Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), denied a chance to sprint for the victory in the crash-plagued second stage of the 2010 Tour de France, took his vengeance on Tuesday as he won the dreaded cobblestone stage.
Hushovd was in a small, select group that had pulled back Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) in the final kilometers of the tough 213km leg from Wanze to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.
Hesjedal fought to the bitter end for the stage win, leading out the sprint — but he was no match for the Cervélo speedster, who took a well-deserved victory ahead of British champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) with world champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) third.
“I’m very happy,” said Hushovd, who also collected the green jersey for his troubles. “Yesterday I missed out on going for the points, and a lot of guys came to me today to say they understood why I was upset at that decision.
“I’ve won the green jersey twice, and this morning I said to myself I was going to war in a bid to get it back. I will do everything to keep it.”
An even bigger winner on the day was Saxo Bank’s Fabian Cancellara, who reclaimed the yellow jersey from Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel despite working like a draft horse for teammate Andy Schleck. Chavanel had an absolutely terrible day on the pavé, taking at least two bike changes and finishing nearly four minutes behind the lead group.
Fränk Schleck was the big loser, leaving the race with a broken collarbone.
No mountains — just cobblestones
Stage 3 included only one ranked ascent — the 1.4km Category 4 climb of the Côte de Bothey at 48km. What made it a hard day in the saddle was the inclusion of several sectors of pavé, starting 128km into the stage in Ormeignies.
The final 27.5km of the stage was a reverse of the middle portion of Paris-Roubaix, crossing four sections of cobblestones, with the last one ending just 7.7km before the finish.
Hushovd, still smarting from the peloton’s decision to declare a cease-fire at the end of Monday’s crash-filled stage 2, was very much looking forward to clocking in and getting down to work.
“The cobbles don’t scare me. I plan on being at the front and sprinting for the win today,” he said.
Christian Vande Velde out, Tyler Farrar soldiers on
A day on the cobbles is not exactly what the rest of the peloton needed or wanted after Monday’s debacle, which saw nearly half the peloton hit the deck. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) had to abandon the Tour after breaking two ribs and collecting a nasty slash to his left eye that required stitches. Teammate Tyler Farrar cracked his left wrist and sprained his left elbow, but started the stage, albeit sporting a brace and plenty of tape.
“It was his decision to start this morning, the injury he has is not in jeopardy in the long-term,” said team boss Jonathan Vaughters. “If he doesn’t want to continue, he doesn’t have to.”
Added Farrar: “I’m going to try to continue. No one wants to drop out of the Tour de France. I just need to focus on recovering. That’s about all I can do. I have a small fracture in my wrist. I hope it can heal during the race. It’s about the worst thing that could happen the day before riding the cobblestones. It’s a stage I was looking forward to, too. Fortunately we still have Johan (Van Summeren) and Martijn (Maaskant).”
Also taking the start was Rabobank’s Robert Gesink, who cracked a bone in his left arm during the pileup and was also braced and taped.
Ryder Hesjedal makes a break
The break du jour took off just 11km into the stage, and its composition seemed to suit the bunch. The escapees built a lead of more than four minutes by the 30km mark. That made Hesjedal the virtual leader of the Tour — he began the day in 27th place, at 3:43 behind yellow jersey Chavenel.
- Imanol Erviti (Caisse d’Epargne), 64th at 3:56
- Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions), 27th at 3:43
- Stephen Cummings (Sky), 79th at 4:04
- Pierre Roland (Bouyges Telecom), 119th at 4:25
- Pavel Brutt (Katusha), 162nd at 13:38
- Roger Kluge (Milram), 185th at 18:54
- Stephane Auge (Cofidis), 190th at 19:03
Hesjedal led the break over the Côte de Bothey, taking three points. Cummings and Auge took second and third for two points and one, respectively. Then the break went back to taking time on the bunch, led by Quick Step, which kept the leash at four to five minutes for many kilometers before gradually tugging the escapees back.
There was one bobble before the bunch even hit the first cobbles — a guttered rider crashed, taking down several others, and David Le Lay from Ag2r came off worst, having to abandon the Tour with what appeared to be a broken collarbone.
Into the pavé
As the break hit the first 350-meter sector of cobbles at 128km its advantage had dwindled to 2:30, stripping Hesjedal of his virtual maillot jaune. Team RadioShack moved forward for that narrow bit of pavé, which was mobbed by spectators, but it was too short to prove eventful.
With 75km to go the gap was holding steady at 2:30 as Quick Step marshaled the pursuit with Cervélo TestTeam right behind.
Simon Gerrans (Team Sky) took a digger on a seam in the pavement and seemed dazed, briefly, but eventually remounted and began the lonely chase through the caravan back to the bunch, his face sporting some fresh scrapes to add to the injuries suffered in an earlier spill.
With 60km to race the break’s advantage was down to two minutes and Saxo and Cervélo were contending for control at the front, with Jens Voigt and Stuart O’Grady very much at the head of affairs.
- 128km (85km remaining) – Ormeignies (350m)
- 169km (44km remaining) – Hollain (1.2km)
- 173km (40km remaining) – Rongy (700m)
- 185.5km (27.5km remaining) – Sars-et-Rosières (2.4km) ***
- 188.5km (24.5km remaining) – Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes (2.5km) ***
- 195km (18km remaining) – Wandignies-Hamage (3.7km) ***
- 203km (10km remaining) – Haveluy (2.3km)
As the bunch approached the second stretch of cobbles at 169km with 44km to go Saxo’s Voigt was drilling it at the front, stretching the peloton out in one long, desperate line. Chavanel was vigilant near the front, as were Hushovd, defending champion Alberto Contador (Astana), Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), and BMC’s Evans and George Hincapie.
Behind, Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) had some sort of mechanical and was chasing with teammate Mark Renshaw. Ahead, the break’s advantage was steadily coming down, to 1:40.
The bunch starts taking back time
The break held just 80 seconds’ advantage as it hit the 1.2km stretch of cobbles, lined six deep with flag-waving fans. Hesjedal was on the front and went straight to the left-hand gutter to spare himself the pounding of the pavé.
Saxo had five riders on the front as the peloton closed in, raising a cloud of dust.
Hesjedal had taken a gap as the break hit the third section of cobbles, a 700-meter section at 173km. The others soon pulled him back, though, and Kluge took the lead as the break barreled along.
Behind, the cobbles and an increasing wind were taking their toll on the peloton, which had split in two. A crash at the back of the bunch took down Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Transitions).
With 36km to go the break was entering France, clinging to just 51 seconds of its once-substantial lead. Cervélo had come to the front, taking over from Saxo, and Hushovd was sitting pretty in fifth wheel.
Four kilometers later Saxo was back in charge and the gap was just 38 seconds. The second half of the peloton was a half-minute behind.
Contador had a nervous moment as the next stretch of pavé approached, forced to bunny-hop onto a sidewalk and back into the street as he got crowded into the curb while trying to work his way forward.
Rolland led onto the next section of cobbles, but Cummings attacked, quickly taking a gap on his erstwhile break-mates. Behind, a crash took down Fränk Schleck (Saxo), Jani Brajkovic (RadioShack) and a number of other riders, with Schleck getting the worst of it; his brother said later he broke a collarbone and was forced to abandon.
This time Cancellara did not call a cease-fire — he was on the front and driving, with Andy Schleck, Thomas, Evans and Hushovd on his wheel. Armstrong and teammate Yaroslav Popvych were among the riders gapped during the confusion and chasing. Contador was in another group behind the Armstrong group.
Hesjedal goes it alone
Ahead, Hesjedal had taken the lead once again, pushing a huge gear as he pounded alone onto the fifth sector of pavé with 24km to race and an advantage of just over a half-minute.
The Cancellara pursuit was some 37 seconds back, with the Armstrong group trailing by a minute and the Contador group a further 40 seconds in arrears. That state of affairs didn’t last long — the defending champ fought his way back up to Armstrong on the cobbles with 16km to race.
Then Armstrong punctured his front tire, got a wheel change and began a frantic chase, led by Popovych. Maillot jaune Chavenel also punctured — he took a new bike and likewise launched a desperate pursuit.
Cancellara tried to roll off the front of the chase but Hushovd pulled him back.
Hesjedal took a lead of less than 30 seconds into the final sector of cobbles with 10km to go. Again he went straight to the left-hand gutter to spare himself the beating, riding through a tunnel of screaming fans.
Armstrong — nearly a minute behind Contador — took matters into his own hands on the cobbles, leaving Popo’ behind and forging ahead, trying to cut his losses. Meanwhile, the bad luck continued for Chavenel, who had to take a second spare bike and was more than three minutes behind.
The catch comes as Hesjedal falters
With 6.5km to go, the Cancellara chase finally swallowed up a fading Hesjedal as the Contador group closed to within 30 seconds of the leaders. Armstrong was making headway, too, latching onto some discards from the chasing peloton.
No matter. The lead group was fighting for the stage win and the overall lead with 2km to go. Cancellara was thinking he could retake the yellow jersey, Andy Schleck was intent on taking time on the other GC favorites, and Hushovd was after the stage victory.
Hesjedal led it out on the right-hand side. Then Schleck had a go. But nobody was going to neutralize Hushovd this time — he took the win with Thomas second and Evans third.
Alexander Vinokourov led the first chase in, distancing his teammate Contador, who was clearly not pleased. The Armstrong group came in more than two minutes down, the American conceding a minute to his Spanish rival.
And the yellow jersey, Chavenel, finished nearly four minutes down — which returned Cancellara to the overall lead of the 97th Tour de France.
Two-time runner-up Evans, who moved into third overall, was happy to have the day’s labors behind him.
“Just to get through it as a GC rider, without losing any time, obviously I’m delighted but it’s easier said than done because I think very few GC guys got through,” said Evans.
“I didn’t lose any time to the favourites and maybe made some time to others, but 20 seconds to Contador isn’t going to (make a big difference) although I did lose the Tour by 23.”
Armstrong, too, was already looking forward, saying the race was far from over.
Conceding that he was “frustrated,” Armstrong added: “We lost significant time, so we just have to keep our head up and take our chances on the climbs. Sometimes you’re the hammer and some days you’re the nail. Today I was the nail.”
With only a single Cat. 4 climb and no cobblestones, stage 4 is the easiest stage thus far. It starts in Cambrai, crossing World War I battlefields, before heading into the Champagne region. The final 20km is flat and straight, and crosswinds could play a role.
The last two stages that have finished here ended in massive bunch sprints. Robbie McEwen, now racing for Katusha, won in 2002, and Djamolidin Abdujaparov won in 1991. Chances are high for a similar finish this year. More on stage 4.
- Ag2r’s David Le Lay left the race about halfway in with an injury after crashing. Christian Vande Velde did not start because of injuries from stage 2. Milram’s Niki Terpstra did not start due to illness.
Best Young Rider (GC)
Team GC leader