Manx Express wins again in sprinters' last chance stage
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) won the sixth stage of the Tour de France between Montargis and Gueugnon in another bunch sprint. After a difficult first few days of the race, the Manxman showed his superior speed once again, beating American Tyler Farrar (Gamin-Transitions) by more than a bike length with double stage-winner Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) in third.
With the race heading into the medium mountains of the Jura tomorrow, stage 6 represented the last chance for the sprinters to shine this side of the Alps. The longest stage of the race, at 227.5km, was therefore destined to follow the conventional pattern of the previous two days, where a stage long breakaway was reeled in close to the finish.
"Yesterday was really emotional, and today I'm really happy too,” said Cavendish after his victory. “As ever the boys did a great job working hard all the way through the finish and I can't thank them enough for that.
"HTC-Columbia is not a team of eight guys and me. I'm just the last rider in a nine-man unit,” he added.
"Michael Rogers did some really good work in the final kilometres and then I went with Mark Renshaw at the end,” the Manxman continued, “following him from one team's train to another. Finally all I had to do was finish off my team's good work, giving it everything with 200 metres to go."
Almost as soon as the flag had been dropped at the end of the 7.1km neutral zone Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne) attacked. He was quickly joined by Sebastian Lang (OmegaPharma-Lotto) and Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and the trio became the breakaway of the day.
By the 18km point the three riders had a lead of 6’50”; their lead reached its maximum of 8 minutes after 53km, when HTC-Columbia sent former World time trial champion Bert Grabsch to the front and it began to come down.
Perget clearly had designs on the polka-dot mountains jersey, currently held by compatriot Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) as he led the group over each of the stage’s 4th category climbs.
As in previous stages it was left to Cavendish’s HTC-Columbia team to pull back the three fugitive riders, with Belgian time trial champion Maxime Monfort moving forward to assist Grabsch. As before though, the American team was aided by Stuart O’Grady, from race leader Fabian Cancellara’s Saxo Bank team.
As the race entered the final 25km, with the gap to the leading riders down to just a minute, former French champion Dimitri Champion (AG2R-La Mondiale) attacked the peloton on the lower slopes of the final climb to the Côte de la Croix de l’Arbre. As he caught up with the three riders he was followed by Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouyges Telecom) and he too joined the front of the race as they crossed the top of the climb.
With the fresh legs of Champion and Charteau the break, which now numbered five, had new impetus but, with the sprinters’ teams anxious not to miss their chance this side of the mountains, the gap had fallen to just 21 seconds at the 15km to go banner.
As the course turned from its south easterly course to head in a more southerly direction, the tailwind that the breakaway had been enjoying for most of the day became a crosswind. Many of the race’s main contenders began to move to the front to avoid getting caught behind any possible splits; first Lance Armstrong was led forward by his RadioShack team, Alberto Contador came up with some Astana teammates, then World champion Cadel Evans was led up by BMC Racing teammate and US champion George Hincapie.
The exposed road passed without incident though and the yellow jersey hopefuls made way for those chasing green once more.
All this manoeuvring within the peloton pushed the speed up further, and with the breakaway riders no longer benefiting from the tailwind they were caught with 10km to go, rather sooner than expected.
With no more breakaway to worry about the sprinters’ teams began to fight for control of the front of the peloton. Three-time World champion Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) put in a big turn, before the Cervélo TestTeam took over; they too were usurped by Garmin-Transitions strongman Jurgen Van Summeren.
HTC-Columbia took over once more, with Danilo Hondo (Lampre-Farnese Vini) infiltrating on behalf of stage 1 and 4 winner Alessandro Petacchi. It was Garmin-Transitions, led by David Millar, who took the peloton into the closing stages though, with teammates Julian Dean and Robbie Hunter on the Scotsman's wheel.
Lurking behind the three Argyle riders though was Hondo, with Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia) shepherding Cavendish right behind him. Alongside them was a separate train of Team Sky riders, with Juan Antonio Flecha leading Geraint Thomas and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
The Garmin-Transitions team safely negotiated the snaking corners with a few hundred metres to go, but Hunter hesitated as Dean pulled over because their sprinter Tyler Farrar was in the crowd that had built up on Cavendish’s wheel. This slight lull in the pace was the signal for Renshaw to accelerate and launch the Manx Missile at the line.
Once again, as soon as Cavendish was up to speed nobody even looked like catching him and he took what looked like an easy victory. Farrar, still sprinting with a fractured wrist and a bandaged elbow took his best result of the Tour so far with second place. Petacchi put yesterday’s disappointing 8th place behind him to finish third, and with green jersey holder Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) only managing a disappointing 10th the Italian moves to within 3 points of him in that competition.
The whole peloton looked as though it would finish together once again but a small split occurred and only the first 14 riders were given the same time as Cavendish. Race leader Cancellara and most of the other contenders were caught behind, but second-placed British champion Geraint Thomas was in front of the split and gains 3 seconds in the overall standings.
The Swiss rider holds on to his race lead as the race heads to the mountains; he is now just 20 seconds ahead of the Welshman though, who will be hoping to take the first ever yellow jersey of his career on the uphill finish to Station des Rousses tomorrow.
Result stage 6
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Columbia
2. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
4. Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha
5. Gerard Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram
6. Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouyges Telecom
7. Jose Rojas (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
9. Robert Hunter (RSA) Garmin-Transitions
10. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervélo TestTeam
Standings after stage 6
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky @ 23s
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team @ 39s
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Transitions @ 46s
5. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step @ 1’01”