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For the second day in a row, a high-speed crash in the final kilometers of a sprint stage took out several top sprinters at the Tour de France, and for the second day in a row, German André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) was the fastest to the line.
Aussie Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) finished second, with Argentinean J.J. Haedo (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) taking third.
Unlike Wednesday’s stage, when Mark Cavendish (Sky) went down in a nasty crash, in Saint-Quentin the world champion was in the fight for the finish line this time, though the best he could summon on a slightly uphill drag was fifth.
Those caught up in the crash included American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), who hit the deck for the fourth time in six stages, Aussie Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo Bank) and green jersey leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
Farrar was the first to hit the deck after Italian Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) cut in front of Farrar, coming right, just as Farrar was being squeezed on the left by Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano).
After the stage, a bloodied Farrar went to the Argos team bus to confront Veelers, who finished sixth.
Also absent from the sprint was Veelers’ Argos teammate Marcel Kittel, who abandoned the stage 40km in after suffering from a stomach bug and knee tendonitis.
The late stage crash happened just as the peloton was about to catch the day’s four-man breakaway, giving hope to the escapees.
First, Jan Ghyselinck (Cofidis) attacked solo from the breakaway with 1.1km to go, and gave concern to the sprint teams; next was Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Pablo Urtasun, also from the breakaway. The bunch, led by Lotto’s Greg Henderson, finally caught Urtasun inside 500 meters to the line. Goss launched his sprint off that catch, but with 300 to go, it was too early, allowing Greipel to pass in the final 50 meters.
“With the lead-out he’s got and the acceleration he has, he’s [Greipel] super hard to come around. The way I’ve got to try and beat him is do what we did today — get the jump on him and go,” Goss told Agence France Presse. “Unfortunately the jump was just a little bit too far for me to make it uphill.”
The break that nearly went the distance
Along with Ghyselinck and Urtasun, the other two men in the breakaway on the flat 196.km stage from Rouen to Saint-Quentin were Julien Simon (Saur-Sojasun) and Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat). Ladagnous, who attacked in the opening kilometer, was best placed in the group, 8:04 behind race leader Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan).
RadioShack, Lotto-Belisol, Orica-GreenEdge shared the pace-making and finally, in the final 30km, Sky chipped in to position Cavendish and its overall contender, Bradley Wiggins.
“To be honest, I was quite sad at the end,” Simon said. “When [Ghyselinck] attacked, it was too much for me. It was a good day for us. I have no regrets. To be honest with you, I never expected to make it all the way, but you get some belief right at the end… If one of the other guys I was with had won it, I think I would have been sad.”
Noteworthy was that Greipel did not contest the day’s intermediate sprint in the town of Breteuil, won by Cavendish (following the escape taking the top four spots). Goss was second in the field at the intermediate sprint, followed by Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) and Sagan.
With 25km to go, the bunch was 1:30 behind the break, and at 15km to go the gap was 1:12 — all signs pointed to the inevitable catch in the final 5km. However, Ghyselinck’s attack lit a fire in the break and Farrar’s crash disrupted the chase; the bunch only caught the breakaways inside the final kilometer.
Greipel rides close call to a win
Greipel’s win was especially impressive considering that he miraculously dodged Farrar’s tumble, braking into a near track stand and putting a foot out to deflect Farrar’s somersaulting body.
“It was a bit crazy because I was behind the crash with 3km to go. Greg Henderson was there, waiting for me, and brought me back in,” Greipel said. “It was one of the hardest sprints I’ve ever had.”
For the second day in a row there was a nasty crash, and for a second day in a row, Greipel emerged the winner.
“I’m very happy with this second win and I want to say thank you to my teammates for all their hard work,” said Greipel. “I don’t know why everyone believes I can’t beat [Cavendish]. I already beat him last year and I have the best team around me. Yesterday he crashed, but today he was there. I’m very happy to win my second stage in this Tour de France.”
As for Cavendish, he blamed his fifth-place result on poor positioning in the run-up to the sprint, writing on Twitter:
“Shit, tried to drop back a bit with 1km to go to get a run-up. Didn’t work, as I left myself too much ground to gain. Congrats @AndreGreipel.”
Though he missed the sprint, Sagan continues to lead the points competition, with 155 points; Goss sits second, with 137, and Greipel third, with 132. Cavendish is fourth, with 119, and Petacchi is fifth, with 91.
“In the images it is clear that a rider is determined to go, and his move is what brought us all down,” Sagan said. “This should not happen at this point in the race. I am angry because I lost points. When I came to the finish I was not scared. What’s there to be afraid of? I was just angry. One of my teammates, Sylvester Szmyd, lent me a wheel in order to race again. But it was too late to participate in the sprint.”
Cancellara held onto the leader’s yellow jersey by seven seconds from Wiggins with Australia’s defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in seventh, at 17 seconds. The RadioShack rider will spend his 27th day in the yellow jersey on
Friday, overtaking Rene Vietto’s record for the record number of days in the maillot jaune for a rider that has not won the overall title.