Spartacus loses yellow as he sacrifices his own race to wait for team leaders
After Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara blew away the field on Saturday’s 8.9km prologue course the thing he most wanted to do was to wear his yellow jersey as the race crosses the cobbles on stage 3. The two-time Paris-Roubaix winner, who also won the Ronde van Vlaanderen this April, will be denied that honour after sacrificing his race lead for the long term benefit of team leader Andy Schleck in today’s chaotic stage to Spa, Belgium.
“We knew that crashes were unavoidable so we tried to set the pace at the front of the pack,” said Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis, “but the surface was simply as slippery as soap and bikes and motor bikes were scattered everywhere in the chaos on the descent.”
As the peloton climbed the wet Col de Stockeu with less than 35km to go, Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel held a lead of less than 50 seconds. The Saxo Bank team was leading the chase of the lone Frenchman in order to protect Cancellara’s yellow jersey. As soon as Andy Schleck, and elder brother Fränk, hit the tarmac on the greasy descent though, the World time trial champion thought only of getting them back in the race.
By the time the Schleck brothers regained contact with the peloton, Chavanel’s lead was almost three minutes with just 12km of downhill remaining; Cancellara’s yellow jersey was slipping from his shoulders thanks to his loyalty to his teammates.
"The first thing on my mind after the crash was Andy and Fränk,” said Cancellara after the stage. “They are our captains and of course, I want to show solidarity, respect and loyalty to them and to the race by waiting even though I lost the jersey."
The peloton crossed the Col du Rosier with a 2’47” deficit to Chavanel. Starting the day 59 seconds ahead of the Frenchman meant that Cancellara needed to close the gap by at least 1’48” for him to hang on to yellow; a tall order in any circumstances, but near impossible in the wet conditions.
Instead of trying to catch Chavanel though, Cancellara decided that a show of solidarity, with a rider protest against the conditions, would be more appropriate and the gap grew larger and larger.
Having been robbed of the chance to ride over the cobbles in the yellow jersey, Cancellara may be out for some kind of revenge tomorrow.
“We are hoping to be ready again tomorrow,” Riis added ominously.