After multiple crashes and a moving finish line nullified the chance for a big sprint showdown in Stage One of the 100th Tour de France, Stage Five became the first opportunity for the likes of Mark Cavendish, André Greipel, Matt Goss, and Peter Sagan to go head-to-head at the finish line.
As he had done 23 times before, Mark Cavendish lived up to his “Fastest Man in the World” title, beating the rest across the line after a perfect leadout from his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team mates.
It was a leadout hastily assembled: the Omega squad got pushed off the lead in the fional few kilometers by Lotto and Orica-GreenEdge, and had ti use up its leadout train catching back up.
“We never really caught the break until the last minute so we had to take off,” Cavendish told NBCSN. “
“We really wanted more men for the leadout—we had to use Sylvain [Chavanel], Tony [Martin], Michal [Kwiatkowski], and Peter [Velits] to chase down the break.”
Cav’s Omega team mates held it together throughthe battle for position, and in the final 600 meters surged to the front with three riders: Matteo Trentin and Gert Steegmans, followed by the Manx Missile. Trentin took a long, strong pull to get clear of the pack, and Steegmans rode the next 300 meters at full-on sprint speed.
“Gert [Steegmans] went quick, actually—I could have probably let him stay on the front for the win maybe but just in case I went and we won,” Cavendish explained. “It’s good to see how committed everyone is. They have the faith that if they do it for the sprint we’ll win.”
The 28-year-old Mansman explained in greater detail on the team’s website. “Matteo Trentin went in the final and he went really, really well,” Cavendish said. “He held off two guys going on the right and took a massive turn into the last corner with Gert Steegmans on his wheel.
“Steegmans stayed patient and he went so fast, I have to say I didn’t even really have to accelerate off his wheel. I just carried on the speed he took me to and only for the last 250 meters and that was it.
“We won. I’m super, super happy with the win today. The guys worked exactly like they wanted to the whole stage. Yesterday was frustrating we were less than a second from the stage win. Now we can celebrate, we’ve got good morale in the team and we boosted it even more today.”
Hills Couldn’t Stop the Sprinters
Stage Five contained four categorized climbs—a 3 and there 4s—and one steep uncategorized climb in the final 15 kms. None of these hills were hard enough to stop the sprinters from getting to the finish—the six-man breakaway which formed in the first two km of the race must have known they had no chance.
These six—Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar,) Kevin Reza (Europcar,) Romain Sicard (Euskaltel,) Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil,) Anthony Delaplace (Sojasun,) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) opened a lead of over twelve minutes in the first hour of racing, making some wonder if Orica-GreenEdge, defending the yellow jersey, was going to let them go.
Orica wanted to keep the maillot jaune, and started chasing seriously halfway through the 228-km stage. Lotto and Omega pitched in as well, wanting to get their sprinters a crack at a stage win.
The peloton timed it perfectly, catching the last of the breakaway riders four kilometers from the finish. The rest of the race was a struggle to control the front, and while Lotto did a good job for their sprinter André Greipel, Omega did it better.
Lotto set up on the far right with 2 K to go, with Omega on the left. Omega got swamped; Cavendish was 15th wheel 1500 meters out. The Omega train hung tough and forced their way through the middle, emerging from the pack just in time to take over and launch Cavendish.
When the Omega train emerged from the chaos, Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen and Lotto’s André Greipel fought over Cav’s wheel. Boasson Hagen won, forcing Greipel to start sprinting earlier than he might have wanted. The Sky rider ended up second.
Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, who had been hopping from wheel to wheel for the final four km, exploded down the far right passing Greipel and almost overtaking Boasson Hagen at the line. If he had had a proper leadout, who knows?
The General Classification remained unchanged, with Simon Gerrans in yellow and Orica-GreenEdge holding the top three spots, followed by a pair form Omega and a trio from Sky.
That’s not likely to change after Stage Six, another sprinter’s delight.
Stage Six is much shorter than Stage Five (176 vs. 228 km) and contains only a single Cat 4 climb. There is a little lump at the very end which might ignite some attacks, and the final five km include a slight climb, a little dip, another few hundred uphill meters before the flat final 600-meter run to the line.
Teams will have to be very alert during the final kilometers of this stage; a few attacks on the final hill could force the peloton to work harder than usual, and the slight inclines might make the leadout riders burn out a little more quickly than usual.
After seeing Omega’s domination in Stage Five one might be tempted to call this one for Cavendish, but Omega nearly lost it in the final 1500 meters today. If the same were to happen in Stage Six, those herculean efforts to catch back up might not be sufficient.