Pozzato wins stage, Vinokourov loses time
Three years after he won stage 8 of the 2004 Tour de France, sixteen months after he scooped Milan-San Remo, and one day after he vowed to go for stage five of the Tour de France, Filippo Pozzato delivered on that promise and took top honours into Autun.
The talented 25 year-old Italian came out best in a frenzied 74 man sprint to the line, hitting the jets from quite far back in the group and overhauling those in front of him before the flag. He edged out triple world champ Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital), with Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile) and new points leader Erik Zabel (Team Milram) next home. Fabian Cancellara (CSC) finished twelfth and thus takes his sixth yellow jersey of the race.
"The finale was very difficult," Pozzato said at the post-race press conference. "I was ready to make a go and I felt good on the last climb. I tried to stay up front on the hill. I saw Valverde there and he was worrying me.
"In the sprint, the other two were really closing on my side in the sprint and it was close. I had heard that the sprint was slightly uphill. In the last 200 metres it was tough because [Alessandro] Ballan swung off really soon and I was on the front. I could either put on the brakes or keep going. I saw [Oscar] Freire and I know he his good in explosive sprints. I was able to hold him; to take on Oscar in the sprint it is a great feeling.
"There was a lot of grinta today. Thanks to the team. This is a special group and we have a great union between us."
Stage win aside, the day's biggest news was the serious blow Alexander Vinokourov suffered to his general classification ambitions. He hit the deck with 25 kilometres to go. Team-mate Serguei Ivanov also fell and he, Antonio Colom, Maxim Iglinsky, Daniel Navarro, Gregory Rast and Paolo Savoldelli joined forces with Vino to drive a seven man team time trial and try to get their leader back to the bunch.
However, up front, the other teams continued to push hard. Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) and Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) were clear and were both a threat to CSC's grip on the yellow jersey plus the stage-win aspirations of the fast finishers left in the bunch. This all meant that there was to be no mercy for Vinokourov; he dropped the rest of his team and chased hard on the final climb of the day, but nevertheless trailed in a full 1'20 back. He consequently dropped to 81st overall, 2'10 back.
"I had a problem with my chain," the unhappy rider told Jean François Quenet after the finish. "I fell on top of my bike and I ended up in the gutter. The race was going very fast at the time. My [right] knee is very painful. I asked for the support of the whole team. We were all exhausted because of the chase, and on the [final] climb I had to ride by myself. It is a very bad day for me."
The Tour is not lost for Vinokourov, but he now has a lot of work to do when the race hits the mountains. Other GC contenders spoke to Cyclingnews after the stage and gave their reactions. Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) felt that the Astana rider limited his losses well.
"It surprises me that Vino only lost that little time. When he crashed there was long way to go and we were really going full gas. I don't know how he lost only 1'16. His team went back for him but it is still very impressive. I would have expected him to lose a couple of minutes at least."
Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) felt it was an impossible task to rejoin. "It would have been hard to get back there - it was really fast at that point. If you lose position there, then you are out of it.
"I don't think the peloton was trying to stop him getting back on. The guys at the front were trying to bring back the break. For guys like Zabel and Petacchi, it is good for them if they can make it to the finish without Hushovd or McEwen and guys like that. It is obviously to their advantage if they can make it a sprint finish."
To back that up, Liquigas and Rabobank were the most prominent in the chase, and ended up getting first and second on the stage.
CSC leader Carlos Sastre seemed to echo the general feeling that it was a bad way for Vinokourov to lose time. "He is a strong rider and the important thing is that he is okay after the crash and he feels okay. He is important rider for the Tour de France."
He himself fell a few kilometres before the Astana rider but was able to rejoin. "I am completely okay after the crash. Today my goal was to survive, not to lose time, to stay in the first group and nothing more. It was a hard day for everybody, it was not easy, it was windy, it was up and down and using roads with rough asphalt. It was not easy. But I feel okay so far."
How it unfolded
With eight categorised climbs and 182.5 kilometres to ride on the stage, the 185 riders left in the race headed out of Chablis under sunny skies with somewhat cool temperatures that were expected to rise to almost summer like weather during the stage. The peloton was missing Rémy Di Grégorio (Française des Jeux) who finished stage four but then found out his elbow was fractured.
Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) was the first to attack at the 8km mark, but was quickly reeled in. With a day tailor-made for a breakaway, Sylvain Chavanel attacked 13.5 kilometres into the stage and was marked by Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto) and Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel-Euskadi), but the peloton still wasn't satisfied with the break's composition.
The peloton reeled the two chasers in William Bonnet (Crédit Agricole) and Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) bridged up to the Cofidis rider, and the elastic finally snapped. Barloworld's Giampaolo Cheula was a little slow to decide to bridge, and spent a long, difficult chase lasting more than 45 kilometres before joining the trio at the top of the second climb of the day.
While Cheula was practicing his time trialling, Gilbert took the first intermediate sprint in Avallon ahead of Bonnet and the now maillot jaune virtuel Chavanel as their lead blossomed. The sprint was quickly followed by the first climb, the Côte des Grandes-Châtelaines, and it was Chavanel who took over the polka dot jersey competition from his team-mate Augé by winning the category 4 hill ahead of Gilbert and Bonnet.
This would be the order of procession over all of the climbs, and with Cheula still chasing, the three extended their advantage to the field to 13'25 at the Côte de Domecy-sur-Cure. The trio enjoyed their maximum advantage of the day at 14'45 while Cheula dug deep and got within seconds of the trio by the top of the category three Côte de Champignolles-le-Bas just at the 58.5km mark.
With the four men out front now together, the peloton woke up and began their pursuit of the escapees, quickly bringing the gap down to a more manageable 7'28 at the Côte de Coulon, the fourth climb of the day. It was around this point that Milram's Brett Lancaster, who had been suffering stomach problems and saddle sores became the first abandon of the day.
Up in the break, Bonnet picked up some points by taking first at the second intermediate sprint ahead of Gilbert and Chavanel while some GC favourites suffered a bit of drama in the chasing peloton. Saunier Duval's Iban Mayo crashed on a sharp turn in the road, forcing his entire team to come back to help him chase back on, then Christophe Moreau (Ag2r) had a mechanical and was forced to chase back on.
At the Côte de Saint-Maurice, Chavanel continued to gobble the mountain points ahead of Gilbert and Bonnet, and while Mayo and Moreau were able to join the next GC contender to experience the Tour the hard way was Astana's Andreas Klöden. The German crashed into a ditch, but was relatively unharmed. The CSC and Liquigas powered peloton continued in full flight as it brought the leaders well down to 3'44 at the feed zone.
As the peloton picked up their lunches in the feed zone in Saint Gy, there was yet another crash, and this time it was bloody. Geoffroy Lequatre (Cofidis) had a run-in with a wayward musette bag and crashed hard, ripping his skin to shreds. He would later finish 44 minutes behind the main field.
Chavanel continued his mountain sweep atop the Côte de Château-Chinon, with Gilbert and Bonnet taking their pre-determined positions, all four men working steadily to hold their 3'40 advantage. But as the long, gradual drag up to the category two Haut Folin slowed the progression of the lead quartet, their advantage fell sharply down to two minutes before Chavanel and Gilbert dropped Bonnet and Cheula. Gilbert allowed Chavanel to take the maximum points, while Bonnet and Cheula came over just ahead of the peloton and then surrendered on the descent.
In the field, the 12.9 kilometre climb proved too much for the sprinters, and Thor Hushovd, second on GC at the start of the day, was suffering from back pain and was among the first to lose the pace. When the peloton reached the top, Last year's polka dot jersey Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) mopped up the rest of the points along with Discovery's Portugese rider Sergio Paulinho.
With just under 40km to go, CSC's chase was interrupted when their overall leader Carlos Sastre suffered a minor crash, allowing the break to hold their two minute advantage. When Erik Zabel had a flat, the Milram and CSC trains were able to work together to rejoin the field quickly.
At the final intermediate sprint, Gilbert took the maximum bonus ahead of Chavanel while Barloworld's Robert Hunter took the last bonus spot before heading to the gruppetto on the final obstacle of the day, the third category Côte de la Croix de la Libération. "We attacked and build up a big lead but behind us the speed was just too high," a worn out Gilbert said to Cyclingnews
With 25km to go, the two men up front still held a 1'47 lead which was rapidly dwindling when more drama struck the GC hopefuls. Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) tumbled on bend, tearing his bib-shorts to shreds and exposing a red, raw right hip. With Liquigas up front, determined to nab a stage win, the pace was scorching. Vinokourov's desperate chase was aided by six of his team-mates, who brought the Kazakh to within one minute of the peloton on the final climb.
As Vino's frantic chase picked up dropped group after dropped group, the fireworks were igniting on the front of the peloton as it pulled the escapees under the minute mark with 16km to go. His plight became ever more severe when Gerolsteiner's Fabian Wegmann attacked and raised the pace of the peloton, bringing the main group onto the heels of the exhausted duo of Chavanel and Gilbert.
As the road kicked up the last climb, the pair waved good-bye and the countering Spaniard David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) didn't even take time to say 'chapeau' as he blasted out of the bunch. Rabobank reeled the man in yellow back as Vino's futile pursuit lagged 600 meters behind with 10 kilometres to go.
A succession of attacks by Bouygues Telecom's Laurent Lefevre surprised the Rabobank train, and he took the mountain points ahead of T-Mobile's Kim Kirchen, with Rasmussen third ahead of Alejandro Valverde. Over the top, Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery) bombed his way up to the Frenchman, taking risks on the sharp, technical descent to hold the lead when Lefevre became more cautious and dropped back.
Sensing danger, the yellow jersey, Fabian Cancellara, tucked down and accelerated up to the Ukranian only to follow him right off the road on a grassy bend. Fortunately, both riders stayed upright, but the off-road adventure was enough to slow their progress and send them back into the speeding Lampre-led peloton.
Lampre led the group safely through the sharp bends into Autun, and in sight of the one kilometre banner, Xavier Florencio launched another move, and was joined by David Millar (Saunier Duval), but the pair were no match for the charging sprinters. For the fifth consecutive day, no team could pull off the lead-out days of yore when one team delivered their sprinter to the 200 metre mark, and the lack of organisation led to a mad dash to the line.
Seemingly swamped in sixth wheel with 300 metres to go, Filippo Pozzato threaded his way through the chaos and blasted out of the front to take the sprint ahead of a frustrated Oscar Freire and Lampre's Daniele Bennati, who coasted across the line, defeated.