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SUPER-BESSE, France (VN) — Even if you weren’t one of the 10 riders who abandoned in the first week of this Tour de France (see box), the cuts and bruises sustained in the repeated pileups and crashes continue to hamper many of the 188 survivors. As Rabobank’s Dutch climber Robert Gesink put it after stage 8 on Saturday, “The Tour is hard enough but when you have to race when you’re injured it’s even harder. It’s not fun to ride the Tour like this.”
Who’s out and why
Jurgen Van de Walle (Omega-Lotto) crashed on the first stage, but he stayed in the race until his injuries forced him to quit on stage 4
Christophe Kern (Europcar) had knee tendinitis and couldn’t be treated properly so he abandoned on stage 5
Jani Brajkovic (Team RadioShack) crashed and broke clavicle on stage 5
Ivan Velasco (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed near the end of stage 5 and did not start the next day
Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) finished outside the time limit on stage 6 after crashing the previous day
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) abandoned on stage 7, suffering from the injuries he sustained in a stage 5 crash
Rémi Patrol (FDJ) abandoned after crashing on stage7
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) quit stage 7 after breaking his collarbone in a mass pileup
Chris Horner (RadioShack) crashed and broke his nose on stage 7 and did not start stage 8
Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) abandoned on stage 8 following previous days’ crash injuries.
Gesink, who many tipped to finish on the Paris podium, was one of the men who crashed in a pileup on stage 5 across Brittany, injuring his lower back, which has continued to give him pain. He was able to sit in the peloton on the flats of stage 6 and 7, but once the road and the speed tilted upward on stage 8, the pain was too much.
“I didn’t feel good all day,” he said after the stage. “When the peloton accelerated I just couldn’t hold on.”
Gesink’s teammates Laurens Ten Dam and Luis-Leon Sanchez stayed with their leader and helped him all the way to the top of the finishing climb at Super-Besse. But he crossed the line in 56th place, conceding 68 seconds to the other favorites and probably saying good-bye to his high pre-race hopes of a top-five finish.
Asked about his team leader, Rabobank team director Adri Van Houwelingen said he was worried that Gesink conceding time on the first semi-mountain stage could affect the rest of his Tour.
“We have to make sure he gets fit again and that today’s result doesn’t get to his head,” he said.
The one bright sport for Gesink was his defending the white jersey as the best young rider that’s contested by men 25 and under. But that’s not the result Rabobank sought from this Tour when it decided to forgo stage wins by not selecting three-time world champion Oscar Freire and putting all their eggs in the GC basket with Gesink.
Team Sky is another whose ambitions going into the Tour were placed firmly behind one man, Bradley Wiggins, the winner of last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of Cadel Evans. So his departure from the race Friday with a broken clavicle was a severe blow.
Virtual GC, after stage 8
1. Cadel Evans, 1,194km in 28:29:28
2. Fränk Schleck, at 0:03
3. Andreas Klöden, at 0:09
4. Andy Schleck, at 0:11
5. Tony Martin, at 0:12
6. Peter Velits, s.t.
7. Alexander Vinokourov, at 0:31
8. Jorgen Van den Broeck, at 0:38
9. Ivan Basso, at 1:02
10. Nicolas Roche, at 1:11
11. Damiano Cunego, s.t.
12. Robert Gesink, at 1:28
13. Alberto Contador, at 1:41
14. Tom Danielson, at 1:56
15. Christian Vande Velde, s.t.
16. Samuel Sanchez, at 2:35
17. Jean-Christophe Peraud, at 3:06
18. Jérôme Coppel, at 3:33
19. Ryder Hesjedal, at 5:45
20. Levi Leipheimer, at 4:42
The British team’s GC hopes now rest with its Colombian climber Rigoberto Uran, who finished fourth on the summit finish at Mûr-de-Bretagne last Tuesday behind Evans, Alberto Contador and Alexander Vinokourov, and came in 11th Saturday right on the wheels of Contador and the Schleck brothers, Andy and Fränk.
Commenting on Uran, who was hired by Sky to help Wiggins in the mountains, team director Sean Yates said, “Rigoberto went down heavily in the crash with Bradley yesterday and found it hard going early on, but as the stage wore on his condition improved and he was able to battle through.
“He was up there in that first chase group, which was good, and it is still possible he could ride a good GC because there are a lot of mountains still to climb.”
Not as fortunate as Uran is another team lieutenant, Roman Kreuziger of Astana, who had been expected to ride with team captain Vinokourov in the mountains and perhaps even become the team leader by the third week.
But when the talented Czech rider went down in crashes on Friday he sustained a badly bruised left wrist, which was heavily bandaged for Saturday’s stage. Not able to fully grip the bars, Kreuziger came in to Super-Besse with the sprinters’ 62-strong gruppetto, 20 minutes behind the leaders.
Clearly, the team that has suffered most from the opening week is RadioShack, which lost two of its four leaders to crashes on stages 5 and 7, while third leader Levi Leipheimer crashed three days’ running, conceded more than four minutes and remained in the race as a super-domestique for Andreas Klöden — who has avoided all the spills and is riding high in the overall standings.
Remarkably, the only other GC contenders to come through the first week of the Tour unscathed are BMC Racing’s Evans, Leopard-Trek’s Schleck brothers, HTC-Highroad’s Tony Martin and Peter Velits, Astana’s Vinokourov, Omega-Lotto’s Jurgen Van den Broeck, Liquigas-Cannondale’s Ivan Basso and Lampre-ISD’s Damiano Cunego. Not surprisingly they are the men topping our virtual GC.