Is there any better advert for taking away race radios than the last three stages of the 2010 Tour de France?
Flat, transitional stages are absolutely necessary – this is a ‘tour’, after all – and they’ve certainly been a welcome rest for the riders after the Low Countries fireworks of the first three days.
Unfortunately, the ‘racing’ up until the 10km-to-go banner has been entirely predictable. Today, the same old story: a three-man break built up a lead of around six minutes early on, and were left to fry in 90-degree heat on the tarmac for 200km, before being gobbled up by a pitiless peloton that had been relaxing, safe in the knowledge that the Directeurs Sportifs would monitor the gap and tell them when to work.
Did the breakÂ ever truly think that, on a flat stage with a fast run-in, the big teams (with approximately 2.6666 sprinters on form between them)Â would allow them to stay away? Only by removing race radios can the predictability of these transitional stages be thwarted and some kind of reward for individual daring and balls be restored.
This is to take nothing away from the sprinters, who have provided fantastic entertainment all week. HTC’s Mark Cavendish, in a pre-stage interview, looked like a Jack Russell that’s smelled a rat – tail up, ears pricked and straining at the leash, and it was his impeccably drilled team strung out the final 5km, as the peloton, made nervous by the hairdryer-like sidewinds, picked up speed. Garmin’s Tyler Farrar through his hat in the ring once again – a welcome sight – and finished well on a fast run in.
Unfortunately, the recuperating American was no match for Cavendish, whose lead-out man Mark Renshaw bulldozed a perfect line through to sling him forward for victory. Alessandro Petacchi (LAM) placed third.
Almost like old times in the HTC camp, then, although Eric Zabel’s admission of defeat in the race for the green jersey does not – as yet – look premature.
Tomorrow: a hilly 166.5km stage from Tournus to Station des Rousses, and the first hilltop finish. Not one to sort the men from the boys, but, to mix metaphors, possibly where the cat gets among the pigeons for the first time.
GC after six stages:
1. Fabian Cancellara (SAX)
2. Geraint Thomas (SKY) + 20″
3. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 39″
4. Ryder Hesjedal (GRM) + 46″
5. Sylvain Chavanel (QST) + 1’01”
6. Andy Schleck (SAX) +1’09”
7. Thor Hushovd (CTT) +1’16”
8. Alexandre Vinokourov (AST) +1’31”
9. Alberto Contador (AST) +1’40”
10. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (OLO) +1’42”