After some internal tension within Omega Pharma-Lotto, Friday's stage seven from Le Mans to Chateauroux will be raced in support of the squad's pure sprinter André Greipel. The perfectly flat parcours provides the last opportunity for the fast men to show themselves in this first week of the race, and team management has apparently decided to focus on the tall German for the victory.
"The sprint is for Greipel," Philippe Gilbert told HLN prior to the stage. The Belgian, already victorious on stage one and leader of the green jersey competition, revealed that he will not be allowed to mingle in the finale if it comes down to a likely bunch sprint.
Friction with Greipel had been reported this week as the German had expected Gilbert's support in the sprint to Cap Frehel on Wednesday. But the Belgian played his own card, finishing second and Greipel sixth. The reason for this was the leadership over the points classification, where Gilbert faces constant competition with Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil of the Movistar Team.
On Friday afternoon in Chateauroux, however, "Rojas will take the jersey back, because my team doesn't allow me to sprint," Gilbert regretted. "I may lose many points and the green jersey may be lost entirely."
At the same time, the dominant Belgian showed understanding for Greipel, who races his first Tour de France after having scored a total of six stages in the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana and winning the 2009 Vuelta points classification. "The choice is logical because in this stage Greipel has more chances of winning than I do. And I already have a beautiful season behind me, I don't know if the green jersey would change anything to that," Gilbert said.
However, it may not have been the Belgian's last word for the points competition. Former Belgian rider Freddy Maertens suggested in Het Nieuwsblad that "Philippe Gilbert should also do the sprint today, too. Even if the team management says that this stage is entirely for his teammate André Greipel - if you're going for green then every point counts."
Maertens also had an idea how to resolve Omega Pharma's luxury problem and a possible row between the two leaders.
"If I was Phil, I would play my card first on the intermediate sprint 25.5km before Chateauroux. Some of the top sprinters may skip this sprint to concentrate fully on the finish. There are 20 points at stake here.
"Then, he just has to take some wheels. It would be a shame if he sacrificed himself for Greipel. The German can be lead out by his countrymen. Gilbert has to suck the wheel of one of Cavendish's rivals, that of Petacchi for instance. He always starts the sprint first and from afar. If Greipel wins, then it will be a great reconciliation. Still, nobody is really up against Cavndish's train."
At the finish of this flat stage, 45 points are up for grabs, but all of the Top 25 riders of the stage will receive points. So all may not be lost for Gilbert.