Stage five analysis: Greipel gains an edge

André Greipel took his second consecutive stage win, outpowering his rivals into St Quentin

Words by Richard Moore in St Quentin

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Thursday July 5, 2012

It is difficult to know whether Mark Cavendish will be hurting more after stage five than he was after stage four. A day after crashing heavily and wheeling miserably across the line with his rainbow jersey in tatters, Cavendish stayed upright but appeared fallible as Andre Greipel won his second successive stage, with the world champion only fifth.

The two events could be linked, of course. In Rouen, before Thursday’s fifth stage, Cavendish and Bernhard Eisel, who had been the first man to hit the deck the previous day, left it so late before stepping out of the Sky bus that they walked straight into team director Sean Yates pointing at his watch, saying: “Sign on.”

Eisel was beaten up but upbeat, and the converse was true of Cavendish: he was less badly hurt but looked to be in low spirits. “I’m OK,” he shrugged. “I’ve had worse this year.”

His only goal for the day, he said, was to “stay near the front.” It perhaps wasn’t such a surprise, then, to see, for the first time in this race, a Team Sky ‘train’ form at the front in the final stages. With the diminutive Richie Porte spearheading this effort, rather than a big rouleur, it made for an unusual spectacle. And they seemed at one point to misfire, sliding down the bunch until threatening to become the first lead-out train in history to take their sprinter out the back. But they recovered.

The team applying the pressure on the other side of the road, meanwhile, was BMC. They don’t have a sprinter, but were keen to keep Cadel Evans out of trouble – which was also the principal motivation for Sky, with Bradley Wiggins. “On the left were Sky, on the right BMC,” said Fabian Cancellara, who remained in yellow, “but it’s to keep their leaders out of trouble. It’s better you spend more energy at the front than risk crashing in the middle of the peloton.”

For the second day that risk was underlined in gory technicolour with a pile-up in the final 3km. Cavendish’s train had recovered by now, and he was safe on the left as bodies began to tumble on the right. Tyler Farrar was fingered by Greipel as the culprit. “I don’t know what he was doing there.”

Farrar and one of the Argos riders seemed to be fighting for the same space, about three back as the riders fanned across the road, until they collided and fell, taking Peter Sagan and others with them. Sagan put his old mountain biking skills to good use and was poised to remain upright until he was hit by a stray bike, and went down.

Now Greipel found himself “about 40 men back” but he quickly located his lead-out man, Greg Henderson, and began moving towards the front, where Cavendish was sitting behind Edvald Boasson Hagen. It turned out the Sky train had mis-fired. Or perhaps not. They had kept Wiggins, who put in a turn at the front before swinging off, out of danger, but left Cavendish exposed. Boasson Hagen, nominally Cavendish’s lead-out man, found himself at the front 1.5km from the line: about a kilometre too soon.

It was a deceptively tough finish, too, with the road rising all the way to the line. And there was a further complication: the survivors of the break were still ahead. Jan Ghyselinck began the rise to the finish with a small lead, but it was a counter-attack by Pablo Urtasun that looked likelier to succeed. It probably would have done on a flat finish.

It would have been interesting to see how Sagan fared against the pure sprinters on a finish like this. It was barely a climb, but it was enough to blunt the edge of the sprinters. It might have been just enough to provide a springboard for Sagan. It would surely have been closer than Rouen, where he finished a distant fourth to Greipel.

But it was the German, after a 700-metre “full gas” effort, who prevailed for the second day in a row.

As noted in Rouen, the breakaways are proving more durable this year, and the pursuit of Thursday’s escapees was marked, once again, by the big teams prevaricating. But Greipel and Lotto could be building up a head of steam. After his default win on Wednesday, he beat Cavendish fair and square here, though the effects of Cavendish’s injuries should not be discounted, and nor should his tactical blunder. As he said later, he “tried to drop back” when he found himself in second place with a kilometre to go, but then left his effort too late — he was sprinting for Greipel’s wheel rather than sprinting off it, and visibly ran out of gas in the final 50 metres. He was pipped by another old foe, Samuel Dumoulin, for fourth.

Not that Greipel was sympathetic. “I don’t know why anyone is thinking I cannot beat him,” he said. “I beat him last year. And I have the best team around me. On Monday [when Cavendish won] it was tight, yesterday he crashed, and today I had a bit more power.”

Cavendish will be in pain tonight, and Greipel may be experiencing whatever the Germans call Schadenfreude.

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