Tour 2012: Hopes Dashed On The Roads Of France

940 sagan peter 8col

Typically you don’t expect contenders for the Tour de France to lose time and fall out of contention on a flat stage designed to let the sprinters run wild. But thats exactly what happened today thanks to an untimely crash that sent three riders home and completely dashed the hopes of several men who had dreams of arriving in Paris with the Yellow Jersey on their back.

Stage 6 was a 210km (130.4 mile) ride that was expected to be the calm before the storm, as tomorrow the riders face the first big climbs of the year. For most of the day it seemed to be business as usual, but late in the race, 26km (16 miles) from the finish, a major crash took place near the front of the peloton, sending cyclists to the pavement and blocking traffic for several minutes. A number of dazed riders called for help from their team car as they sought to replace broken bikes and flat tires and the entire scene was chaos and carnage.

Several of the top riders, including Fabian Cancellara, Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins managed to avoid the crash altogether and as a result they’re still in the hunt for a Tour victory. But a number of big names were either injured or delayed by the incident and in some cases it has almost certainly taken them completely out of contention. Those riders include Frank Schleck, who now sits 2:43 off the lead, Robert Gesink who is 4:13 back and Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal who dropped 13:38 behind the Yellow Jersey.

Many of the top sprinters were caught up in the crash as well and while it had little impact on their performance, it did keep several of them out of the rush for the stage win. That included Mark Cevendish, who has had little luck so far, and Tyler Farrar who was nursing injuries from a crash yesterday. That left guys like Mathew Goss, Peter Sagan and André Greipel to battle it out at the end, and while Greipel had one the last two stages, it was Sagan who blasted by for the win – his third of the race already.

That win gave Sagan some big points in the Green Jersey competition and as a result he retains the lead heading into the mountains. Cancellara kept the Yellow Jersey, at least for one more day and Michael Morkov still wears the Polka Dots of the King of the Mountain. He’ll be tested tomorrow on two Category 3 climbs and a Category 1 as well. The White Jersey as the Tour’s best young rider stays with Tejay Van Garderen, who now has a nine second lead over Sagan, who is surging in this competition as well. Who performs best in the mountains will go a long way towards determining who will wear that jersey moving forward.

As mentioned, tomorrow’s Stage 7 brings the first real climbs of the year. It is a 199km (123.6 mile) ride from Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Files. The day will begin with a flat start but will gradually begin to go up from there. The Category 3 climbs will test a few of the riders legs and the drops on the other side will be technically challenging as well, but the big Category 1 climb that ends the day will be where the GC contenders will show their mettle and likely take the Yellow Jersey off the back of Cancellara at last.

If you haven’t been watching the Tour too much yet this year, tomorrow will probably be the first dramatic day. Sunday will be even more challenging with seven separate climbs ranging from Cat 1 to Cat 4.  The medium mountains are always fun, but it is the big mountains that come later where the real drama begins. We’re still a bit of a ways off from that however, so for now we’ll have to see who takes command of the race.

If I were to guess the outcome of the weekend, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Wiggins don the Yellow Jersey. With only a few seconds separating them, Cadel will be more than happy to let him take the lead and force Team Sky to defend the Jersey in the days ahead. But perhaps Brad isn’t ready to claim it either, which opens the door for someone else to claim Tour glory. It should be very interesting.

Kraig Becker