Saturday, July 09, 2005

Stage 6 - Thursday, July 7: Troyes - Nancy, 199 km

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(photos from yahoo)

Today's stage was exciting. Not just because of the crashes, but because the break was filled with riders who could win the stage, if they could just hold on. Sadly, that was not to be. And the story of the race, aside from Lance holding onto the jersey, was that the sprinters did not, in fact, have their day. In fact, the overall classification changed a bit because of the crash, but I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

The weather changed the look of the stage, tugging people along and stringing the peloton out. The pace was high and the break was caught, one rider at a time. But what I really noticed is the lack of organization. It seemed that since Petacchi isn't racing, teams are fighting to take control and therefore they mix it up a bit too much and everything sort of slips out of control. I know that once the race reaches the mountains T-Mobile, CSC, and Discovery will take charge, but for now, it's a dangerous place to be.

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The almost-hero of the stage was the Frenchman of FDJ, Christophe Mengin. The race had passed through his hometown a few kms earlier and he'd been on attack. It looked almost as if he was going to hold out for the win -- I thought he might actually do it. But that was not to be. The following is from cyclingnews' stage six coverage:

Mengin then explained the tumultuous finale, saying, "With 2km to go, I looked back and saw Vino coming across, so I knew that my break was finished. I didn't take any risks because I knew that the finish in Nancy would be dangerous. As I went through the last turn, my front wheel slipped out and I hit the handlebars with my knee and went down. But after everything today, it's OK. The Tour is going through the Vosges Mountains; that's where I was born so maybe I'll try to attack again."

Unfortunately, he crashed. And then, almost immediately after he did (as they were right on his heels) it was if the whole peloton, sprinters and all, came crashing down.

Instead of a day for the sprinters, it was a disaster. Most of the big name sprinters fell, including Tom Boonen and Robbie McEwen. Jaan Kirsipuu was the first to go. He'd been in the break and therefore still up at the front. He slide and fell, slamming into Mengin. Then everyone else came tumbling after. It was so wet that there was nothing they could do to stop it. Robbie McEwen said, later, that he'd been riding slow, just to be careful, and still couldn't avoid falling.

The roads were wet and thus slick to begin with, but since the finish was just inside the city, the roads are covered in paint (from crosswalks, street markings, etc) and even more dangerous. And once the front wheel slips, there isn't much one can do. And if you try to break? Off the bike you go. And that's what happened. But the result wasn't all bad, at least for a few riders.

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Dutch cyclist Karsten Kroon managed to stick out the break to hang grab the KOM jersey from his compatriot and teammate, Erik Dekker. Kroon was in the early break and took just enough points (though I doubt he'll have it come the weekend mountains) to keep the jersey for Rabobank.

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Another good result was by Alexandre Vinokourov. Before Mengin had crashed, Vino attacked and was en route to catching Mengin, and possibly taking the win. Mengin crashed and by some miracle, Vino managed to skid around him and not fall. I totally thought he was going down. But somehow he didn't. Unfortunately , the skidding slowed him down just enough so he didn't win the stage. But he did do two important things. The first was that he never stopped fighting and came in second. This awarded him a much needed time bonus. And because he didn't fall in the crash, he gained time on Lance. How much time did he get? A total of 19 precious seconds. Good for Vino, not good for Lance. Armstrong even expressed annoyance that he wasn't able to limit his losses. I suppose, though, he should be grateful that Vino only came in second, and didn't win the stage.

General classification after stage 6
1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel 17.58.11
2 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel 0.55
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team 1.02
4 Jens Voigt (Ger) Team CSC 1.04
5 Bobby Julich (USA) Team CSC 1.07
6 Jose Luis Rubiera (Spa) Discovery Channel 1.14
7 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Discovery Channel 1.16
8 Benjamin Noval (Spa) Discovery Channel 1.26
9 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC
10 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC 1.32

Vino's moved himself into third, only a minute and two seconds behind Armstrong. It's a tough bunch and I can't wait for the mountains.

But the highlight of the stage? The amazing win by the previously unknown Lonrenzo Bernucci. The Italian who rides for Fassa Bortolo, managed to be on the right side of the street to avoid crashing into Vino or Mengin. He didn't look back, just started riding and before we knew it, he'd won the stage! He usually spends his time as a workhorse for Fassa, delivering water and food from the team cars. He's been pro for four years and this was his first win. What a way to do it. It looked like he'd have won the stage, even if the rest of the sprinters hadn't crashed. It was Bernucci who had attacked along side Vino. Probably figured he had the legs and why not give it a go. And he did.

It was interesting to watch the replay of the crash, because Bernucci's teammate, Fabian Cancellara, did something quite interesting. He, of course, couldn't avoid crashing. But as soon as he picked himself up (but not his bike) he started yelling into his radio. What'd he say? He was telling his DS to tell Bernucci to sprint out hard because he could win it. And win Bernucci did.

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Though no one quite knew who he was, even after he'd won the stage. Phil and Paul (sadly, the source of most of my during-race information) kept shouting all these Fassa and non-Fassa cyclists, none of whom were right. Good for Bernucci, though. Very impressive.

The stage was exciting. Boonen, though he did fall, managed to stay in green. Lance remained in yellow, and his teammate, Yaroslav Popovych is still the young rider.

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