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Stage 6a: Saint-Georges to Saint-Georges, 111km
By Robert Jones, VeloNews Correspondent
Up until the final 300 meters, stage 6a of the Grand Prix Cycliste deBeauce was shaping up to be an excellent display of racing, with a long breakaway that was only shut down in the final 4 kilometers. However, a series of events at the end of the stage led to no winner being declared and all riders being given the same finishing time.
The 111 kilometer stage was expected to be aggressive, as other teams took the measure of Mapei’s determination to protect Michael Roger’s lead. Saturn was particularly aggressive in the opening kilometers, but it wasn’t until nearly the halfway point that Mark Walters (Navigators) made a move which stuck.
Walters was quickly joined by Arquimedes Lam (Tecos) and John Lieswyn(7Up-Nutra Fig), and the trio went 30 seconds clear, and then a minute up on the peloton. Chris Fisher (Saturn) bridged up, taking Nürnberger’s Werner Riebenbauer to keep an eye on things.
The five riders worked well together, taking the gap up to 1:16, but were not allowed to get any further up the road. Mapei was conspicuous by its absence from the chase, with Saint Quentin-Oktos and iTeamNova.com doing the tempo work to keep things in check. Was a deal made? No one was talking about it, but it certainly looked suspicious.
With 20 kilometers to go, and the break still hovering around the minute mark, Mercury came to the fore, anxious to bring things back together for a sprint finish for Gord Fraser. The break lost Lam shortly after this due to a puncture, and the gap began to shrink, with Walters and Lieswyn doing the majority of work to keep it going. By 5 kilometers to go, everyone but Lieswyn was back in the pack – the 7Up-Nutra Fig rider made a last ditch solo effort to stay away, but was gobbled up with 4 to go.
Mercury was in the driver’s seat, despite a scare with just over 10 kilometers to go when Fraser flatted and the team had to tow him back up. At the line, spectators and media were craning their necks to see who would come around the last corner in the lead when suddenly the riders shot through from the opposite direction from behind everyone, having come through the race vehicle parking lot!
Mapei’s Aurélien Clerc was actually the first rider across the line(from the reverse side), with Fraser close behind, loudly announcing his displeasure at the mix up.
Reconstructing the chain of events afterwards, what happened was that a vehicle managed to get onto the course and was attempting to cross an intersection at the base of a descent with 500 meters to go, right where the riders were supposed to make a sharp left. The police in charge of sending vehicles off into the deviation ran over to take care of the vehicle on the course and when they got back to the deviation just in time for the support vehicles to come through, mistakenly sent everyone off, including the race.
So, the riders, at 50-plus kilometers per hour, abruptly went from a four lane road to a sharp right into an alley behind a school, and then weaved their way through a parking lot full of race vehicles before spilling out onto the course 10 meters behind the finish line.
“That was so dangerous” said Walters. “We almost went head on into a wall a 50 kilometers an hour. This is the biggest mistake I’ve ever seen in a race.”
“I looked up and there was a building” said his team mate ChrisBaldwin. “I thought: ‘You’ve got to be kidding’. I guess it gives anew definition to parking lot crit…”
Yellow jersey holder Rogers was also disappointed: “We rode hard all morning for nothing; we wasted our energy.”
– Technically, it was pointed out, the rules require the riders to know the course, and in other events (including a stage of the Tour) if a rider goes off course then it is their problem. By this logic, Jesus Zarate Estrada (Mercury), who came off the back after helping paceFraser back up, should have the stage win because he did go through the finish the right way, minutes behind everyone else.
– Rogers suggested that both stage 6a and the upcoming criterium this evening should not count for general classification. Quipped Baldwin:”Every GC leader at Beauce always says that the crit’ should be canceled.”