Tour 2010: Sprinters Take Center Stage, But Mountains Loom

mark cavendish

The sixth stage of the 2010 Tour de France was another chance for the sprinters to shine before the race moves into the mountains for the first time, and the climbers move to the forefront. Today’s ride was another fast and furious one, especially at the end, as the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, proved that rumors of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

The 227.5 km (141.3 miles) stage was the longest of this year’s Tour, and while it featured several Category 4 climbs, it was mostly a flat route giving the sprinters a chance to earn more Green Jersey points. The stage was so flat in fact that it gave all the teams an opportunity to jockey for a win, and as the peloton screamed down the road toward the finish line, a number of teams were taking their turn up front, doing the work, and hoping to put their man out in front.

In the end, it was Cavendish, of Team HTC, that earned the stage win, his second in a row and the 12th of his young career, silencing the whispers about any problems he seemed to be experiencing early on in the Tour. He is one of the best sprinters in the world, and last year he looked unbeatable in a one-on-one situation over a short distance, but when he wasn’t winning stages immediately in this year’s Tour, people began to wonder what was wrong with the outspoken but talented rider. Today he showed the crowd that there was nothing wrong, and he still can’t be beat in an open sprint.

Second to Cavendish was American Tyler Farrar of Team Garmin, who is a very promising young sprinter as well. Farrar has been hampered with a wrist injury suffered on Stage 1, but he seems to slowly be getting healthy, and could be in a position to claim a stage win himself sometime in the next couple of weeks. It’ll be interesting to see he and Cavendish go head to head when both are healthy.

The standings remain mostly the same once again today. Fabian Cancellara holds on to the Yellow Jersey, at least for one more day, and Thor Hushovd keeps the Green, although with his back-to-back wins, Cavendish is moving up that category very quickly now. Jérôme Pineau leads in the King of the Mountain category, and Geraint Thomas, a brilliant young rider from the U.K., on Team Sky, is in the White Jersey, which is annually awarded to the best young rider. 

Tomorrow, things start to get really interesting. The Tour  moves into the first mountain stage, and while it isn’t exactly the biggest of the peaks they’ll face, we’ll start to separate the wheat from the chaff. The riders will pedal 165.5 km (102.8 miles) from Tournus to Station des Rousses, while dealing with a number of Cat 2 and 3 climbs. That will serve as a nice warm-up for Sunday, which is a 189 km (117.4 mile) ride from Station des Rousses from Morzine-Avoriaz which features two Category 1 climbs, including one that leads to the stage finish. 

The Alps are almost here, and Cancellara’s days in Yellow are numbered. The question is, who will take it off his back? Contador is an amazing climber, but he may wait for an opportunity in the Pyrenees rather than trying to defend the Jersey every day. It’s doubtful that Lance Armstrong will make a move for the Yellow Jersey at this point either, although he may try to take back some time. Andy Schleck is a great climber as well, but how will he fare without brother Frank to help pull him along? Perhaps it is time for Cadel Evans to make a statement, and do the Yellow Jersey at last.

The weekend is going to be an interesting one!

Kraig Becker