Tom Boonen went back to his winning ways in the Tour de France by taking stage six to Bourg-en-Bresse. The 26 year-old Belgian won the 199.5-kilometres stage after five hours and 20 minutes of racing over Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Erik Zabel (Milram) and marked his first stage win in the Tour after two years and five days.
"At last another victory. You need so much luck," blasted Boonen after the win. The sprint did not come easy for the man from Flanders. "Someone touched my rear wheel in the final kilometre. The bike's rear end was making noises. I was forced to do my sprint in my 11 [tooth gear] and it was not possible to shift."
Boonen's wheel touched that of T-Mobile's Mark Cavendish. "I was on the wheel of Tom Boonen," confirmed the 21 year-old to Cyclingnews. "I got my front wheel caught in his rear mech [derailleur] and it blew all my spokes out." He ended in 181st for the day while GC-rider Michael Rogers was the best-placed T-Mobile rider.
"Someone has to make sure there is some entertainment," stated Brit Bradley Wiggins simply after an escape of 190 kilometres. The hot and long day was dominated by an escape of the 27 year-old Cofidis rider, who gained over 17 minutes but the move remained under the control of the sprinters' teams, which allowed Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) to stay in the Maillot Jaune.
"Tomorrow, we have Carlos Sastre and Fränk Schleck. They are climbers and it will be up to them," said Cancellara after another day in the leader's yellow jersey. "I will do my best and try but for me the 15-kilometre Colombière will be tough. ... For me, now, I want to give all my energy to the team." The day also brought another Crédit Lyonnais stuffed lion. "It will go to my daughter, tonight, because my family surprised me by being at the finish. They made the one hour journey from Switzerland."
Once Wiggins was caught at seven kilometres to go and over five hours of hot racing south towards the French département of Ain it was time for the sprinters' henchmen to take control. Milram put the most men into the effort for Erik Zabel in order to save his Maillot Vert of best sprinter that he had lost to Boonen, thanks to the intermediate sprints on the way.
Milram's efforts were aided by T-Mobile for Bernhard Eisel and Robbie McEwen's Predictor-Lotto team. The boys were not letting any counter-attacks go on the narrow roads west of Mâcon. Organizers had promised roads of eight metres wide but the bunch was crushed in the final five kilometres.
Fabian Wegmann of Gerolsteiner came up to the front in his white German Road Champion jersey for his team's designated sprinter, Robert Förster. He kept the pace ultra-high from 3200 to 2900 metres to go with Quickstep edging up behind for 2005 World Champion Tornado Tom. Matteo Tosatto took over and drove like a freight train in the five hundred metres leading to 2000 metres to go. The Italian noted the team's intentions at the start of the race, "up to now we did well with the stage for Gert Steegmans and, today, we will retry with Tom."
Milram went back to the front with two of its lead-out men followed by the teams of T-Mobile and Crédit Agricole. Clad in green, Zabel sat on the wheels of his boys as the road bent slightly in the final 1300 metres. The narrow roads helped edge out some of the competition and the race entered its final kilometre. Shortly after, Milram was overtaken by Julian Dean for Crédit Agricole leader Thor Hushovd.
T-Mobile followed the Kiwi with Robert Hunter (Barloworld) also in the mix. A surge from Gerolsteiner on the left ignited Boonen's sprint on the right. Boonen had already helped teammate Gert Steegmans take his first Tour win in Gent and this time it was his turn. Boonen finished a bike-length over Oscar Freire (Rabobank). The Spaniard had jumped hard to finish in second and the placing is a sign that the Spaniard is improving, while Zabel's third did not repay his team's efforts.
To the right of Boonen and Freire was Frenchmen Sébastien Chavanel (Française Des Jeux). The 26 year-old brother of Sylvain is improving day by day and could soon get his sprint victory in a Tour that has seen a different sprinter win in every occasion.
"I was interrupted in my sprint," said Chavanel after the sprint to Jean-François Quénet of Cyclingnews. "If I could have done what I wanted I would have finished second or third, but I am not disappointed because all the best sprinters are in the Tour de France. To be up there every day is a big satisfaction for me. I am not really afraid of the mountains to come. Apart from Zabel, who can climb, all the other sprinters will form a big enough gruppetto."
Hushovd, Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) and Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner) rounded out places five through seven.
"My back was hurting a lot this morning but it got better after halfway into the race," Hushovd noted to Quénet. "I tried to sprint and I finished fifth. I am happy that my back is better but I am not happy with my sprint. I hope I can continue [without back problems] when the race hits the mountains."
Boonen gained points at two of the intermediate sprints along the way to Bourg-en-Bresse and maximum points on the line to take the Maillot Vert from Zabel. He leads into tomorrow's mountainous stage by 11 points over the German. For Wiggins' efforts, he was awarded the Prix de la Combativité for the most aggressive rider.
How It Unfolded
After losing almost three quarters of an hour yesterday, Geoffroy Lequatre (Cofidis) did not take the start on Friday the Thirteenth in the tiny country village of Semur-en-Auxois. 183 riders started Stage 6 on a bright, sunny day with a moderate wind blowing from the southwest out of the Rhône River valley, which offered a headwind along the almost two hundred kilometre stage. The previous day's Stage 5 had been a nightmare for Astana, an early Friday the Thirteenth where first, Andreas Klöden had crashed hard into a ditch with 76 kilometres to go and X-rays at the hospital Thursday evening revealed a small fracture of the coccyx, a bone Klöden had fractured in a crash three years ago.
Then, with 25 kilometres to race, Astana team leader Alexandre Vinokourov had his chain jump while racing downhill at 60 km/h, crashed hard, scraping both knees, his right elbow and sustained heavy bruising on his right thigh. Vinokourov got 15 stitches in each knee, and both Astana riders started Stage 6, heavily bandaged up.
As the first Friday stage of Le Tour 2007 headed south through the bucolic farms of Auxois towards the famed wine region of Mâcon in the departement of the Saône, Cofidis rider Bradley Wiggins decided to borrow a page from David Millar's Stage 1 playbook as the long, lean World Pursuit champion made a solo attack with 197km still to race just outside Semur.
There was virtually no interest in chasing the Cofidis rider as he was no threat to win the overall so he quickly gained time on the peloton. After only 14km in Saint-Thibault, Wiggins became the Maillot Jaune Virtuel when his lead was already 5'40".
Across the rolling farm roads through the bucolic countryside, Big Wig powered along as the tune of Roule Brittania played on his mental iPod and at the first sprint in Bligny-Sur-Ouche came and went after 51.5 kilometres, 'Wiggo', as the French call him, easily took the sprint points as he was over a quarter of an hour ahead of the next rider, Tommeke Boonen (Quickstep). Hanging on to the back of the disinterested peloton were the wounded leaders of Astana, Vino and Klödi who were surrounded by their teammates and probably happy for the slow pace behind Wiggins.
Next was the 4th category Côte de Grandmont, a 2.4-kilometre climb at a 5.1-percent average grade after 55 kilometres that climbed the north side of the hill and then dropped down to the west of Beune among the notable vineyards of Rully, Mercurey and Givry, just to the west of Chalone-sur-Sâone. Wiggo's teammate, Maillot à Pois Sylvain Chavanel took the next points behind the British rider atop the Grandmont climb. At the feed zone in Fontaines, with 110 kilometres still to race, Bradley Wiggins just didn't have time for a glass of vin rouge out of his musette to celebrate his Maillot Jaune Virtuel, as CSC had been increasing the pace on the front of the peloton and the Cofidis' riders lead was down to 10'30".
With 93 kilometres to go in Buxy, Big Wig was still cruising along, 7'30" ahead of the peloton as his smooth style sped him south along the Sâone River Valley and with 72 kilometres to race at the days second sprint in Cormatin, home to a noted château, Wiggins took the points again, but the sprinters teams had upped the chase pace behind and his lead was hovering around 3 minutes ahead of Tommeke Boonen, who bested Zabel and became the Maillot Vert Virtuel , with the final sprint in Bourg-en-Bresse giving additional points to decide who will wear the jersey tomorrow.
Wiggins turned left and headed east towards the second rated climb of the day, the fourth category Col de Brancion, which is 3.5 kilometres long and averages 3.6 percent. He was still riding slowly as the peloton was not chasing yet. Then, with 48 kilometres to go, near Thurissy, Wiggo had a rear flat and impetuously whipped his thousand-euro Fulcrum Speed carbon fibre wheel into the bushes as the team mechanic came up to change the wheel. At that point, Wiggo had a 5-minute lead as Crédit Agricole, Milram, T-Mobile and CSC were riding tempo on the front but had slowed the chase slightly as the big Brit was now catchable. But Big Wig wasn't giving up so soon and as he pounded across the bridge over the Sâone River in the late summer afternoon, the Cofidis man still had almost a four minute lead on the chasing peloton.
At 20 kilometres to race, Wiggins still had 1'28" but the long, lean Cofidis rider, born in Gent, Belgium, to an Aussie bike racer dad and a British mum was starting to slow his pace. 10 kilometres later, in the outskirts of Bourg-En-Bresse, the big Brit had only 30 seconds and then was finally caught with 7 kilometres to go as Milram, Gerolsteiner, Quickstep and T-Mobile sucked up the valiant Wiggins. After 191 kilometres of freedom, the courageous Cofidis man was caught and the exhausted rider went out the back as the sprinters pace was too much to follow.
Predictor-Lotto hit the front but no team managed to impose a dominant train on the run-in to Bourg-En-Bresse. In the sprint, there was a headwind that made the lead out timing difficult to calculate, as Quickstep and Milram duelled on the front, with the other sprinters lurking behind. With 500 metres to go, no team was in command, but as the road curved left, Gerolsteiner hit the front for Frösi Förster, but Boonen saw an opening on the right after 200 metres to go and punched it hard. Only Freire and Zabel could stay close and Boonen took a clean win on the Boulevard A. Levrier in Bourg-En-Bresse on a stage that finished 40 minutes slower than the slowest time schedule posted by the Tour organizers.
With his stage win today, Boonen took back the Maillot Vert he had lost to Erik Zabel the day before in Autun, while CSC's Fabian Cancellara maintained the Maillot Jaune, likely his last day in the most coveted jersey in cycling as Saturday's Stage 7 will be the first in the mountains at the 2007 Tour De France. Maillot à Pois Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) has a good chance to keep his polka-dot tunic as does Maillot Blanc Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel), the Tour's Best Young Rider.
Stage 7 - Saturday, July 14: Bourg-en-Bresse - Le Grand-Bornand, 197.5km
After a week of racing at Le Tour 2007, the first mountain stage in the Alps will certainly upset the status quo at Le Tour and likely show who the real contenders are for Tour victory. Saturday is France's national holiday and huge crowds should be lining the road. Stage 6 starts out with an early climb up Côte de Corlier in the foothills of the Ain region, where key team riders will try and get out front early to help their team leaders on the decisive final 16 kilometre ascent of the Col de la Colombière before the descent to Le Grand-Bornand.
With his cracked coccyx, Andreas Klöden (Astana) may be in trouble when the real climbing starts on the 16 kilometre ascent of the Col de la Colombière begins with 32 kilometre to go. Same deal for his Astana teammate Vinokourov, who may also have problems from his crash injuries of Thursday. Meanwhile, look for Dauphiné Libéré' winner, French champ Christophe Moreau and his Ag2r team to go on the attack with his teammates Calzati and last years Maillot Jaune Dessel on their home Alpes, as the team's headquarter is located close by in Chambéry. Will it be two rockin' Russians, Gusev and Karpets who will battle for the Maillot Jaune in Le Grand-Bornand on Saturday?
Km 35.5: Côte de Corlier: 6.4 km climb @ 5.3 % grade / 3rd Cat.
Km 122.5: Côte de Cruseilles: 7.1 km climb @ 4.4 % grade / 3rd Cat.
Km 134: Côte Peguin: 4.3 km climb @ 4.1 % grade / 4th Cat.
Km 183: Col de la Colombière: 16.0 km climb @ 6.8 % grade / 1st Cat.
Km 16.5: Pont d'Ain
Km 111.5: Anglefort