A collective sign of relief was heard from all British cycling fans this week as Sir Jim Ratcliffe was confirmed as the new owner, and main sponsor, of Team Sky racing.
It has been an absolutely hectic first week for the riders in this year’s tour, with many of them now thankful that today is a rest day.
So with that in mind, let’s recap what has happened so far.
The 102nd Tour de France got underway under sunny conditions in the Dutch city of Utrecht. A tight and technical 14-kilometre individual time trial was the first obstacle for the riders to get over.
Cancellera, Martin and Dumoulin were the names on everybody’s lips for today’s honours, but it was young Australian Rohan Dennis from BMC who took the spoils.
All the main general classification riders rode fairly solidly and there were no big gaps between the top contenders.
Echelons had caused time gaps only two years ago in the tour, and stage two produced the same as the riders made their way from Utrecht to the coastal town of Zelande.
On the menu today was a pancake flat day that was thought to produce the first mass sprint of the tour. In the end, it became a battle between the top sprinters, and the top general classification men.
Etixx as they usually do in very windy conditions came to the front and blew the race apart. Key general classification riders including Nibali and Quintana missed the split and ended up over a minute back on Froome, Contador and Van Gardaren who were nestled in the front group.
In the end, it came to sprint, with Etixx not controlling the final well, and leaving Cavendish to lead-out Andre Griepel for the victory. Fabian Cancellera moved into the leaders jersey.
The Mu De Huy made an appearance outside of its usual timeslot of April, with the tour moving into Belgium for the first hilly parcours of the race. The stage was reminiscent of a mini Ardennes race, with four categorised climbs, including the final push up the Mur De Huy.
Unfortunately today saw the first big crash of the tour, with the yellow jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara being a victim and having to pull out of the race. Other riders that had to withdraw included Tom Dumoulin, Darryl Impey, Simon Gerrans, William Bonnet and Dmitry Kozontchik.
In the end, the race came back together and saw Spaniard Joaquim Rodríguez surge away in the final sprint to claim the win, ahead of Chris Froome, who was able to gap some of the main general classification riders at the end of the stage. By virtue of that fact, Froome become the third different rider this tour in yellow.
The cobbles last year caused major panic for the general classification men but surprisingly this year the stage was fairly routine.
All the main favourites for the race were able to stay together in the front group for the 220 kilometre trek from Seriang to the homecoming of the tour, in the French town of Cambrai. This was despite the efforts of Astana on the early cobbled sections to really rip the race apart for Vincenzo Nibali.
After narrowly missing out on the jersey over the past two days, Tony Martin may have thought his chance for the yellow jersey had gone by, especially when he had bike problems with 15 kilometres to go in the stage. Luckily for him, Matteo Trentin his teammates saw the mishap occur and gifted Martin his bike.
Firstly, Martin did a fabulous job to get back into the main bunch, but with the adrenaline still flowing he launched a decisive solo move with three kilometres to go that couldn’t be pulled back. he finish for Martin, who claimed the stage, and the lead of the race.
In terms of the green jersey, Sagan pulled to within six points of Griepel as he sprinted for a podium spot on the stage.
After two days of frustration for Etixx, there was tears of joy at the finish, as Martin had taken both stage honours, and the overall race lead.
Stage 5 consisted of a 190 kilometres of flat roads from Arras Communate Urbaine to Amiens Metropole. Expected was a mass sprint finish, and that’s exactly what we got.
With only one rider up the road today, in the form of Bretagne-Seche Environnement rider Pierre-Luc Perichon, the intermediate sprint became a huge point of contention for the sprinters in the fight for the green jersey As he has shown over the last few stages, it was Andre Greipel who took the most points from the main peloton.
Griepel continued his form from the intermediate sprint in a tough headwind final, with him launching late to come out of the wheels of Cavendish and co to seal another victory, with Sagan finishing fast in second.
190 kilometres of rolling roads was head of the peloton on stage 190 kilometres of rolling roads was head of the peloton on Stage 6 of the tour, between Abbeville and Le Havre. After three flat days in a row, the peloton would return to a hilly finishing climb, that would separate the pure, and punchy sprinters; Peter Sagan therefore one of the favourites.
The stage was magnificent for newcomers MTN Qhubecka, who were able to get Eritrean Daniel Teklehaminot in the break. He then went on to win all the king of the mountain sprints on the day to claim the overall lead in the competition. He has been in form recently, also claiming the king of the mountains jersey at the recent Criterium Du Dauphine.
In the finish, we saw chaos as Tony Martin would crash on his collarbone, and in the process break it, while up the front, teammate Zdenek Stybar attacked off an uncooperative front group to claim the stage. Again, Peter Sagan would claim second spot, with Frenchmen Bryan Coquard finishing an impressive third.
There were no changes in the general classification after this stage for the main contenders, but it was later confirmed that Tony Martin was out of the race.
Another sprint on the menu but the main talking point on the start today was the withdrawal of Tony Martin from the yellow jersey. He is now the second rider so far this tour after Fabian Cancellera to withdraw from the yellow jersey.
Therefore, for the first time in a long time, there was no yellow jersey worn on the stage.
The stage led the riders 191 kilometres from Livarot to Fougeres where it was another stage win for Etixx but this time, it was Mark Cavendish who registered his first and possibly only win of this year’s tour, out lasting Andre Griepel in the sprint. Peter Sagan was once again on the podium.
The Mur De Bretagne was the scene of another hilly finish of this year’s tour and the finale didn’t disappoint, as the rider started 180 kilometres away in the city of Rennes.
An early breakaway went up the road, with former stage winner Sylvain Chavanel in the move, but it wasn’t until after the intermediate sprint point that we saw real attacks off the front with current world champion Michal Kwiatkowski and talented Frenchmen Pierre Roland trying to get up the road. They were joined by many other riders, and the group subsequently split again to leave only three riders including Lars Bak (Lotto – Soudal), Michael Golas (Etixx – Quckstep) and Bartosz Huzarski (Bora).
They were caught on the final climb, where we saw Aleixs Vuillermoz get away with a strong attack in the last kilometre to grap the stage win. Dan Martin attacked too late and missed the win, but did finish strongly to finish second.
In terms of the general classification, the only contender to lose time was Vincenzo Nibali.
A hilly team time trial was in front of the riders before they earned a much needed rest after eight days of previously nervous racing. A 28-km circuit, the last time the riders will transverse Brittany this tour set the scene for another general classification battle, and boy we were not disappointed.
Movistar set the early pace, but it was the battle between Van Gardaren’s BMC squad, and Chris Froome’s Sky team that was the talk of the town after the stage.
BMC set the fastest time on the stage, and Sky being close to them comparatively at the intermediate time checks, it was always going to have a nail biting finale up the final climb.
Nicolas Roche cracked on the final climb, and the rest of Sky had to slow down and wait for the Irishmen. This indeed cost Sky a good chunk of time, and in turn the stage, as Sky fell under one second from winning the stage.
Froome retains yellow heading into the mountains.
Top 10 in general classification
01. Christopher Froome (Team Sky)… 31:42:12″
02. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing)… +0:12″
03. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)… +0:27″
04. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Saxo)… +0:38″
05. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo)… +1:03″
06. Rigoberto Uran (Etixx Quick-Step)… +1:18″
07. Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar)… +1:50″
08. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)… +1:52″
09. Nairo Quintana (Team Movistar)… +1:59″
10. Zdenek Stybar (Etixx Quick-Step)… +1’59”
Top 5 in the points jersey
01. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff Saxo) 213
02. Andre Griepel (Lotto-Soudal) 210
03. Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quickstep) 159
04. John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) 158
05. Bryan Coquard (Europcar) 102