Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) pipped Edvald Boassen Hagen (Sky) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) in a tumultuous sprint finish in Marseille at the end of stage five of the 2013 Tour de France. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) retained the overall race lead.
Now that the riders were off the hilly roads of Corsica and had got the pesky team time trial out of the way, stage five of the 2013 Tour de France was the first of three stages which the sprinters teams had earmarked as ‘hard work' days in their route books.
From Cagnes-sur-Mer all the way through till the end of stage seven in Albi, if the sprinters were going to earn their money, it was going to be on these stages, starting with this one.
Today, therefore, the battle lines were clear and the sides lined up with a clear understanding of what was going to happen. A break would form early, work hard to build a lead and hope that they could resist the return of the peloton. That was the script.
The break comprised of six riders - two Europcar riders Japanese road champion Yukiya Arashiro and Kevin Reza, Astana's young Alexey Lutsenko, Vacansoleil's Thomas De Gent, transformed from top five GC rider to mountains jersey hunter, Euskaltel's token Frenchman Romain Sicard and Antony Delaplace (Sojasun) the latter two shed with 40km to go.
Behind, the chase was led by a combination of interested parties. Orica-GreenEdge, holders of the yellow jersey, were intermittently assisted by riders from Omega for Cavendish and Lotto for Greipel. "We had an easy day for most of the time," noted Cavendish later, "because Orica were riding for most of it."
"I didn't feel great today but when the guys are committed like they were - not just in the final, but all the way today - it's important to pay them back," said Cavendish of his team-mates. "They show their motivation by riding themselves into the ground and, like I always say, that really does give you something extra."
On the final climb of the day, with just over 20km to go, Ag2r in the person of Seb Minard accelerated in an effort to shake out some sprinters (or get some TV time) while in front the break (now reduced to a quartet) decided to stop working and attack each other as their lead dropped from two minutes to 1-30 inside three kilometres.
Both were doomed. Minard and Ag2r didn't manage to shake out any sprinters, not even the hill-phobic Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), suffering from a bout of gastro-intestinal ‘distress.' True, the remnants of the break didn't actually finally get caught till four kilometres to go, but not even the crash in the peloton with 15.5km to go could prevent the catch.
Omega Pharma boss Patrick Lefevere revealed that his star sprinter was getting over the ‘cold' that had plagued him since the National road race.
"We had aimed to win this stage," said the Belgian manager, "Mark knows his cycling history and he was keen to win in Marseille, a finish which has seen a lot of great sprint wins. On the final climb the guys could see that he had good legs, he was still there and they were happy to ride for him. (Matteo) Trentin had to lead through the last corner and Gert was to lead him out till around 500 metres to go. It worked out perfectly," smiled Lefevere.
Almost as inevitable as a Cavendish win, was the crash inside the final kilometre. There have been two sprint finishes contested by the whole peloton so far this year and both times we've seen fast crashes.
This time Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto) and Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) emerged from the wreckage suffering the most. Though FDJ sprinter Bouhanni, having hauled himself over the hill, also got caught up in it. If the Omega plan worked to perfection, for FDJ's sprinter it was a case of back to the drawing board.
There was always tomorrow though, another stage with ‘sprint finish' stamped all over the 2013 Tour de France route book.
Tour de France 2013, stage five: Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille, 228.5km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 5-31-51
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky
3. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
4. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol
5. Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida
6. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
7. Juan Jose Lobato (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
8. Ramunas Navardauskas (Lit) Garmin-Sharp
9. Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Sojasun
10. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar all same time
28. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at same time
Overall classification after stage five
1. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge in 18-19-15
2. Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEdge at same time
3. Michael Albasini (Sui) Orica-GreenEdge at same time
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 1 sec
5. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep at 1 sec
6. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky at 3 sec
7. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 3 sec
8. Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky at 3 sec
9. Nicolas Roche (Ire) Saxo-Tinkoff at 9 sec
10. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Saxo-Tinkoff at 9 sec
Chris Froome grabs some lunch
Cameron Meyer and Orica chase the escape
Arashiro and Reza head the escape
Race leader Simon Gerrans
Mark Cavendish takes his first win in the British national champion's jersey
Simon Gerrans keeps the yellow jersey
Tour de France 2013: Stage reports
Stage four: Orica win Tour's team time trial to put Gerrans in yellow
Stage three: Gerrans outpaces Sagan to take win
Stage two: Millar denied yellow as Bakelants takes spoils
Stage one: Kittel wins chaotic opening stage
Tour de France 2013: Photo galleries
Tour de France 2013: Live text coverage
We will be covering every stage of the 2013 Tour de France with live and interactive text commentary, in association with Castelli Cafe.
Stage five live text coverage
Stage four live text coverage
Stage three live text coverage
Stage two live text coverage
Stage one live text coverage
Tour de France 2013: TV schedule
Tour de France on TV: British Eurosport schedule
Tour de France on TV: ITV4 schedule
Tour de France 2013: Related links
Tour de France 2013: Who will win?
Tour de France 2013: The Big Preview
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Brief history of the Tour de France
1989: The Greatest Tour de France ever
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