Mark Cavendish won Wednesday’s stage 5 of the 2011 Tour de France, a 164.5-kilometer race from Carhaix to Cap Fréhel.
It was the first win of this Tour for Cavendish and his 16th career stage win.
Race leader Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) finished with the leaders to retain his yellow jersey another day.
Multiple crashes upset the race, with yellow jersey favorites Alberto Contador, Bradley Wiggins and Robert Gesink among those who hit the pavement at one point or another. RadioShack’s Janez Brajkovic, himself a long-shot favorite for a podium finish, left the race due to injuries after a crash.
“I’m really happy,” said Cavendish, who dedicated the win to his dog Amber, which died on Tuesday.
“I want to dedicate this to Amber. She was my little baby.”
He added: “I knew this was a technical finish and it was a hard stage but the team worked really hard for it today and I think I showed my resilience.”
While the stage featured just one categorized climb, a cat. 4 that came 46km into the stage, and was widely predicted to resolve itself in a field sprint, it was by no means a straightforward route. The journey included many short steep hills, narrow roads and exposure to predicted winds off the channel.
The escape du jour
After a relaxed roll out, a four-man break formed in the first 5k of the race. None of its members were particularly dangerous on the general classification so the leaders of the bunch wished them a bon voyage.
The break: Sébastien Turgot (Europcar), Anthony Delaplace (Saur Sojasun), José Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar), Tristan Valentin (Cofidis).
The foursome built out a five-minute gap ahead of the Garmin-led pack and Delaplace grabbed the single KOM point on offer atop the 281-meter-high Côte de Gurunhuel. The gap was up to 6 minutes with 100k to go.
Intermediate sprint — and crashes
Turgot grabbed the first-place intermediate sprint ahead of Gutierrez. In the field, as is becoming the pattern this Tour, teams set up for a full-on field sprint for the fifth-through-15th points on offer. Movistar (for green jersey Juan Rojas) and HTC (for Cavendish) set up trains and Quick Step’s Tom Boonen rode aggressively, swerving into Cavendish at one point.
Borut Bozic (Vacansoleil-Dcm) ended up grabbing the field sprint ahead of Boonen, but more importantly, several riders crashed soon after the sprint. Brajkovic abandoned and Contador, who was 45 seconds behind the field at one point, was forced to chase for several kilometers before regaining contact.
Less than 20km later, another crash took down Boonen and Gert Steegmans.
Boonen continued, holding his right shoulder, but losing time rapidly. He eventually finished more than 13 minutes behind the lead group.
When the route turned right along the coast, the pace in the peloton accelerated and the break’s advantage tumbled. The foursome was brought back earlier than expected: with 45km still to race.
With 30km to go, the day’s second big break took off — Thomas Voeckler and Tuesday’s Most Aggressive rider, Jeremy Roy. The pair built up a lead of roughly a minute with 11 kilometers to go. That’s when the Lampre, HTC and Leopard-Trek teams decided they’d had enough and put the hammer down. With 5k to go, the pair was dangling just 15 seconds off the front as Astana joined the chase.
The catch and sprint
Voeckler made a last-gasp attack as the pair was being caught, but was quickly drawn back.
HTC had control of the front in the final kilometer, and the team’s Tony Martin even threw in a sharp attack at the 1km line, drawing out Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, Philippe Gilbert and Hushovd. Hushovd was happy to lead out the sprint, and Gilbert launched around him with 200 meters to go. But there was no holding back Cavendish, who powered around the Belgian champion for his 16th Tour stage win.
(For more on the sprint, see Andrew Hood’s story, “HTC calls stage 5 win ‘one of Cav’s best ever’)
After the stage, Contador, who also crashed on the first stage when he lost over a minute to key rivals, said he is looking forward to things improving over the coming weeks.
“It was a very tense stage with a lot of crashes,” said the Spaniard. “Things are not getting any easier. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.”
Thursday’s stage 6 is the longest stage of the 2011 Tour, and is also likely to be one of the fastest. The finale at Lisieux features a significant climb past the Ste. Thérèse basilica, 2km from the finish.
- 1. Mark Cavendish, Htc – Highroad, in 3h 38′ 32″
- 2. Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma – Lotto, at s.t
- 3. Joaquin Rojas Jose, Movistar Team, s.t
- 4. Tony Gallopin, Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne, s.t
- 5. Geraint Thomas, Sky Procycling, s.t
- 1. Thor Hushovd, Team Garmin – Cervelo, in 17h 36′ 57″
- 2. Cadel Evans, Bmc Racing Team, at 00:01
- 3. Frank Schleck, Team Leopard-Trek, at 00:04
- 4. David Millar, Team Garmin – Cervelo, at 00:08
- 5. Andréas KlÖden, Team Radioshack, at 00:10