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By Chris Carmichael
The sprint finishes of this year’s Tour have been exciting, but no team seems able to control the front of the peloton the way the old Saeco train could. As a result, the final three kilometers are chaotic and dangerous, and I’m surprised we haven’t seen more crashes in the final kilometer.
The lack of a dominant lead-out team could be due to more evenly matched sprinters’ teams than we have seen in past years. Whatever the reason, this year has seen cooperative efforts from Lotto, Telekom, and now Crédit Agricole to keep the pace high enough to dissuade attacks in the final 20 kilometers. Unlike yesterday, their efforts on Stage 6 prevented a breakaway group from reaching the finish line and stealing the sprinters’ glory.
Erik Zabel knows how to get points when he really needs them. Robbie McEwen took the lead in the points competition following today’s first intermediate sprint. Neither man earned any points in the second or third intermediate sprints because of breakaways, so Zabel needed to finish ahead of McEwen to retake the points lead. The Telekom squad executed a perfect, albeit short, lead out in the final kilometer and Zabel finished it off with a win in front of the world and Australian national champions.
The battle for the green jersey is shaping up to be a fight between Zabel and McEwen. Tom Steels never factored in the sprints and dropped out yesterday. Stuart O’Grady doesn’t seem to be on the same form he was last year and he is already far off the points pace. It is unlikely that any of the other speed demons will catch up to Zabel and McEwen before the mountains, and they will certainly not make up any ground when the road tilts skyward.
Among the abandons yesterday and this morning, Rik Verbrugghe is out of the Tour with a broken collarbone. He is a big loss for Lotto, both because he is a strong man to have in front of Robbie McEwen in the final 20km of flat stages, and because he stood a chance of winning one or more stages later in the race. He had a great Giro d’Italia this year, finishing in the top 10 overall. I do not think he was a much of a threat to Armstrong for the yellow jersey, but it is unfortunate we will not see what he could have done in the Tour this year.