It could have, had the peloton stuck together, been a stage for sprinters. Perhaps Freire could have picked up some more points. The basic plan should have been for there to be a break that should stay out much of the day with the Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears team controlling the peloton. Then, as the stage came closer to finishing, teams such as Quick-Step or Lampre-Fondital or Davitamon-Lotto would come to the front. And, well, it did happen -- sort of.
There was a break of five riders (Martinez (Euskaltel), Kessler (T-Mobile), Aerts (Davitamon), Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom) and Commesso (Lampre-Fondital)) who finally succeeded in launching off the front of the peloton. They were eventually joined by Verbrugghe (Cofidis) and Canada (Saunier Duval), passing Martinez who was eventually dropped completely. After Saturday's 29+ minute break lead, there was no way that the peloton would make the same "mistake" (I still don't believe it was a mistake, but that's neither here nor there). And so the chase began, but the break was having none of it. For several kilometers, the time didn't come down. But Quick-Step worked hard, it seemed that the break was doomed to failure. Of course that's when disaster struck.
First, it seemed the Boonen wasn't feeling well and it was Liquigas (I think) on the front and Quick-Step merging back with the rest of the peloton. And the breakaway rounded a corner and things just fell apart. It's hard to tell what happened first, though I've seen the crash at least 10 times. Reports state that Verbrugghe went down first, but what I saw seemed to point to Canada losing control of his bike. Either way, it was horrible. Verbrugghe crashed into a metal barrier and flew over. He broke his femur, I believe. Canada ran into the barrier, sliding around the road in the process. His collarbone is broken. T-Mobile's Kessler was not spared, either. He couldn't avoid crashing into Canada and then the barrier -- he flipped over it (his bike following him). Somehow he managed to get up and back on the bike, but his day in the break was over.
All that remained of the break were the three riders who avoided the crash: Fedrigo, Aerts and Commesso. With the peloton carefully chasing them, the three worked hard. Eventually Aerts was dropped and it was Fedrigo and Commesso left to keep the peloton at bay. Behind them, though, all hell was breaking lose. There was another crash (though I believe everyone got up) when Chavanel (I know, I know) and a few others managed to find a ditch. And slowly but surely, different teams went to the front (including Discovery, who were supposedly trying to get the win because Armstrong was showing up that day). The pace was high -- so high that the peloton cracked. Riders were spread out and when the race finally ended, the last rider didn't cross the line for at least 30 minutes after the winner.
As for the break? Fedrigo and Commesso had no desire to give up and be sucked up by the peloton (or what was left of it). They fought what seemed like their inevitable catch. But, much to my surprise (and perhaps the commentators, too), they weren't caught. Even more surprising was the fact that Fedrigo beat Commesso to the line. It was a case of Fedrigo not being as exhausted as we all thought and fantastic maneuvering to get around Commesso for the win. It was a good day for France. And a fitting end to a rather strange stage.
As predicted, nothing much changed. Although De La Fuente (and several of his Saunier Duval teammates) had a rough day, he is still KOM. The rest of the jerseys remain the same as well. But, come the Alps on Tuesday, that should all change.