Stage 6 Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier 176.5
Well, today’s stage was almost as pancake flat as you can get. A couple of epileptic scribbles here and there but this one was an out and out drag race. It is cracking scenery in these parts of France though the riders were probably more interested in the roaring northerly that would be putting all the BIG TEAMS in the crosswinds.
Both Jurgen Van Den Broeck and Maxime Bouet were the big casualties from the crash in the finishing straight yesterday, both unable to start today. For Lotto this was a big blow but the pain was relieved later in the day.
Early on Mate' got away however with no reinforcements it was always going to be a tough day in the wind. While he was being brought back to the fold the focus was on poor Bouhanni who was still suffering from the runs. L’Equipe’s front cover for the day? “Bouhanni, the dirty day.” Soon enough it was all backdoor action for poor Nacer as he was dropped from a driving peloton. On his lonesome. He persisted for a while but once the pace increased at the front it was all over red rover and he stood off the bike for the last time this Tour.
The stage was all about protection from the wind. Rouleurs were in high demand as team leaders were locked limpet-like to their wheels. Both Sky and Quick Step kept the pace high and it was only a matter of time before a weak link in the chain snapped. However after the group went through the feedzone so fast that barely anyone could feed, Roelandts went to the front to call a truce.
This slackening was never going to last and soon enough GreenEDGE were back on the front even causing Cadelephant to go a slighter shade of pale. The average speed for the third hour of racing was an eye-watering 48.9kph which ensured gutter action all over the shop.
At this point it was amazing that there hadn’t been an accident and then BANG Cavendish was caught up in a crash with 34km to go. The race was now on for him to get back into the group. Surprisingly Quick Step weren’t dropping back to help him but were happy to negotiate at the front of the group to slow the pace.
Once Cav was back on the pace picked up again and it was all about staying out of trouble. Unfortunately with 11km to go poor Brajkovic went down and his Tour hopes, however small, had evaporated.
Heading into 3km to go the GC teams were fighting for the front to ensure they wouldn’t lose anytime due to a crash. Argos Shimano realised this for the limp-wristed folly it was and bought the focus back to a red blooded lead out dog fight.
Lotto took up proceedings with 1.5km to go and set it up perfectly for Greipel and the big Scarecrow didn’t disappoint. With 250m to go Cavendish opened it up early on the left but was briefly delayed by Roelandts. Sagan had the perfect sit on Greipel but had nowhere to go with Cavendish on his hip. Greipel had the perfect storm and with no one in front of him blew them away. For an instant Cavendish closed fast but the crash seemed to zap his legs and he faded as quickly, ending up in 4th.
Not much has changed…except that Daryl Impey has taken yellow from Simon Gerrans. Same team, but Gerro dropped a few seconds on the frantic run in. First RSA yellow jersey in history! Interestingly, all of the big GC favourites dropped 5 seconds to the sprinters. Cadel led Froome and Porte home in the second group on the road.