July in France means one thing: almost as inevitable as the Tour de France taking to the road is the likelihood of the French housewives’ favourite, Thomas Voeckler, setting off on an almighty great suicide break that will inevitably come to nought.
Except the man who spends more time off the front of the bunch than the lead car had not read the script and finally landed his first Grand Tour stage when he took the fifth stage in Perpignan ahead of a fast closing bunch. Mark Cavendish finished third behind Voeckler’s breakaway companion Mikhail Ignatiev to keep a firm grip on the green jersey.
If fortune favours the brave then Voeckler is the living embodiment of the phrase, even if the results rarely match the effort. The former French champion and yellow jersey wearer is hugely popular in his home country and there were broad smiles all round on the podium, especially from Bernard Hinault.
Voeckler had set off early in the day in the company of Anthony Geslin (FdJ), Marcin Sapa (Lampre), Yauheni Hutarovich (FdJ), Mikhail Ignatiev (Katusha) and Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano),
The expected catch from the bunch never materialised once the race turned away from the coast with 24 kilometres left to ride. Columbia and Garmin hit the front and attempted to raise some enthusiasm but left it too late to bridge the gap.
With Sapa dropped, the remaining five riders looked to have blown it when the cat-and-mouse stuff started six kilometres from Perpignan. Katusha’s Mikhail Ignatiev tried the only weapon in his armoury and sped off. They reeled him in, the speed dropped, everyone looked over their shoulder. Voeckler wasn’t about to get caught up in this cagey business having put all that work in. It’s not his style.
The Frenchman kicked hard, the rest watched, and he was gone, leaving plenty of time to celebrate the victory ahead of Ignatiev and a fast-finishing Mark Cavendish, the green jersey weaving across the road as he lunged for the line.
The opening stages have been gripping stuff and today’s was no different. Gusting crosswinds once they hit the coast road at Leucate caused carnage in the peloton as Astana, Saxo Bank and Caisse d’Epargne pressed on the pedals at the head of affairs and the inevitable split occurred.
It resembled the Tour of Flanders more than the Tour de France – apart from the sunshine, of course – and put a whole raft of riders on the back foot for the rest of the stage.
Who didn’t make the cut? Surprise, surprise, it’s Denis Menchov, having another nightmare after hitting the deck in the previous day’s team time trial (if you didn’t see it, the expression ‘he corners like he’s on rails’ applies to Menchov’s attempt at the left-hander. Sadly, Menchov’s rails went straight on).
Rabobank’s other big hope, Robert Gesink, had already crashed and was well adrift with two team-mates, holding the bars gingerly and grimacing in a manner that suggested a fracture. After the stage, Rabobank confirmed that he’d fractured his wrist and was out of the Tour.
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Rabobank were having another disaster, along with around 40 riders in the second bunch. This did have the effect of making life easier for French fans at the roadside, however, as practically every member of this unfortunate group came from one of the home nation’s teams. Cofidis, Bbox, FdJ and Agritubel jerseys were much in evidence and easily identifiable.
Not that the French were bothered. Who cares who is at the back when Voeckler is at the front?
Stage five: Le Cap d’Agde-Perpignan, 196km
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bbox Bouyges Telecom in 4-29-35
2. Mikhail Ignatiev (Rus) Katusha at 7secs
3. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia
4. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Slipstream
5. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Milram
6. Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Katusha
7. Jose Rojas (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
8. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R
9. Oscar Friere (Spa) Rabobank
10. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo all same time
Overall classification after stage five
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank in 10-38-07
2. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana at same time
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 19secs
4. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 23secs
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 31secs
6. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 38secs
7. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Astana at 51secs
8. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC at 52secs
9. David Zabriskie (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-06
10. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-07
20. Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 2-17
29. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo at 2-44
35. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 2-59
60. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC at 3-33
71. Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank at 3-52
154. Charly Wegelius (GB) Silence-Lotto at 8-09
1. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC 96 points
2. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo 70 points
3. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Slipstream 54 points
53. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 5 points
King of the Mountains
Jussi Veikkanen (Fin) Française des Jeux
Best young rider classification
Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC
Thomas Voeckler’s win will be hugely popular in France
“Hi Lance, it’s still mine”
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