Tour de France stage 6: Boasson Hagen wins battle of the strong men

Stage 6: Dinan to Lisieux, 226.5km

Unlike yesterday, today’s stage saw just one significant crash, but this was nevertheless another day of misery for the peloton. The longest stage of the entire race was also the wettest to date, culminating in a nasty uncategorised climb leading into the finish in Lisieux. The stage was set for the strong men to dominate, and Edvald Boasson Hagen got the jump on his rivals in the final 200 metres to secure both his and Sky’s first Tour stage win.

Boasson Hagen celebrates both his and his Sky's first Tour stage win (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

Malori goes from worst to first, while Hoogerland leads the KoM competition

After yesterday’s carnage had claimed RadioShack’s Janez Brajkovič (who suffered concussion and a broken collarbone in a crash) and Europcar’s Christophe Kern (withdrew with tendinitis in his knee), overnight Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Iván Velasco became the fourth withdrawal from the race after breaking his collarbone.

On a day where the riders had to contend with a tailwind, rain which was at times torrential and three climbs (two thirds and a fourth category), a five-man break was allowed to build by far the biggest lead of the race so far, touching a maximum of 11:35 over the first climb of the day, the third-category Côte de Saint-Michel-de-Monjoie. Vacansoleil’s Johnny Hoogerland was first over the top, gaining two points in the mountains competition ahead of his breakaway companions, teammate Lieuwe WestraAnthony Roux (FDJ), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) and Adriano Malori (Lampre-ISD) – the last-named familiar to fans as last year’s lanterne rouge, the final finisher in Paris.

Malori, the 2010 lanterne rouge, was the last survivor of the break

At the intermediate sprint at Vassy, 95.5km from the finish, Duque – the sole recognised sprinter in the group – was surprisingly beaten by Roux. Six minutes later, Movistar provided the lead-out for José Joaquín Rojas, but Mark Cavendish easily bested him to take the ten points available for sixth place. After the controversies of recent days, it was something of a relief to see a clean sprint.

Roux led Hoogerland over the third-category Côte du Bourg d’Ouilly with 70km to go, but the point gained by the Vacansoleil rider was enough for him to take over the polka dot jersey from Cadel Evans. 10km later, with their lead over the peloton reduced to 1:30, Westra and Malori attacked their breakaway companions and went clear. But it was not long before the pack had them in their sights on the long, straight roads, and as they closed in for the kill Malori made one final bid for victory with 19km remaining, leaving Westra to sit up and wait for the bunch.

Another ‘flat’ stage ends with a hill

However, with BMC, Liquigas and Omega Pharma-Lotto all pulling hard on the front it was only a matter of time, and the peloton completed the catch just inside 3km as they hit the slopes of the last, uncategorised climb of the day, whose gradient exceeded 6%. HTC-Highroad hit the front, looking to control the finish for Milan-San Remo winner Matt Goss, but Omega Pharma’s Jelle Vanendert launched a solo attack and was quickly joined by – who else? – Thomas Voeckler. The pair pulled out a lead of 15-20 metres, but David Millar shut down the attack before the pack reached the top of the hill and the 1km flag.

Thomas continues to excel as a lead-out man

The final kilometre saw attacks by Alexandre Vinokourov and Bauke Mollema quickly swamped to leave a select group of strong men to contest a slightly uphill finish. With the white jersey of Geraint Thomas – who is having a terrific race so far – to lead him out, Boasson Hagen jumped at 200m and he had sufficient strength to hold off Goss and Thor Hushovd to take a comfortable one-length victory. The Australian just edged out the yellow jersey on the line to prevent a Norwegian one-two.

Most riders, however, will have been happy just to have reached the finish unscathed after a draining day in the saddle in miserable conditions on slick roads which turned every corner into a potential disaster zone as the peloton tiptoed into Lisieux. The treacherous nature of the slippery roads was underlined with 5km to go when Levi Leipheimer lost his bike on a painted white line and slid for several metres along the wet tarmac. He was quickly back up and collected by a couple of teammates, but the peloton had long since gone as it accelerated towards the finish and he would eventually finish 1:05 down. Even though the team has both Chris Horner and Andreas Klöden within 18 seconds of the overall lead, it has been a bad couple of days for RadioShack after Brajkovič’s abandonment yesterday.

Boasson Hagen was pleased to get his timing right after yesterday’s finish, in which he had struck out for home far too early:

I got it wrong in the last metres yesterday so I was more calm today. I rode on instinct but I also had a small plan that I had to wait a bit longer than yesterday. I had good feelings on the climb, the legs were good. When we got up the climb and were on the flat, Geraint [Thomas] gave valuable support. I knew from yesterday that I had good speed for the sprint and that I had a chance today. It’s a pleasure to get the win.

There are two guys from Norway in the race and we’re both on the podium. Yeah, it’s really nice.

Hushovd didn’t quite have the finish on a stage which he had targeted as one of his best chances for a win, but was full of praise for his young compatriot:

I didn’t have the legs so I’m really pleased Edvald won. It was really close today but I missed the little bit that I needed to win it.

It’s incredible what Edvald did today. He’s such a young rider and he’s so strong at the finish of a stage like this so of course I’m really happy for him. I’d prefer to beat him but when somebody else wins, I’m glad it’s him. It’s hard to say what he’s capable of. It depends on where he wants to go: he can be like a Gilbert rider or like me when it’s a finish like this.

Thomas said he had enjoyed the stage despite the adverse weather:

I love conditions like that. A lot of the guys complain. When it’s raining half of the peloton doesn’t want to race so that’s the advantage that we have. Obviously myself and Edvald were really up for today, we knew we could get up there because we’ve been feeling good and it’s a perfect finish for us.

The whole team was great today, we all worked well together. It’s a perfect day for the team. There’s a great morale in the team at the moment: from Bayern where I won, and the Dauphiné where Brad won, it’s been a nice roll-on effect and hopefully we can keep that going with Brad now.

Other than Hoogerland taking the polka dot jersey, there was no change in any of the other competitions. Hushovd still leads Evans by one second, Philippe Gilbert retained the green jersey and Thomas remains in white. The top ten remains unaffected, with the only significant mover being Leipheimer, who slipped from 18 seconds to 1:23 behind.

Stage 7 preview

This is a traditional transition stage, the flattest of this year’s race, as the peloton heads into the very heart of the country towards the Massif Central. The intermediate sprint point comes less than 26km from the finish and is slightly uphill, meaning those riders who are serious about contesting the stage win might opt out to save their legs. The finish in Châteauroux is as flat a finish as you will ever see, and was the site of Mark Cavendish’s maiden Tour stage win in 2008. What odds he registers number 17 this time around?

Stage 6 result:

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 5:13:37

2. Matt Goss (HTC-Highroad) same time

3. Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) s/t

4. Romain Feillu (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

5. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) s/t

General classification:

1. Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) 22:50:34

2. Cadel Evans (BMC) +0:01

3. Fränk Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +0:04

4. David Millar (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:08

5. Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) +0:10

6. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +0:10

7. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +0:12

8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +0:12

9. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:12

10. Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek) +0:12

Points classification:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 144 pts

2. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) 143

3. Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) 112

4. Cadel Evans (BMC) 98

5. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) 94

Mountains classification:

1. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) 4 pts

2. Anthony Roux (FDJ) 3

3. Cadel Evans (BMC) 2

4. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 1

5. Mickaël Delage (FDJ) 1

Links: Tour de France official

Tour de France recaps

Stage 1: Gilbert climbs to victory as Contador faces uphill battle

Stage 2: Hushovd takes yellow as Evans misses out by one second

Stage 3: Farrar’s green jersey challenge is born on the 4th of July

Stage 4: Evans wins slug-fest but Hushovd clings on to yellow

Stage 5: Cannonball Cav conquers crash carnage

Tour de France preview

The Tour in numbers

Teams and sponsors (part 1)

Teams and sponsors (part 2)

Official Tour teaser video

Ten riders to watch

Six key stages

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