Crash-plagued Tour obliterated by Team Sky
This crash-plagued Tour de France, deprived of some of its leading contenders before it even reached the mountains, is beginning to resemble a hospital on wheels.
The race for the yellow jersey hadn’t even begun in earnest before several of the big names started haemorrhaging time, being caught up in a big stage six crash on what should have been an uneventful flat stage for the sprinters.
The catastrophe with 25km remaining in stage six effectively removed Ryder Hesjedal, Frank Schleck and Robert Gesink from the general classification reckoning. Hesjedal lost a massive 13 minutes, utterly ruining his ambitions of winning the Giro/Tour double, and he was forced to withdraw from the race, injured.
Nobody likes to see riders crashing out of races, and this Tour has certainly been diminished as a contest by the loss of some big names.
I imagine that stage seven’s demolition job by Team Sky was partly enabled by the fact that a few riders were suffering the after-effects of their crashes the previous day. It’s certainly unusual to see so many highly-rated riders popping meekly off the back of a group so early in the mountains.
Most of the teams are carrying a few wounded riders, or even worse, have had key personnel depart the race on medical trolleys.
This has already been the kind of race where bandages and broken bones have been almost as significant as the clock itself, and it’s only week one!
I doubt even Sky can have expected the peloton to shatter so quickly as they set a punishing tempo on Saturday’s final climb. I can’t remember seeing so many apparent contendors (perhaps pretenders is more accurate) falling off the wagon so quickly.
The end result is that the Tour podium is beginning to look like Wiggins, Evans and Nibali all the way to Paris. Rein Taaramae and Chris Froome will also be thereabouts, and Dennis Menchov isn’t quite out of contention, but the likes of Frank Schleck, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Robert Gesink, Ivan Basso, and Michele Scarponi are all done and dusted.
Now that their hopes of a podium place in Paris have been crushed, these talented climbers have a license to attack stage wins, which may break up the rhythm of the remaining contenders. I hope so, the race needs some variety.
There was nothing to separate the group of Evans, Wiggins and Nibali on Saturday, but I was a little surprised to see Chris Froome kicking over the top of Evans to win the stage, after pulling on the front for the last couple of kilometres to the summit. An impressive ride, but with Wiggins the designated leader it will be tough for Froome to fully express himself in the race.
Despite Saturday’s show of strength, I’m not sure that it’s a great idea for Wiggins to be wearing yellow just yet, as defending the jersey for two weeks will place immense pressure on his team.
Get used to seeing the faces of Edvald Boasson-Hagen, Mick Rogers, and Richie Porte on the front of the peloton, they’ll be towing the race for the next 13 stages.
They certainly looked up to the job on Saturday. The team set a devastating rhythm that comprehensively outclassed Cadel Evans’ BMC team in the first real contest of the Tour, isolating Evans worryingly early on the climb up La Planche des Belles Filles, but it’s a long way to Paris.
Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.