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Today's finish in Caen has thrown a dark horse into the list of favourites for the maillot vert :...
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) balances his trophies
Today's finish in Caen has thrown a dark horse into the list of favourites for the maillot vert: Oscar Freire.
Once again, a late regrouping created chaos with crashes before and after Samuel Dumoulin and Björn Schröder's capture, the two riders that tried to defy the inevitable today. Somewhat miraculously, all the best sprinters managed to stay upright, as Tom Boonen's two-best lead-out men, Matteo Tosatto and Steven De Jongh, led the peloton under the flamme rouge.
It was a wild and whacky last thousand metres with order nonexistent. Although Davitamon-Lotto's Gert Steegmans was there for Robbie McEwen, both Freire and Boonen gave their final acceleration 200 metres from the line, the former down the right and the latter up the middle...
... but it was Oscarito's power-punch that proved superior, winning the drag race on the boulevard Guillou - just as he predicted. Iñaki Isasi from Euskaltel-Euskadi, a newcomer to the big boys' sprint game, found himself third, while David Kopp and maillot vert McEwen were fourth and fifth respectively.
"My wife also predicted that I would win, so maybe I really have such powers," smiled Freire about his Nostradamus-like powers, forecasting his second Tour de France stage win before it even happened. "But seriously, we all know it doesn't work like that!"
"Every day, I tried to win but didn't succeed, so I needed to change tactics. Normally, I'm sitting on wheels and I wait until an opportunity arises; I lacked the initiative to grab the win.
"Today, I planned to take some more risks and take the initiative, something I usually wouldn't do - it delivered immediately. I started the sprint too early, but in the end it didn't matter," said the 30 year-old from Torrelavega, Cantabria.
"Today I made a mistake at 200 metres of the finish; I think I'm a little bit too nervous," Boonen said.
Given he was winning stages back in March at Paris-Nice, he was asked if his lack of a stage win may be due to an already long season so far.
"First of all, this is not Paris-Nice; over there, I could stay in the wheel of Steven De Jongh until 200 metres till the finish. I just needed to overtake him, and that resulted in a win.
"In the Tour de France, it's not like that. The riders are the same but they are all very nervous and they do dangerous things in an effort to win the race, also today. But for me, I'm also more stressed and nervous and that doesn't work. We all know that if you're relaxed, you can win; on the other hand, if you are nervous you can't win. But... ça c'est le Tour!," laughed Boonen.
The battle for green was already fierce. Now, with the addition of Freire to the sprint equation, this competition is tipped to become one of the closest in years. At present, just 41 points separate the first five riders.
Said Freire: "I'll try to continue like I'm doing right now, as it delivered straight away. On the other hand, taking the [yellow] jersey isn't really an objective, because there are many riders close together on general classification. So it's not an objective; I mainly want to win stages."
With the top ten GC riders bar Daniele Bennati all finishing on equal time, the leaderboard stays largely unchanged, apart from Freire shooting himself upwards from 20th to 3rd. As a consequence, the current world champion will spend another day in yellow, although one can't help feel a growing sense of frustration at his lack of a stage win so far, even though he might not say it.
"All is going well, as I have the yellow jersey for three days now, so I'm happy for myself and for the team," said Boonen. "We're still not that far into this Tour de France, so there will be more chances for me to win a stage."
On a temperate midsummer's Thursday in Beauvais, the Tour peloton of 172 riders started Stage 5 at 11:40 with sunny skies and temps in the low 20s. However, the real start was at 11:54 after a roll through a 5.6 km neutral zone.
Agritubel opened the hostilities as the day's first GPM approached on the Cat 4 Mont des Fourches after 10.5 km and Bouygues Telecom was in control, with maillot á pois Jerome Pineau and his team-mates Fedrigo and Geslin first over the top.
Geslin tried to get away but sat up after 18 km as he realized the peloton wasn't letting him go. Another attack quickly went after 20 km near Jamericourt. Eight riders were on the move, Ag2r's mini-me Sammy Dumoulin, German TT champ Seppel Lang (GST), Bram De Groot (RAB), Danny Righi (LAM), Bram Tankink (QSI), Auge (COF), Quinziato (LIQ) and Schröder (MRM). But the chase was on behind as Davitamon-Lotto, Bouygues Telecom and Credit Agricole were all in front.
After 20 km of chasing, the break was about to be caught near Vesly when Dumoulin and Schröder attacked off the front of the break, and once the chasers realized what happened, they let the duo go.
After one hour of racing, 45.5 km were covered and the break suddenly had a 3'00 lead. At the day's first intermediate sprint after 66.5 km in Les Andelys, (66.5 km), Dumoulin took the points ahead of his break-mate Schröder, while over 8 minutes later, it was long, tall Johan Vansummeren (Davitamon-Lotto) who jumped ahead of the peloton across the sprint line to take the 2" bonus and points. 39.9 km were covered in hour two of racing, with the average speed for the first two hours is 42.9 km/h and the peloton had very little interest in chasing the front duo.
After 86 km of racing in Louviers, the gap was had skyrocketed to 12'50, which finally got the attention of the peloton and was their maximum lead. The pace behind increased, and on the day's second GPM, the Cat 4 Cote du Buquet after 109.0 km, the gap had dropped to 10'50 and Schröder took the points ahead of his break-mate, while Wegmann took the last points.
Suddenly, the skies opened up as the break approached the feed zone in Bourgetheroulde after 117 km. Hour three was raced at 38.7 km/h average speed, while the overall average was 41.5 km/h. The break and the peloton got soaked as a thunderstorm had come up the Seine River from the English Channel, while Quick.Step was riding the tempo on the front about 8'00 behind.
As the break and peloton moved west into the heart of Normandy and the storm east towards Paris, the sun came out dried the riders off quickly. Atop Stage 5's third categorized climb, the Cat 4 Cote de Saint-Gregoire-du-Vievre after 134.5 km, Dumoulin took the GPM, with Pineau taking the third place points 7'30 behind the break.
As the next intermediate sprint approached in Saint-Gregoire-du-Vievre 6 km later, Dumoulin was first, while once again the lanky figure of Vansummeren emerged from the peloton 7'00 behind and got out front to deny anyone else the points toward the maillot vert. Quick.Step was now joined by Davitamon-Lotto on the front to help in the chase of the two fugitives.
19 km later on the final GPM of Stage 5, the Cat 4 Cote du Boulay after 159.0 km, Schröder and Dumoulin were first and second, while maillot á pois leader Pineau was third, 6'00 behind. Freckle-face Christophe Brandt of Davitamon-Lotto was riding hard tempo on the front, trying to bring the leaders' gap down with 66 km still left to race. Next up was the Pont-L'Eveque sprint with 50 km to go, where Dumoulin won and once again Vansummeren jumped the gun in the peloton 4'40 behind.
After the sprint, a crash delayed maillot jaune Boonen, but his team including a rejuvenated Pippo Pozzato quickly brought him back. The parcours headed due west towards the English Channel on the D118 road, then swung left and headed close to water on the D27 road into Caen with 37 km to go.
It was now or never for the chasers as they couldn't afford to dawdle and Credit Agricole and Lampre had now joined the chase. The break began to lose time more quickly now and with 10 km to go on the outskirts of Caen, they still had 1'20, but it wouldn't be enough. After 202 km of liberty, the break was finally reeled in Caen.
In the last 5 km, Liquigas-Bianchi was in charge until Milram's Sacchi wound it up, but Quick.Step covered the move and as the peloton entered the last kilometre, Quick.Step's mini-train with Pozzato and DeJongh were pulling hard for Boonen. Velo then wound it up for Zabel at 600m, and next up was big Geert Steegmans (Davitamon-Lotto) went all out on the front for Robbie McEwen until 250m, then peeled off and suddenly there was a general hesitation. Boonen didn't want to go too early again and came off DeJongh's wheel on the left side, with 200m to go. then moved towards the middle as McEwen was swarmed by the maillot jaune's charge.
But as Boonen was preparing to make his move and Steegmans peeled off right, three-time world champion Oscar Freire made a brilliant catlike move from 10th position, jumping right past Steegmans and accelerating all the way to the line. Freire easily held off Boonen's charge to earn his second career Tour de France stage win, while third place went to Euskaltel-Euskadi's Isasi. Boonen kept the maillot jaune, with T-Mobile's world TT champ Mick Rogers 17 behind. Rogers is poised to possibly take over the maillot jaune Saturday at Stage 7 ITT.
On the day before a big time trial, the GC contenders often want to downshift and chill before the big time test, so look for a wide open stage through the bocage (backwoods) of western France on the road to Vitré, where a break of non-contenders just might succeed on this shortish stage.