Critérium du Dauphiné stage 5: Can he win it? Yes he Kern!

Stage 5: Parc des Oiseaux – Villars-les-Dombes to Les Gets, 210km

On the Critérium du Dauphiné‘s first day in the Alps, Europcar‘s Christophe Kern claimed his first win as a professional – and his first victory of any kind since 2004 – at the end of a lumpy fifth stage, courtesy of a perfectly timed solo attack 3km from the finish in Les Gets. The concluding second-category climb of the day featured a spate of attacks, but Bradley Wiggins was comfortably able to maintain his overall lead ahead of tomorrow’s hors catégorie summit finish at Le Collet d’Allevard.

On an awkward, lumpy day featuring three second-category climbs and plenty of bumps in between, the peloton was unwilling to let an early break go, shutting down several early efforts as they averaged a rapid 48kph over the first two hours of racing. Finally, RadioShack‘s Jason McCartney was allowed to ride away on his own after 96km, just before the feed zone. 23 minutes down and posing no threat on the general classification, McCartney was allowed to build up a lead of 12:30 before Katusha and Wiggins’s Sky team picked up the pace in the peloton. They were later supplemented by riders from both Garmin-Cervélo and Europcar, and the deficit quickly started to tumble. Indeed, just over 10km from the base of the final 10.7km climb Europcar put five men on the front, a clear statement of intent that the French team were looking to set up national champion Thomas Voeckler.

Wiggins had no problems defending his lead today, but will face stiffer challenges over the next two days (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

With just over 20km to go, a crash took out both AG2R‘s Nicolas Roche and Quick Step’s Andy Cappelle. Roche eventually continued after several minutes with a bruised arm and thigh, finishing 25 minutes down. He was later treated for a deep wound in his elbow which required stitching. His status remains uncertain. Cappelle was taken to hospital with bruising to his skull, a fractured foot and ribs, and a suspected fractured collarbone.

By the start of the final climb, a visibly tiring McCartney’s advantage was barely a minute, and as the attacks started on the steep lower slopes it was inevitable he would soon be swallowed up. Time trial winner Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) was the first to attack with 10km to go. He was joined by Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Maciej Paterski (Liquigas-Cannondale), and the trio quickly caught and passed the long-time solo leader.

Wiggins, always at the head of the peloton, looked comfortable as he benefitted from an escort of Sky teammates, with first Geraint Thomas and then Rigoberto Urán setting a steady tempo on the front. Five more riders – none a threat to the leader – were allowed to slip off the front, bridging the gap to Martin’s trio. Almost immediately Leopard-Trek‘s Oliver Zaugg then launched himself off the front, establishing a lead of over 20 seconds and causing the rest of the lead group to fragment.

Kern claimed by far the biggest win of his career

It was not until inside the final 4km that some of the bigger names tried to make their move. A small group including Voeckler and Katusha’s Joaquim Rodríguez punched clear of the yellow jersey group, but Wiggins and the other favourites had little difficulty bringing themselves back up to their wheels.

At the front, Zaugg was caught and Kern then made his stage-winning move inside 3km on the steep upper section of the climb. Saxo Bank Sungard‘s Chris Sørensen was the only rival able to give chase and Voeckler, this time playing the dutiful support role with his teammate up the road, simply sat on his wheel and man-marked him all the way to the top. Kern’s advantage was never less than six or seven seconds, and with his tongue hanging out and his shoulders rolling from the effort, he was able to savour the biggest win of his career. The 30-year old has always been a solid all-rounder, but this was his first taste of glory since winning a stage at the Tour de l’Avenir in 2004 – and his first since he joined the professional ranks in 2005.

Behind him Wiggins, with second-placed Cadel Evans never far from his wheel, was able to counter every attack. Garmin’s Irish rider Dan Martin tried twice in quick succession, and Alexandre Vinokourov also had a dig, but just about all the big names finished together in a bunch nine seconds behind the winner. Of last night’s top ten only Thomas, who sacrificed himself pacing the yellow jersey group up the climb, and white jersey wearer Rui Costa, who was unshipped near the end and conceded ten seconds, lost any time. Leonardo Duque increased his lead in the mountains competition.

An ecstatic Kern was delighted to have finally won, having suffered a near miss earlier in the week:

I attacked with three kilometres to go, knowing that even if I was going to get caught, Thomas [Voeckler] was one of the fastest sprinters for the stage win.

It’s super to win here today because the Dauphiné is a big race and this is a mountain stage. I got close two years ago at the Tour de France in Arcalis. I tried again on stage one here on Monday but I got caught with 800 metres to go.

I had a knee injury at the beginning of the year and I came back nicely to my best level. Three weeks before the Tour de France, this is my best win ever so far.

Wiggins was delighted with both his and his team’s effort, but accepted that the moderate gradient of the final climb meant significant gaps were always unlikely:

The team worked very well. There were a lot of attacks in the final section but everyone was in a bunch on the final climb. It was not steep enough to build big gaps.

He was wary ahead of tomorrow’s two big climbs, but remained confident:

We’ve always known it would be tough this weekend. I’ve trained very well in the last couple of months. I believe in my condition, where I’m at at the moment.

The penultimate stage of the Dauphiné sees the riders tackle six categorised climbs. After four middling mountains to loosen the legs, the route culminates in the one-two punch of the first-category Col du Grand Cucheron (a gruelling 16.2km, 5% ascent) and the hors catégorie climb to the Le Collet resort in Allevard-les-Bains. The Allevard climb is relentless, averaging 8.4% over its 11.2km, with a middle 4km section which exceeds 10%. With the Col du Glandon still to come, the racing between the leaders may be somewhat cagey, possibly allowing a breakaway to succeed, but a selection of sorts is surely inevitable.

Stage 5 result:

1. Christophe Kern (Europcar) 5:05:03

2. Chris Sørensen (Saxo Bank Sungard) +0:07

3. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) +0:09

4. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) same time

5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) s/t

General classification:

1. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 18:02:30

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +1:11

3. Janez Brajkovič (RadioShack) +1:21

4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:56

5. Rui Costa (Movistar) +2:22

6. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) +2:28

7. Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) +2:45

8. Ben Hermans (RadioShack) +2:46

9. Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) +2:52

10. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Highroad) +2:52

Points classification:

1. John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) 58 pts

2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 56

3. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) 55

4. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 53

5. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 47

Mountains classification:

1. Leonardo Duque (Cofidid Le Credit En Ligne) 39 pts

2. Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD) 16

3. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) 16

4. Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis Le Credit En Ligne) 15

5. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 13

Links: Critérium du Dauphiné official

Critérium du Dauphiné recaps

Prologue: Boom blasts his way into the lead

Stage 1: Van Den Broeck underlines credentials with debut win

Stage 2: Degenkolb beats Dumoulin in little-and-large sprint

Stage 3: Blue Sky on a rainy day as Wiggins takes overall lead

Stage 4: Degenkolb’s double, HTC-Highroad’s hat-trick

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