Friday (Stage 6): The final sprint stage of the week, and one of the last of the tour, should have been a formality, with no real time gaps expected. But after the experience of the last week, who are we kidding? Three main crashes on the stage saw multiple riders brought down, and the biggest of the three (at around 70kph, on a straight flat road) put paid to the GC ambitions of several riders. Big losers included Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), Ryder Hejedal (Garmin-Sharp, abandoned), Michaeli Scarponi (Lampre), Janez Brajkovic (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Robert Gessink (Rabobank), all of whom lost 2 minutes or more on the leaders. Garmin-Sharp’s tour ambitions now look to be over. In the end, the sprint was won by Liquigas-Cannondale‘s Peter Sagan, who came around Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol). Notably, Griepel had dislocated his shoulder and damaged his wrist in a crash earlier in the stage, and it took team mate Greg Henderson 30km of badgering to convince him to sprint at the end. Legend.
Saturday (Stage 7): The peloton breathed a collective sigh of relief as the race hit the hills for the first time. The profile of the stage was relatively hilly, a good one for the break, but as they hit the slope of the final, uphill finish to La Planche des Belles Filles, the race was almost together with Team Sky setting a brutal tempo on the front. Much as they did in the Dauphine Libre earlier this year, the workhorses of Sky destroyed the main field with searing pace, shelling riders out of the back of the bunch and forcing an elite selection. By the end of the climb, the leading group was whittled down to Bradley Wiggins, Chris Frome (both Team Sky), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis). It was clear that the Yellow Jersey would come from this group, and they saved the best for last, with Evans digging deep to try and take the handful of seconds he needed to get the Jersey. It was his kind of finish, but he hadn’t counted on Chris Froome (Sky) who, despite having been Wiggin’s workhorse, had enough in the legs to sprint clear and take the stage victory. With Wiggins coming home in third, he not only took the yellow jersey, but more importantly cemented the team’s position at the top of our consistency table. Ride of the day was however Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), who not only hung with the big boys but rode himself into the White Jersey for best young rider.
Sunday (Stage 8): A very up and down hilly stage, and extremely aggressive riding all day. After Saturday’s efforts, Team Sky had to dig deep to control the race and hold the Yellow Jersey, and as a consequence lost out in the team classification, which has been taken by RadioShack-Nissan. With 2 weeks to go, Sky are going to have to work really hard if they want to take the Yellow all the way to Paris. The day was dominated by breaks, with multiple efforts going off the front before being brought back. By the last climb, Astana’s Frederik Kessiakoff was desperately trying to hold on to a lead of around 1 minute over the bunch, but with a few hundred metres to the top he was caught by FDJ-BigMatt‘s Thibaut Pinot, a local boy and the youngest rider in the race. With a descent and long flat section after the climb, the scenes as Pinot drove for the line were classic, with his manager leaning out of the team car window screaming at him “Allez”. He held on for the win, a victory that will be very well received by him home country – I bet the sports paper Equipe has dedicated half of today’s issue to him. A selection was formed on the final run-in again, but no real changes to any of the classifications. Bad luck of the day was reserved for current Olympic Road Race champion and team leader Samuel Sanchez (Euskatel) who crashed out in a nothing situation and was taken to hospital with a suspected broken collarbone. He won’t be in London for the games.
Today’s stage is the first proper time trial, with 41.5km against the clock. Expect the usual suspects, Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan), Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quickstep), and of course Wiggins and Froome (both Team Sky) to be up there. Difficult to predict what will happen in the Team Classification, but we could see a change again.