95th Tour de France
Stage 5 - Cholet to Chateauroux - 232.0 km (144.0 mi)
09 July 2008
A recent edition of VeloNews featured a brash young cyclist who has burst forth onto the professional scene in the past two years and emerged as one of the fastest men on two wheels. Some say he has little respect for the sport; others say he is the breath of fresh air that cycling needs after decades of doping-tinged turmoil. But whether one likes or dislikes 22-year-old Mark Cavendish, there is no disputing this fact: he is a winner. After he took four Giro d'Italia stages, the British sprinter was quick to quip, "With my speed and acceleration in the last 100 meters, when I can go from 50 to 70 km/h, for pure acceleration, I am the fastest now."
Today in Chateauroux, with the field coming together finally for a traditional battle royale in a bunch sprint, Cavendish made good on his boast by holding off veterans Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Erik Zabel (Milram) to take his first career Tour stage. After the podium presentation, Cavendish revealed a more humble side. "I already thought of myself as a big name, but until you win a stage in the Tour, you can't count yourself as a great sprinter. When you have a team like my leadout, it’s impossible not to win. I'm glad I could pay them back."
The road which ended with the youngster's victory today -- the longest stage of the 2008 Tour de France -- began where the race left off yesterday. 178 riders headed east from the town of Cholet, yet one didn't even make it to see the first breakaway take off down the road. Last year's King of the Mountains, Colombian Mauricio Soler of Barloworld, came into the 2008 race as a dark-horse contender for the yellow jersey; he left less than twelve kilometers into today's stage as the persistent pain from his crash in the opening stage back near Plumelec, where he landed and reaggravated the wrist which he broke in the Giro d'Italia back in May, simply became unbearable. The Tour has seen riders go through the race with broken arms, hips, collarbones -- but when the pain becomes too much to take anymore, there is nothing left to do but climb into the sag wagon and watch your teammates go up the road as they cut the race numbers off your jersey...
Soler got a passenger view as three riders broke from the remaining 177 and gained a gap to form the day's breakaway group. Lilian Jegou (Francaise des Jeux), Florent Brard (Cofidis) and Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) -- all Frenchmen -- jumped right around the twelfth kilometer and started gaining time on the peloton. Their lead quickly ballooned to over two minutes on the main field, and they quickly arrived at the first intermediate sprint point of the day in Argenton-les-Vallees. Jegou, the animator of that stage which spelled Soler's doom who almost stayed away with his companions for the win before Valverde swooped in to take the honors, won the intermediate sprint. The peloton, still waking up in the opening hour of the stage, passed through the first sprint point with all the points taken already over eight minutes back.
Gerolsteiner, doing the hard work that Caisse d'Epargne was unwilling to do when Valverde was in the yellow jersey, took to the front of the peloton and began to erase the time deficit. The sprinters' teams, led by Columbia, joined in the front and the time gap began to quickly dissipate. After two hours, the breakaway had already covered eighty-eight kilometers and the three Frenchmen were vainly fighting the will of the field. They arrived at the second sprint zone in Richelieu, where Brard took the victory, and then had a clear path through the day's feed zone. The peloton, meanwhile, would suffer yet another crash amongst its ranks before they even arrived there...
... and this time it was a contender. The first yellow jersey of the race, Alejandro Valverde, hit the deck around the eighty-fifth kilometer, and while he emerged to climb back in the saddle and finish the stage, he was later seen at the back of the pack receiving treatment to his knee. It would be sad to see him leave the race with a knee injury -- this is exactly how his promising 2005 campaign ended, with his departure on stage 13 while wearing the white jersey as the best young rider and having taken the summit sprint at Courcheval from Lance Armstrong in his final Tour. Here's to hoping that he is okay and ready for the mountains starting in the next few days.
With just over a hundred kilometers left to race, the breakaway had seen its gap whittled back to within six minutes. The sprinters were smelling the finishing line on the horizon as this flat stage with a tailwind was just what was needed to shake the disbelief of yesterday's successful breakaway. Surely teams like Silence-Lotto, Columbia and Milram would not let another long break succeed?
The gap continued to plummet. As the three riders at the front neared Grand-Pressigny, where the final intermediate sprint took place at 152 kilometers, the peloton was within five minutes of reintegrating the pack. After French national champion Vogondy took the sprint ahead of Brard and Jegou, each having taken the sprint at one of the points, the three futilely focused on staying clear. However, only ten kilometers later the peloton was within three minutes. The rabbit was coming into focus for the bloodhounds of the main field, and Chateauroux looked set to witness the pack all together for the finish.
The gap was within two minutes inside 45 kilometers; by the twenty-kilometers-to-go banner, the time was standing at 1:12. George Hincapie, an outside shot at the general classification but today a soldier for Cavendish, flatted at an unfortunate time -- inside the final ten kilometers -- but quickly rejoined his blue-clad squad at the front of the peloton. He then set about turning the screws and driving his teammates at the front to catch the breakaway. Vogondy got a jump on his leading companions with 1.5 kilometers to go, but it would prove all for nought.
Or would it? The Agritubel rider, racing in the red-white-and-blue-striped jersey of the French national champion, was still away with 500 meters to go... 400 meters... 300 meters. The blue train of Columbia beared down from behind, working efficiently to spring their fast man for the line. Credit Agricole's Mark Renshaw came up on the side of the Columbia train, towing green-jersey contender Thor Hushovd in hopes of gaining his second win of the 2008 Tour. But as Renshaw jumped, inside 250 meters, Cavendish shifted into high gear and started his acceleration. Still Vogondy was away. 200 meters... 150... 100... and then, around 75 meters before the line, Cavendish came level with the lone remaining breakaway rider and blasted straight past to his first -- but certainly not last -- Tour de France stage victory.
Results - Stage 5
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 5.27.52 (42.45 km/h)
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole
- Baden Cooke (AUS) Barloworld
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld
- Leonardo Duque (COL) Cofidis
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto
- Francesco Chicchi (ITA) Liquigas
- Julian Dean (NZL) Garmin-Chipotle -- all s.t.
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner -- 14.04.41
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- +0.12
- David Millar (GBR) Garmin-Chipotle
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- +0.21
- Fabian Cancellara (SWI) Team CSC -- +0.33
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle -- +0.37
- George Hincapie (USA) Columbia -- +0.41
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- +0.47
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- +0.58
- Jose Ivan Gutierrez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +1.01
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 88 pts
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 85
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 81
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 72
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 60
- Mark Cavendish (GBR) Columbia -- 51
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP Caisse d'Epargne -- 49
- Romain Feillu (FRA) Agritubel -- 49
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 49
- Jerome Pineau (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 46
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 19 pts
- Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Cofidis -- 11
- Bjorn Schroder (GER) Milram -- 9
- David De La Fuente (ESP) Saunier Duval -- 4
- Lilian Jegou (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- 3
- Christophe Moreau (FRA) Agritubel -- 3
- Geoffroy Lequatre (FRA) Agritubel -- 1
- David Le Lay (FRA) Agritubel -- 1
- David Arroyo (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 1
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- 14.05.28
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA Liquigas -- +0.11
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +0.37
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +0.42
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +1.42
- Iouri Trofimov (RUS) Bouygues Telecom -- +2.20
- Romain Feillu (FRA) Agritubel
- Riccardo Ricco (ITA) Saunier Duval -- +3.21
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- +3.51
- Niki Terpstra (NED) Milram -- +3.53