Bonjour to all you cycling fans out there - and welcome back in the Cyclingnews blimp hovering over the course of the 2008 Tour de France stage 5. Today will see the riders tackle a pretty flat parcours from Cholet to Chateauroux on 323 kilometres. The longest stage of this year's Grande Boucle will hopefully see the McEwen's and Cavendish's of this world battle it out against each other in a bunch sprint finish later today. The fast men missed out on their chances on stage 3 to Nantes already, so we can be pretty sure they'll do everything they can to reel in a possible breakaway before getting to the line.
The official start of the fifth stage was taken at 11.42am. Before that, in the neutral zone, Columbian Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) went down - not badly, but he might have sustained another blow at one of his wrists, as we're sorry to announce that the 2007 polkadot jersey winner abandoned the race after 12 kilometres into today's journey...
He was certainly brave to try and hold on since his crash on stage one, where he broke a small bone in his right hand. Finally, the pain proved too much of a strain. We certainly hope to see him back next year!
Shortly before that, at km 11, an escape group managed to jump away from the bunch. Again, we have French riders in front: Lilian J
Today, Cyclingnews is giving away a signed jersey of the 2007 Liquigas team! Just pick today's top three in the correct order and win! Simply email your prediction to our commentary inbox (firstname.lastname@example.org). All emails have to be received when the first rider hits the 20-kilometre to go banner.
72km remaining from 232km
Aha! The sprinter's teams are already reacting, even though there's still 160 kilometres to go. The leaders' advantage has started to shrink, right now it is 7'30 minutes.
They sure don't want to make the same mistakes as two days ago...
Christian Vandevelde from the Garmin-Chipotle team told our reporter Gregor Brown this morning that he was satisfied with his ride in the time trial yesterday. He finished 8th behind winner Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner). "I'm happy so far," he said. "I rode a good time trial, I was well within myself and that bodes well for later. I'm actually quite excited about the way I felt - it's a good sign for what's to come."
Asked what his team's strategies were with regard to a possible yellow jersey for David Millar in tomorrow's stage, he said, "Vaughters hasn't told us anything yet but I'm sure he'll come up with a plan for tomorrow."
Emails are already flooding in for the Liquigas jersey competition today. Most of our readers choose Robbie McEwen as a winner, with Thor Hushovd, Mark Cavendish and Erik Zabel following the Australian Silence-Lotto rider.
Here's another information on the finish in Chateauroux which might be useful: it is very straight, no bends for the last 1600 metres. The road is wide, 8.5 metres.
There are two prominent birthdays to point out today: First, the
88km remaining from 232km
The maximum gain for Brard, Vogondy and J
Ah... more and more readers now pick Mark Cavendish as the winner for today. The Manxman is definitely a favourite, and has a similar sprinting style to Robbie McEwen. He may still be young, but even McEwen says that he is the fastest in the last 200 metres.
As regards positioning, McEwen still beats Cav in our opinion as the Australian has more experience jumping to the right wheels, and finally squeezing through the right opening in the finish. One thing's for sure: these two will be hard to beat for anyone today, except maybe for... Hushovd?
Gregor Brown also talked to Garmin-Chipotle's Trent Lowe this morning before the start. "I feel well, I feel fit," the Aussie said about his state of form. "I'm getting into the groove..."
Asked if he was nervous at the race, he replied, "It was nervous racing in the first couple of stages. Now, the tension is coming down. Hopefully it won't be as tense now. Although tomorrow, it's definitely going to be nervous again!"
The leading trio have just passed the feed zone at km 100.5. A word on the weather today: it's absolutely beautiful. The sun is out, it's about 22
107km remaining from 232km
As to the intermediate sprints, the three Frenchmen seem to have no particular objectives. The first sprint (Argenton-les-Vallees, km 33.5) was taken by J
Robert Hunter from Barloworld, as well as Oscar Freire (Rabobank) are also being picked to finish within the top three by our readers. For sure, the triple World champ is a threat when he is not injured or ill, and the South African is definitely hoping to repeat his 2007 Tour stage win.
Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluw
Another possible top three finisher today could be Robert F
Back in the peloton, the two German teams Gerolsteiner and Milram are controlling the pace. Gerolsteiner of course lives up to its status as Stefan Schumacher wears the maillot jaune since his astounding win in the time trial yesterday, and Milram are hoping for Erik Zabel to have a good day today.
125km remaining from 232km
The gap between the bunch and the three breakaways, which include French champion Nicolas Vogondy, has dropped under 6 minutes.
Brard is currently riding alone in front, as his companions have stopped for a natural need...
We just hear that a crash occurred in the bunch a few kilometres ago, involving amongst others Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). He was spotted back at the race doctor's car, accompanied by his team-mates, and seemed to have a problem with his elbow. It didn't seem to be very serious, though. We'll keep you posted.
The Caisse d'Epargne riders are back in the first part of the peloton. Everything looks okay; the other riders that apparently went down did not sustain any serious injuries, either.
The race is moving through beautiful French farming countryside. Skies are perfect. They're on long, flattish roads passing through some picturesque villages amidst the fields, where supporters cheer them on.
John Gadret, a climber of team AG2R, is riding at the very back of the bunch. He was reported to be one of the victims of the crash earlier. The pace, however, is reasonable right now - he didn't look like he was suffering.
But as we write this, the bunch is starting to get more strung out...
135km remaining from 232km
AG2R's Cyril Dessel punctured. He's stopping to get a new rear wheel and gets a push from his mechanic to get going again.
People from all over the world are e-mailing us to win the Liquigas jersey. It's a real flood in the commentator's inbox! Just to inform those of you who've just tuned in, Cyclingnews is giving away a signed 2007 Liquigas jersey for the correct pick of today's top three at the finish in Chateauroux.
Just email your prediction to our commentary inbox (email@example.com) before the first rider hits the 20-kilometre to go banner.
By the way, we haven't been able to identify all the signatures on the jersey, but we are sure to have recognized Magnus B
Peter Beaumont asked us if there were any time eliminations applied to the time trials at the Tour de France. In fact, there are:
As a rule of thumb, the time cut in a time trial is 25%. With yesterday's winning time of 35'44, it would have been roughly nine minutes. The last rider was Freddy Bichot, 7'10 behind stage winner Stefan Schumacher. Riders will roughly know how fast they can go and those are not competing for the stage or the overall will take it 'easy.' They will ride tempo and stay in a comfort zone. They still will want a massage in the evening, though...
It is rare that someone gets put hors déelai in a time trial, but it can happen