Lars Boom (Belkin) took a solo win at the end of an eventful day on stage five of the 2014 Tour de France. It was a day that saw Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) extend his overall lead, and Chris Froome (Sky) quit the race after crashing.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this astonishing stage between Ypres and Arenberg Porte de Hainult. It was only 155.5km long, but it featured nine cobbled sections. Or rather, it would have featured nine sections except that the foul weather and strong wind ‘forced’ the race organisers to cut two of them out and shorten the race distance by three kilometres.
Would it have made any difference to stage winner Lars Boom? Probably not. The Belkin rider, a multiple World cyclo-cross champion and a cobbled Classics specialist had clearly marked this stage in his diary as a ‘Must do (them all in)’ and when he left Nibali and the yellow jersey wearer Nibali’s Astana team mate Jakob Fuglsang on the final cobbled section to solo for a win, there was no way the Astana duo were going to peg back to Dutchman.
But Boom’s stage was effectively a sideshow because the main event was the huge shuffle in the general classification and the crashes which led to Froome abandoning the race. Froome had crashed in the Criterium du Dauphine last month then crashed twice in quick succession even before the first cobbles had been reached. Battered and limping, Froome refused a series of new bikes offered to him as he waited for the Sky team car to get into. Less than 70km into the stage, Froome was down and out.
None of which bothered Nibali or Astana who took the stage by the scruff of its slippery neck and attacked the cobbles with a gusto that was a shock to everyone. With a strong wind blowing in a cross- and sometimes tail-wind, the race split and split again. There were punctures and crashes and stage was run off at an average speed of 47kph, close to a record pace (which stands at 50.4kph on a flat, wind-assisted blast from Laval to Blois won by Mario Cipollini in 1999). On a cold, wet and windy day over the cobbles, 47kph is a crazy pace.
The early break of eight (Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Tony Martin (Omega Pharma), Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r), Janier Acevedo (Garmin), Tony Gallopin (Lotto), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Rein Taarämae (Cofidis) and Orica duo of Simon Clarke and Matt Hayman) already had a lead of two minutes before the peloton hit the first sector of pave at Carrefour de l'Arbre (87km) and after the mud had been wiped from lenses and eyes, the race was in several pieces.
Behind it was every man for himself, but the writing was on the wall for Froome, who crashed for the first time after 29km and aggravated a wrist injury, though worse was to follow. Another crash around 84km saw him climb into the team car, his Tour defence over.
Finally though, the stage had to settle into some kind of order and a group of 16 riders found itself off the front (remnants of the early break) plus Nibali, Boom, Fuglsang, Sep Vanmarcke, Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellara being the bigger names who snuck away. Behind, it was crashes, punctures, bike changes, confusion and desperate racing on roads that required courage and supreme bike handling skills. Riders were falling out of the break, falling into gutters, falling into spectators at the front and back of the race.
But if Nibali was going well and Froome was out, what of the other supposed GC favourites? Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Andrew Talansky (Garmin), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) were all struggling to regroup and organise themselves and chase down Nibali who they would never see again. Between the efforts of Westra, Fuglsang, Boom and Nibali himself, they were well clear. A gap of just over a minute grew and grew, hovering at 1-20 for a while before going out to 1-40, 1-50 and then over two minutes.
In the end, Nibali’s GC rivals came across the line 2-35 behind the Italian, their motivation and morale having taken as big a battering as their bodies. Nibali may well have a lead of over two minutes to rivals, but, as strong as he was - and even without Froome in the equation - it’s hard to imagine that his Spanish rivals are going to roll over without a fight.
Porte too is now eighth overall (at 1-45) while Dauphine winner Talansky is 2-05 down and there is no way on earth Talansky and Garmin aren’t going to test Nibali. On this form though, Nibali looks like he has struck a psychological blow as much as a physical one. Who would have imagined it? It had been a hell of a day.
Full preview for Thursday's stage six >>
Tour de France 2014, stage five: Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, 152.5km
1. Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin in 3-18-35
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 19 secs
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 19 secs
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale at 1-01
5. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing at 1-01
6. Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge at 1-01
7. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 1-07
8. Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana at 1-09
9. Matteo Trentin (Ita) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 1-21
10. Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis at 1-45
10. Richie Porte (Aus) sky at 2-11
21. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 2-19
22. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp
37. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 2-54
Overall classification after stage five
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 20-26-46
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana at 2 secs
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale at 44 secs
4. Michael Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 50 secs
5. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing at 1-17
6. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 1-45
7. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol at 1-45
8. Richie Porte (Aus) Sky at 1-54
9. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp at 2-05
10. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 2-11
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