the 6.9 per cent Mur de Bretagne.
At this rate, Cavendish will have to ride for another decade to get anywhere near Eddy Merckx’s all-time stages record at the Tour, and even then he’ll have to win all of the flat stages, because there aren’t any!