Well, I did technically predict that today’s stage would be won from a break, but the way things unfolded on Stage 5 was definitely not what I had in mind.
I was thinking something along the lines of break gets clear, gets 10 minutes, pack calls it a day and rests the legs, and one lucky soul tastes victory while 3-6 others battle all day for nothing. After Monday’s tumultuous split in the crosswinds and Tuesday’s TTT, I figured that Columbia, Garmin ,and Astana would all be willing to pack it in for a few kilometers.
Instead, we saw another epic split (mitigated, this time, after a few k) and sprinters’ teams winding it up hard into the finale. But a very cleverly paced breakaway dangled masterfully at around a minute for nearly 50 kilometers, until Thomas Voeckler got sick of the ticket-takers and leapt away on his own.
In 2004, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the heroic Voeckler defense. After all, he didn’t do much to get in yellow—just followed an attack on rainy day. Didn’t even win the stage, for crying out loud. I just wanted his 15 minutes to be over so we could get to the real racing.
But in the 5 years since, he’s accumulated a decent little collection of second-tier wins, and has definitely made himself into a legitimate rouleur in the Jacky Durand mould—today’s dangling break is right out of Dudu’s playbook—though Voeckler, I think, is a bit more savvy. Certainly, he’s a notch or two above your average TFB, and Bbox is lucky to have him.
Returning to the overall, today was something of a wash for the pack. Yes, Gesink was eliminated, but his was the longest of shots—certainly his departure wasn’t worth the calories Columbia, SaxoBank, Garmin, and Astana put into their efforts today. Those squads might do well to note that Liquigas has done an excellent job keeping one Roman Krueziger a mere 90 seconds down without breaking the bank in terms of effort.
Tomorrow is the first hilltop-ish finish of this year’s tour, and Cancellara is confident going in. Teammate Jens Voigt says, as I did after the prologue, that he shouldn’t be discounted for the Tour’s first real mountains on Friday as well.