Another flat stage. I know there are people out there (purists, even?) who roll their eyes at flat stages, but I like them. I like almost all stages, of course, but there's something about flat stages that are particularly interesting. Today, of course, was no exception. It's all about breakaways and build up. There's something fascinating about team tactics. Will QS and CA sent riders to the front of the peloton? Will Milram try to slow the chase because they have a rider in the break. Is McEwen, wearing that coveted Green jersey, healthy? Will his team contest the sprint or will one of the smaller teams steal the win.
And, of course, there's the weather. It was a losing battle against the rain, which eventually had upsetting consequences. For part of the stage, it looked like the Tour had averted, at least for one day, the bad weather that had been predicted. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead, the riders road straight into a storm. It wasn't bad for long periods, but it did enough that the roads became slippery.
In spite of that, the peloton managed the perfect capture of the breakaway. They waited until the very last possible moment (or close to it), caught the break as it was already falling apart and then bam, the peloton was back together. The speed of the group increased until they were roaring toward the finish. The commentators, and myself, were prepared for one of those gripping sprint finishes the tour is famous for. We did get one, but it wasn't the way anyway wanted (well, mostly).
Instead of having all the sprinters up there fighting it out for the win, the sprint was left to about 30 riders, some lead out men and some sprinters. Why? There was a massive pile up of about 30 plus riders. Zabel ended up touching wheels with someone, possibly one of his leadout men, and running into a Liquigas rider who then went down. And that led to a domino effect and a large group just fell. It was bad enough that I actually screamed. Not that I don't yell at my TV all the time, but this was one of those "oh my god" noises that scare me.
Luckily, no one was seriously injured, aside from a Discovery rider who fractured his thumb in five places (I didn't even know you could do that) and had surgery last night and is out of the race. As for the 30 remaining riders? They charged up the road toward the line, still a little rattled by the crash behind them. Who would win was anybody's guess, but in the end it was a win for Quick Step, but it wasn't Tom Boonen. Instead, it was his lead out man, Gert Steegmans. Steegmans couldn't get out of Boonen's way and Boonen couldn't get around Steegmans and it was the hard working domestique who gathered the win.
Boonen, to his credit, didn't look at all upset and donned the green jersey after crossing the line in second. The rest of the peloton picked themselves up and watched the final sprint on the big screen before stumbling their way to the finish. It was understandably hard to watch as rider after rider crossed the line, holding various body parts. The worst was watching Fabian Cancellara (who turned out to have just bruised, I believe, his wrist) in obvious pain as he road toward the finish. But since the crash happened with in 3k of the finish line, no one lost any time. Cancellara kept his yellow for another day.
Tomorrow will be yet another sprinters day. Hopefully the results will be determined by sprinting and not crashes, but only time (and road conditions) will tell.
(pictures to come later)