Predictor Lotto racer Robbie McEwen's sprint win in the second stage of the Tour de Romandie was overshadowed by a mass crash shortly before the finish line. Overall leader Paolo Savoldelli (Astana) was caught up behind the crash, but managed to stay upright and finished with the same time as McEwen, thus protecting his lead.
Only 10 or so riders were able to ride out the sprint. The crash blocked the road as riders piled on to each other on the narrow street. Borut Bozic of LPR finished second and Enrico Gasparatto (Liquigas) was third on the stage. There was no change in the top three of the GC.
"The team let the escape go and let the sprinters's teams do the work, since it was their stage," Savoldelli said. "When we saw they couldn't organize the chase, we took over again. It was a beautiful day, the more so as I avoided the fall, even if I had to put a foot to the ground. "
McEwen confirmed the chaotic ending, saying "guys were going left and right, and it took a bit of luck to pick the right line." This was his only chance for a stage win in the otherwise mountainous race, he noted. He had cramps the day before and hadn't want to take any risks in the prologue.
How it unfolded
Three riders weren't at the start in Le Chaux de Fonds: Sylvain Calzati (AG2R), Michael Rogers (T-Mobile) and Tadej Valjavec (Lampre) . The early part of the stage was dominated by a long solo ride by Nicolas Crosbie of Bouyges Telecom, who broke away on the descent from the col des Etroits, at km 68. He built up a lead of up to nine and a half minutes, earning the virtual yellow jersey for much of that time. The peloton let him go and kept on at a moderate pace.
With about 50 km left to go, the peloton finally decided to react and picked up the speed. Crosbie's lead started steadily dropping. Milram and Euskatel shared the lead work with Astana.
As the following peloton started in on the round course which finished off the race, FDJ's Timothy Gudsell banged into the barriers and hit the ground, but was able to get back up and continue the race.
Euskatel took over at the head of the peloton as they started up the next climb, and Crosbie's lead had fallen to 2.12 at the mountain ranking atop the Cote de Surpierre. The peloton flew down the mountain in a long line, and it was clear that Crosbie's time in the lead was not going to last.
Jussi Veikkanen of FDJ shot out of the peloton and looked to have good chances to get away, but he was eventually overtaken, as was Crosbie. The group was uncontrolled and unorganized at this point, with repeated break out attempts, none of which succeeded. The whole group was strung out along the road because of the high speed, but still seemed to be together.
Unibet's Rigoberto Uran made a momentarily successful break, and was eventually joined by Bobby Julich (CSC) and Martin Elmiger (AG2R), but the three were re-absorbed back into the flying peloton.
With 10 km to go, the peloton still held together, but as it started on the round course again, Astana and Savoldelli were clearly leading the group. They set such a high pace that the first riders were dropped and the peloton started breaking apart.
Astana finally lost control of the group, and the unorganized group flew chaotically under the red triangle signalling the last kilometer. No sprinter trains were organized, and it was every man for himself.
McEwen was already powering toward the finish line as behind him, Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) of Cofidis hit the ground in the middle of the road. Those behind and around him had no chance to avoid the chaos, and riders and bikes flew around. Those lucky enough to stop without going down were literally stopped, as the street was blocked by the mass crash.
Finally things cleared up enough to let them trickle through, riding past a disgusted-looking David Millar of Saunier Duval sitting on the curb, leaning against the barrier. Miraculously, no injuries were reported.
Friday's third stage runs 163 km from Moudon to Gruyere. It features 1,690 m worth of climbing over one Cat. 2 mountain and two Cat. 3 mountains.