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Dutch rider Lars Boom (Belkin) won a chaotic stage 5 at the Tour de France Wednesday, on a dramatic day that saw yellow jersey wearer Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) ride admirably to extend his overall lead, while defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) abandoned the race after a series of crashes.
Also noteworthy was the time lost by former Tour winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who dropped 2:37 to Nibali.
American Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) finished 2:03 down on Nibali, while American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) finished 2:09 down.
On a day that started in Ypres, Belgium — with Belgium’s King and Eddy Merckx on hand to pay tribute to the victims of World War I — the peloton crossed the finish line in Arenberg Porte du Hainaut resembling war-torn soldiers, covered in mud and bandages, bleeding from elbows, knees, and hips.
“Winning a Tour de France stage is like a dream come true,” said a clearly emotional Boom. “It’s extra special to win in rainy conditions and on the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix. I’ve been dreaming of a wet Paris-Roubaix for years and now this happens at the Tour. Simply fantastic.”
Two cobble sectors cut
The stage began in driving rain, forcing organizers to cut two of the nine cobbled sections that had been planned, due to safety concerns. That reduced the cobbled sections from 15.4km to a total of 13km.
“This morning, with Jean-Francois Pescheux [the race’s technical director], we did the final reconnaissance,” said Tour sports director Thierry Gouvenou. “We found the route to be slippery, humid, but not very muddy. Even so, we decided to cut two sectors: Mons-en-Pevele, which is very difficult, very bumpy, and the one [from Orchies to Beuvry-la-Forêt] because it’s under trees and there are a huge number of leaves which have made it very slippery. It’s a question of common sense; we didn’t want to throw the Tour de France peloton into these conditions, with the rain.”
That change, however, did little to limit the damage to the peloton. In the end there were too many crashes to count, with the majority of crashes happening on the paved roads between sections of pavé, as the tarmac turned slick and riders fought for position.
Teams were informed about the change, which still left seven sections and 13km of cobbles, 90 minutes before the start of the stage.
The breakaway forms
At km 8, nine riders escaped from the bunch: Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Sam Dumoulin (Ag2r), Janier Acevedo (Garmin-Sharp), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), Marcus Burghardt (BMC Racing), Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis), and Simon Clarke and Matt Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge).
Westra had said before the start that he’d be part of the breakaway, and explained why, telling LeTour.fr, “I’m going to try to get in the breakaway to take the pressure off the team. It’s nervous and wet, and we’re all working 150 percent for Vincenzo [Nibali] today and for the whole Tour. I did Paris-Roubaix one time in my career and I know how to ride the cobbles, but that doesn’t make it any easier, especially in the rain and wind today.”
Froome’s second crash in two days
Froome’s nightmare Tour continued as he fell again prior to the cobblestones, hitting a pylon set out for road construction. The crash happened 40 minutes into the stage, on a straight bit of paved road, a long distance before the peloton was due to hit the cobbles. Froome was seen with his jersey and shorts ripped down his right-hand side; he was trying to fix a mechanical problem by the side of the road. Blood and road rash could also be seen on his hip through a rip in his shorts.
Froome’s Sky teammates dropped back to pace the 29-year-old Briton back to the peloton. He started the day with a splint on the left wrist he injured in a crash on Tuesday. Sky manager Dave Brailsford had said before the start that Australian Richie Porte would also be a protected rider Wednesday as the team could visualize the possibility of changing leadership, should Froome be too injured to defend his title in the coming days.
Crashes before the cobblestones
Moments after Froome’s crash, Martin and Acevedo, part of the nine-man breakaway, also hit the deck. Martin chased back with Dumoulin, who had flatted, while Acevedo and Burghardt dropped back to the main peloton at 50km into the stage, bringing the front group to seven.
With 100km to go, the seven leaders held an advantage of 1:34 over the peloton, which was led by riders from NetApp, Tinkoff, Astana, and Movistar. As the breakaway made it back into France, entering Tourcoing, the time gap was up to 2:43 with 93km to go.
More crashes in the main peloton, still prior to the cobblestone sections, saw Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), and Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing) all hit the deck and chase back on.
With 75km remaining, a crash at the front through a wet roundabout took down sprinters Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ.fr).
Moments later, several riders crashed going through both sides of a roundabout, including Vasili Kiryienka (Sky) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).
Also caught up in crashes were GC contenders Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Looking to protect its leader Peter Sagan, Cannondale went to the front and drove the peloton.
Froome crashes out
With 67km to go, Froome crashed again, on the left side of the road. With a swarm of Team Sky staff and photographers surrounding him, Froome shook his head and, cradling his right arm, limped into the Sky team car. The defending champion of the Tour de France had abandoned the race after three crashes in two days.
Though he hadn’t yet reached the controversial cobblestones, Froome’s crash was no doubt created by the tension that the upcoming pavé sections, and rain, had produced.
After the stage, Froome took to Twitter, writing, “Devastated to have to withdraw from this years TDF. Injured wrist and tough conditions made controlling my bike near to impossible.” He followed that with a second tweet, “Thanks to the team & support staff for trying to get me through today. Wishing @richie_porte & @TeamSky the best for the rest of Tour!”
Nibali to the front as Contador gaps off
Up ahead, as the race went through the Carrefour de l’Arbre cobblestones, race leader Vincenzo Nibali was well positioned, in fourth place at the head of the peloton.
A split in the peloton saw Contador, Nibali, and Sagan in the first bunch, but riders such as Kwiatkowski, Costa, and Talansky behind, while the Movistar team dropped back to guide Valverde. The lead group had whittled down to six: Dumoulin, Gallopin, Clarke, Hayman, Martin and Westra, as Taaramäe was dropped on the cobblestones.
In the second cobbled section at Ennevelin, Nibali looked back and realized that Contador had dropped 50 seconds back.
“Alberto lost touch with the back wheel of Vincenzo, and we simply couldn’t close the gap,” said Tinkoff sport director Steven De Jongh.
With 40km to go, 28 riders made up Nibali’s first chase group, 54 seconds behind the breakaway. Also in that group were Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), Bauke Mollema, Boom, and Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin), Richie Porte (Sky), Andrew Talansky (Garmin), and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Van Garderen was 20 seconds behind Nibali’s group, with Contador at 50 seconds. .
On the third section of cobbles, Van den Broeck went down, over his handlebars, and Talansky slid into fans on the roadside. At the front, Belkin’s Boom and Vanmarcke attacked and went clear of the main group.
With 35km to go, Boom and Vanmarcke sat 21 seconds behind the six leaders and 17 seconds ahead of the NIbali group. The Contador group was 1:46 behind the six-man lead group, which had lost a man when Westra sat up and waited for Nibali.
A new group at the front of the race
With Astana’s Westra and Jakob Fuglsang driving the chase, the yellow jersey group reeled in the breakaway with 28km to go, forming a lead group that contained Nibali, Fuglsang, Westra (Astana); Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis); Sagan (Cannondale); Boom and Vanmarcke (Belkin); Kwiatkowski, Renshaw, and Trentin (OPQS); Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol); Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Lemoine (Cofidis); and Clarke, Hayman and Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge).
Talansky rode at 1:20 behind the main group, while Contador and van Garderen were 1:40 down.
Sagan and Boom then tried to make a move at 20km to go, but were quickly brought back.
As the peloton approached the Hornaing sector, the penultimate cobbled section, Vanmarcke (Belkin), Gallopin (Lotto), and Clarke (Orica) were no longer in the front group, leaving 12 riders in the lead with 17km to go. Next to drop were Hayman and Renshaw.
Another split saw Boom at the front with three Astana teammates — Nibali, Westra and Fuglsang. Kwiatkowski chased hard, with Sagan on his wheel.
Behind, Sky’s Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte escaped from the Contador chase group, which was two minutes behind the leaders, and caught the Talanksy group.
At 10km to go, the front group was made up of Nibali, Westra, Fuglsang, Boom, Keukeleire, Cancellara, Lemoine, and Sagan.
The winning move
On the final section of cobbles, three leaders emerged: Boom, Nibali, and Fuglsang.
Boom attacked and went clear for the stage win, while Fuglsang gingerly shepherded Nibali to the line 17 seconds back. Sagan and Cancellara crossed the line 1:01 behind Boom, with Kwiatkowski 1:07 down.
“I’m lost for words. I was crying on the bike already and had goose bumps everywhere,” Boom said. “I knew I had to do it [on the final cobbled section] as I’m strong on the cobbles and I wanted to be sure that I was going to win. I thought Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan would catch up with me in the final, but they didn’t. When I got out of the final corner, I knew I was going to win. That was so nice.”
Of the GC contenders, only Porte, now the Team Sky leader in Froome’s absence, kept his losses to within two minutes. Talansky rolled in 2:05 behind Nibali, Valverde gave up 2:11, and Contador lost 2:37.
Talansky took to Twitter and said he was thrilled with his performance, writing, “Could not have asked for a more dedicated and incredible group of guys to get me through today. Unscathed, safe, feeling great.”
Fuglsang moved into second overall, two seconds down on Nibali, with Sagan in third, 44 seconds down. Kwiatkowski sits fourth overall, just 50 seconds back. Talansky sits ninth on GC, 2:05 down, with Valverde in 10th, 2:11 down, and Contador 19th overall, 2:37 down.
“We must stay happy, because even though we lost quite a bit of time against Nibali, we didn’t concede much to others, and even won some seconds to riders like Alberto,” Valverde said. “It’s obvious that Nibali is proving to be strong, as well as Fuglsang and all his team, but this has just started and there’s a lot to play for in this Tour. Anything can happen.”
Although the day went almost perfectly for Nibali — he did at one point come off his bike when a teammate skid off the road in front of him on a bend — the race leader insisted he wouldn’t get too excited by the gap to his rivals.
“It was a big performance by the team,” Nibali said. “We took a few risks, and made the most out of the circumstances. You saw very big rides by Westra and Fuglsang. It’s a good advantage over Contador but there’s a long way to go to Paris. I have to stay calm and have a good race, and a good strategy for the coming stages.”
Meanwhile, Contador’s director, Steven De Jongh, remained upbeat. “Fortunately, Alberto didn’t crash at any point and he didn’t have any punctures and not having any crashes is very important concerning the rest of the race,” he said. “We’re five days into the race. Alberto is in peak shape and better than he was in Dauphiné and we’re going to do some hard mountain stages. So, we’re still absolutely confident but aware that there’s some hard work to be done in order to make it back to the top of the rankings.”