Lead change shrouded in controversy

The finish of stage 6 was somewhat controversial, with Gerolsteiner's Stefan Schumacher crashing...

The finish of stage 6 was somewhat controversial, with Gerolsteiner's Stefan Schumacher crashing within sight of the line and conceding the yellow jersey to closest rival Kim Kirchen (Team Columbia). Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes gets reactions to a dramatic finale at Super Besse.

With the Tour de France moving into the mountains on Thursday, it was clear that there was going to be a shakeup in the race. Gerolsteiner's Stefan Schumacher had a narrow lead over several dangerous rivals including Team Columbia's Kim Kirchen - who started the day just twelve seconds back. Several of those close to the sport tipped that the Luxembourg rider would take over at the top.

That's what ultimately happened, but the manner of his doing so was utterly unexpected. Schumacher rode superbly on the stage, remaining in the front group while other better-regarded climbers such as Damiano Cunego (Lampre) lost time. With 500 metres to go it not only looked like he would hold on, but it appeared that he would be one of those actually sprinting for the victory. But then it all went terribly wrong.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) found himself on the front after team-mate Oscar Pereiro pulled off. He moved from the left to right side of the road, presumably to try to get one of the other riders to come by, but this created a ripple effect which made Kirchen swing over and - unintentionally - clip Schumacher's front wheel. The German went straight down, hitting the road hard. While he remounted immediately and set off in pursuit, he crossed the line 32 seconds behind stage winner Riccardo Riccò (Saunier Duval-Scott) and 31 adrift of Valverde, Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Frank Schleck (Team CSC) and Kirchen.

Confusion then reigned. On normal stages, any mishaps inside the final three kilometres have no effect on the rider's time, unless the group splits. However on mountain stages this doesn't normally apply, due presumably to the possibility of riders faking problems. There was nevertheless a lot of uncertainly; Schumacher initially declined to speak to the media circled around the team bus, being clearly gutted about losing yellow. A team worker told those gathered there that he wouldn't talk due to the disappointment of this loss happening due to a crash.

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