CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '08
Stage 5 - (Wednesday) July 9th, Cholet to Châteauroux, 232 km Flat Stage
The Longest Day
No hills, three intermediate sprints and a sore ‘arse' after a very long day in the saddle. Many hoped that it would in fact come down to just that and no more. In 1998 “The Lion King”, Mario Cippolini unleashed one of his signature sprints to beat out about 180 other guys all lunging for the line. Unfortunately Cippolini's magnificent victory was overshadowed by the breaking news of the Festina affair which nearly finished off not only the Tour that year, but cycle racing as a whole.
Some people may think that after watching so many hours of racing end up in one big sprint is somewhat boring. The connoisseurs of the sport know better. Seeing the world's best cyclists roaring ‘en masse' towards the finish line with lead-out trains bumping into each other at incredible speeds, is truly a sight to behold. Such spectacles are one of the gems of the Tour and it is here that world class scrappers like Robbie McEwen and Mark Cavendish excel.
Soler's Longest Nightmare
The peloton rolled off the start line at 11:35. By 11:40 the be-devilled Mauricio Soler had crashed… in the neutral zone (?). He quickly remounted before the official start flag was waved at 11:42. Sadly the end for Soler came at the 11 km mark of the stage. The Barloworld team leader surrendered to his injuries and climbed off the bike. The defending King of the Mountains abandoned the 2008 Tour.
Defending King of the Mountains Mauricio Soler abandoning the Tour [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it/AFP ]
Conventional Wisdom says active rest after such a hard stage 4, but throwing caution to wind the ‘Breakaway du Jour' escaped the peloton after 11 km of the 232 km stage. Three Frenchmen Lilian Jegou (Francaise des Jeux), Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) and Florent Brard (Cofidis) covered 45.8 km in the first hour and by the 65 km mark had built an 8'15” lead. Not wanting to repeat the mistake of stage 3 the teams of the sprinter took notice and began to react.
The breakaway (L to R) Lilian Jegou, Nicolas Vogondy, Florent Brard [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it/AFP ]
The line of Gerolsteiner riders defending the Yellow Jersey was joined by Thor Hushovd's Credit Agricole teammates. The pace increased and the breakaway's lead tumbled to 2'20” with 50 km to go.
Unfortunately for the breakaway trio the managers from the team cars calculated gap and pace to ensure the catch would happen in time to start the lead-out trains.
As more sprinters' teams came to the front, the nervousness in the peloton heightened. As the kilometers clicked down the fans hoped to see their favorite bolt from the pack and win the stage.
Don't Miss the Train
Choose a ‘train', anyone of 10 teams will be fighting for the lead position under the “Flamme Rouge”. The jostling began as the breakaway was caught. Fast and furious Liquigas and Team Columbia strung out the peloton with 4 km to go.
Under the 1 km “Flamme Rouge” in one last act of defiance Nicolas Vogondy attacked before the catch. Team Columbia still in control led Mark Cavendish down the final straight. Like a rocket in full flight Cavendish flew past Vogondy and crossed the finish line for a brilliant stage win.
Stage winner Mark Cavendish [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it/AFP ]
Grabbing his head in disbelief Cavendish gained his first Tour de France stage win. Stefan Schumacher easily maintained the Yellow Jersey. Fourth place stage finisher Thor Hushovd took the Green Jersey from Kim Kirchen.
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