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Schleck wrecked as cobbles give peloton a bumpy ride

Stage 3: Wanze > Arenberg Porte du Hainaut (213 km)

What goes around, comes around.

Yesterday, Sylvain Chavanel was somewhat fortunate when Fabian Cancellara put the safety of the peloton ahead of preserving his race lead, gifting him the yellow jersey. Today, karma was quickly rebalanced when a combination of a devastating Saxo Bank attack and Chavanel’s extreme misfortune handed the maillot jaune straight back to the Swiss rider on a day when the Paris-Roubaix cobbles shattered the peloton like multi-coloured shrapnel across the roads of northern France.

Live blog as it happened – part 1

Live blog as it happened – part 2

On a normal day at the Tour de France, somebody generally has the benefit of a relatively – and I use the word advisedly – easy day. On a flat sprint stage, the overall contenders generally hide quietly from the wind in the shelter of the peloton; in the mountains, the sprinters form a mobile self-help group – referred to as the autobus – which typically trails in half an hour or more behind the leaders.

Not today. Today it was everyone for himself, a genuine test of strength, courage and luck which, once the dust had settled on the 13.2 km of cobbled roads which presented such a unique challenge to the riders, resulted in a general classification which will please some contenders considerably more than others tonight.

Frank Schleck after stage 3 (image courtesy of Andy Schleck)

The biggest loser of all was Frank Schleck who, after the peloton had safely negotiated the three shortest sections of cobbles, came down in a crash on the next, longer stretch just as his brother and Cancellara launched the decisive move which would shatter the group of leading contenders and throw the race into disarray.

Schleck lay, unmoving, on the ground for several minutes while doctors examined him. His collarbone is broken, and he will play no further part in the Tour. It is a significant blow for his brother, who would have relied on Frank for both physical and psychological support on the tough mountain stages.

Lance Armstrong attempts to make up lost ground (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Lance Armstrong also had a bad day – or at least a bad luck day. He suffered a puncture almost immediately after Cancellara and Schleck attacked. Subsequently adrift, there was at least some encouragement from the burst he put in to rejoin a group ahead of him, allowing him to limit his losses on the day. It didn’t help that his two most trusted lieutenants, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden, also suffered punctures on the cobbles.

Armstrong was gracious afterwards in conceding that he hadn’t had the best of days:

It’s very frustrating. But again, I’m not going to make any excuses. When we came in, I was in good position. The crash split the group. We hung tough, tried to come back, but got the flat at the wrong moment. There’s nothing I could do about that, just try to change as quick as you can and try to come back.

We lost significant time, so we have to keep our head up, and take our chances on the climbs. It’s just bad luck. My chances took a knock today, but I’m not going home. We’ll stay in the race and keep trying.

Up ahead, the attack had reduced the front group to just five: Schleck, Cancellara, Britain’s Geraint Thomas, Cadel Evans and Thor Hushovd. They quickly caught Ryder Hesjedal, the last survivor of the day’s break, and continued a punishing pace all the way to the finish.

Cancellara buried himself for the cause, taking huge turns at the front to maximise the advantage over Alberto Contador‘s group and, further behind, the group containing Armstrong. Over the same Paris-Roubaix roads on which he had won less than three months ago, he had to concede victory today to the superior sprinting speed of Hushovd (who had finished third that day). Regaining the yellow jersey was pretty good compensation for his efforts, though.

Second and third across the line were Thomas and Evans, who move up to second and third in the general classification. (Thomas also assumes the white jersey as the best young rider.) They and Andy Schleck will have been delighted to have put 1:13 into Contador, who lost time on the run-in with a late puncture, and over two minutes into the likes of Armstrong and Ivan Basso.

The defending champion had ridden well in circumstances where many thought he might be exposed, but he nonetheless crossed the line with a face like thunder. Not because of his puncture – these things happen – but because he had a teammate, Alexandre Vinokourov, in the group who continued to drive on to the finish as Contador dropped away, gaining time not only for himself but for Bradley Wiggins. Public discord in the Astana camp may not be far away. Watch this space.

Stage 3 winner Thor Hushovd

In addition to his stage win, Hushovd will have been delighted not only to have taken over the leadership of the green jersey competition, but to have also extended his advantage over his biggest rival, Mark Cavendish, who now trails him by 62 points:

I’m very happy. Yesterday I missed out on going for the points, and a lot of guys came to me today to say they understood why I was upset at that decision. I’ve won the green jersey twice, and this morning I said to myself I was going to war in a bid to get it back. I will do everything to keep it.

While others are still within sight of the big Norwegian, a dispirited Cavendish will know he probably requires Hushovd to slip up if he is to overhaul him. The Manxman may now have to refocus his sights on stage wins instead.

As for Chavanel, he was quickly spat out the back of the group after the big attack, but would have held on to the yellow jersey without too much problem had he not required two bike changes which would contribute to a total loss of four minutes, enough to ensure that his tenure of the race leadership was a short one. But, in Armstrong’s words, that’s the way the ball bounces. Chavanel would accept that he got lucky yesterday, but he would have been hoping that his fortunes would not turn quite this quickly. C’est la vie. But at least he is still in the race, unlike Frank Schleck.

So, Thor Hushovd will be as happy tonight as Mark Cavendish is miserable. It’s mixed emotions for Andy Schleck; time gained, but his brother lost. It was a case of damage limitation for Armstrong and Basso. And Contador, Evans, Wiggins and in particular Thomas will have been extremely pleased with today’s result.

In most years, the Tour’s most memorable stages come in the high mountains – the stages where the leading contenders go mano a mano, where the race is won and lost. While not absolutely decisive, we may yet look back on today’s stage as the turning point in this year’s race. And even if it isn’t, it provided us with a level of spectacle, excitement and drama which will linger long in the memory.

Chapeau.

Stage 3 result:

1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 4:49:38

2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) same time

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) s/t

4. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) s/t

5. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) s/t

6. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) s/t

7. Johan van Summeren (Garmin-Transitions) +0:53

8. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:53

9. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +0:53

10. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +0:53

Selected others:

11. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +0:53

13. Alberto Contador (Astana) +1:13

32. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +2:08

43. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) +2:25

64. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +2:25

Did not finish – Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank)

General classification (yellow jersey):

1. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 14:54:00

2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +0:23

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:39

4. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) +0:46

5. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) +1:01

6. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) +1:09

7. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) +1:19

8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:31

9. Alberto Contador (Astana) +1:40

10. Jurgen van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +1:42

Selected others:

13. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +1:49

14. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +1:49

18. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +2:30

24. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +2:53

49. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) +3:20

Points classification (green jersey):

1. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) 63 pts

2. Geraint Thomas (Sky) 49

3. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 44

4. Robbie McEwen (Katusha) 38

5. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) 37

Climbers’ classification (polka dot jersey):

1. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) 13 pts

2. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 8

3. Rin Taaramae (Cofidis) 8

4. Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia) 5

5. Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4

Stage 4 preview:

Start & finish: Cambrai > Reims

Distance & type: 153.5 km, plain

Prediction: The sprinters will be desperately hoping that all goes to plan on this an apparently straightforward stage. It is a by-the-numbers short, flat blast, so expect a by-the-numbers breakaway, chase, catch and bunch sprint. Ideally suited for the pure sprinters. Mark Cavendish in particular will be looking to put a disastrous start to the race behind him with a confidence-inspiring victory, but with so many riders banged up from the cobbles and crashes of the last three days, this could be a difficult one to call.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

16 Responses to Schleck wrecked as cobbles give peloton a bumpy ride

  1. Line Salomonsen says:

    Today’s stage was just a little bit too exciting for me. But then again, that’s why I love the Tour. But I’m still sad that Frank Schleck is out of the race. 😦

    However Andy really surprised a lot of people with the way he rode. Cobblestone streets aren’t exactly his expertise.

    ~Line
    http://affairsmagazine.wordpress.com

    • Tim says:

      As Lance Armstrong said post-stage, everyone was expecting the small, light-weight climbers like Andy S and Contador to struggle over the cobbles – instead it was some of the big guys like himself who lost time. He was very magnanimous, though – he did mention that the combination of Frank’s crash and then his own puncture were what cut him loose, but he didn’t dwell on it, he just shrugged his shoulders and basically said, “That’s cycling.” In the past, he has often been extremely prickly, but he appears to be keen to conduct his last Tour with good grace. Good on him.

  2. lempereur says:

    I should say that Astana is calm. Everyone is 100% behind Contador. But how about Liquigas ? Kreuziger holds like 50 seconds on Basso ! And Menchov is well placed ! Meanwhile Wiggins won’t be a contender in the high mountains .. just my 2 cents.

    • Tim says:

      Contador did not look like a man who was happy with teammate Vinokourov at the finish yesterday, who dragged Wiggins to the line as his leader floundered with a puncture. Vino – the Kazakh former leader on a Kazakh-funded team, remember – would gladly take the opportunity to make life difficult for him. I doubt Astana is any more than they were last year, when they were all putting on smiles for the cameras.

      I don’t think Basso is necessarily expecting to be top 5 here, having peaked at the Giro. My guess is that Liquigas will see how his form is in the Alps, then decide whether to go for GC with Basso or Kreuziger, or switch to targeting mountain stages. Also, remember that at the Giro Nibali actually wore the maglia rosa early on, but there was never any question about challenging Basso for the leadership.

      As for Wiggins, I also think he will fall short on the big climbs, but yet yesterday he showed the heart of a champion to hang in there and regain time lost in the prologue. And I would also never underestimate the ability of a man who has won multiple Olympic golds.

  3. gareth says:

    Hi Tim – nice write up – rest assured I’ll be a regular visitor.

  4. Marc says:

    So Contador did have a puncture at the end then? I couldn’t tell from the coverage, I was still trying to make sense of everything that was happening! What would happen in that situation normally (ie. not in Astana)? Vino to give Contador his bike? I’m not completely au fait with the team radio system, but is there a chance Vino didn’t realise Contador had dropped off the back? I’m looking forward to some attacking riding by Lance now. I think he could still be a factor in this race. Can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that the previous stage was neutralised… if the group who didn’t crash had really pushed on we could have had the most exciting race in years with all sorts of favourites with big time gaps to make up in the mountains. But I guess that’s unrealistic!

    • Tim says:

      I heard a couple of reports saying he had a puncture, but the Astana website suggests it might have been a rubbing brake. Some sort of wheel problem, anyway.

      If it had been 20 km out, say, even Vino would have stopped to give Contador his bike. The problem was it happened so late. Contador says he decided it was quicker to just soldier on. As you suggest, it is entirely possible – particularly given all the confusion with riders dotted all over the road – that Vino didn’t hear his radio. I can’t believe, though, that he didn’t realise Contador wasn’t there – we saw them on the TV coverage with 300 metres or so left and Contador was already well behind, so it must have happened some time before. And you’d think Vino would have looked over his shoulder at least once,just to check his leader was still there …

      If it had been Johnny No-Name rather than Vino, I wouldn’t have expected him to stop and wait, but I would have expected him to sit on the back of the Wiggins group and offer no help at all, rather than sit on the front and drag everyone with him. I’m convinced that’s why we saw that petulant wave of the arm from Contador as he finished.

      Lance will definitely be a key player, no matter what. He will certainly stir things up on the climb to Morzine much more than if everyone had been on the same time. If he can claw back a minute on what is a relatively benign Alpine section this year, he will be right back in the mix. Sounds easy when you just say it, doesn’t it? 🙂

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