Tour 2009: Wind Sprints!

Despite the fact that today was another mostly flat stage that favored the sprinters at the Tour de France, it was still exciting none the less. Usually these stages consist of the main contenders sticking close to one another to make sure no one gets any advantages, while the sprinters jockey for position then blast for the finish line at the end. But the unusually high winds have played havoc with the Peloton this week, creating strange breaks and, as we saw on Monday, unique opportunities.

The winds were crazy once again in today’s 196.5km (122 mile) stage that ran from Le Cap d’Agde to Perpignan. When the winds were at their backs, the riders were flying along at more than 60km/hr (37 mph), and when they were hit by crosswinds, it pulled the Peloton apart. But none of the top riders were going to get caught out of place today, and the pack that included Fabian Canellara, Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, and the rest of the Astana team, stuck close to one another, and the end result was no change in the General Classification and Cancellara keeping the Yellow Jersey for another day.

At the end of today’s stage, at about the 180km mark, six riders made a break away in an attempt to gain the stage win and sprint points. With about 5km to go, Frenchman Thomas Voeckler attacked the other five riders, and left them behind, holding on for the solo stage win, as the main group surged back to over take the others. For Voeckler, despite having worn the Yellow Jersey for 10 days in 2004, it was his first ever stage win in the Tour and it came in front of thousands of his countrymen who were cheering him on to victory.

So the GC remains the same for now, and is unlikely to change tomorrow either, when the riders will face a 181.5km (113 mile) ride from Girona to Barcelona. The stage has five categorized climbs, but nothing more daunting than a Cat 4, and it will likely finish with the sprinters once again dashing for the line. Friday will be the day that it gets very interesting, when the riders face their first real test in the mountains, when they ride out of Spain and into the Pyrenees.

Kraig Becker

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