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The fifth stage of the Tour is another one for the sprinters. Will Ale-Jet zoom to his third win? Will Mark Cavendish finally get back to his winning ways? Or will we see a surprise winner at the finish line in Montargis?
Good afternoon and welcome back to the Tour. We continue moving south today, 187.5 km from Epernay to Montargis. There are some bumps along the way, but nothing that should prevent the sprinters from doing their thing in the finale.
The race kicks off at 12:30 with a long neutralized section, with things really getting underway at 12:50.
The weather could play a role today. It is already around 30° Celsius and will only get warmer. Plus there is brilliant sunshine. Hope the guys put on lots of sun protection today, and that they remember to drink as much water as they possibly can.
Will it really come down to that expected mass sprint today? Because this is also really a perfect stage for a breakaway. Today's and tomorrow's flat satge are a good chance the GC candididates to give themselves a breathing spell before four upcoming mountain stages.
Did we say it was warm today? How about hot, or even hot or maybe even HOT! It is already 33° Celsius, and absolutely no wind at all.
There are now only 188 riders in the Tour. Ten teams have each lost one rider. The most recent is Euskaltel's Amets Txurruka, who broke his collarbone in a crash yesterday.
The race is underway now! There was a crash in the neutralised section, as Vasil Kiryienka of Caisse d'Epargme went down. Oops! But he is ok.
Good news for Robert Gesink (Rabobank) from yesterday. He crashed near the end of yesterday's stage and finished 179th, 2:08 down. But since it was in the last three kms, he was awarded the same time as the winner.
And some not-so-good news for Lance Armstrong of RadioShack. He failed to sign in yesterday and was fined 100 Swiss francs. He wasn't the only one though, six other riders were given the same penalty.
Three riders have decied to take off. Jurgen van de Walle (QuickStep), Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) and Julian El Fares (Cofidis) took off and have built up a 1:00 lead.
The stage started in Eparnay, a big name in the production of champagne. There are two other industries which are big here, though: sugar refinery, and the production of hats and caps.
Gutierrez started this attack, taking off at the 6km marker. He is also the highest ranked of the trio, coming into the stage 3:24 down in 50th place. And since the gap is now 3:10, he will soon be our virtual leader.
The first climb has been climbed and of course all the points have to the trio in front: El Fares got 3 points, Gutierrez 2 and van de Walle 1.
There have been 4 total winners in our Easton-Cyclingnews Wheelset a Day Giveaway.
Michael Rudolph won a set of Easton EC90 Aero wheels for correctly answering our trivia question from stage 2. Who has the greatest number of Tour podiums? 8 each: Raymond Poulidor (Fra) and Lance Armstrong (USA).
Kirk Whitmer won a set of Easton EC90 Aero wheels for correctly answering our trivia question from Stage 3. Which country has the most stage wins (from all Tours)? 655-France.
In case you're not yet familiar with the contest, Easton Cycling has teamed up with Cyclingnews to give you a chance at a major upgrade to your bike in celebration of the Tour de France. Each day, during our live Tour de France coverage we'll ask a trivia question. Answer correctly at our contest page to be entered into the draw for that day's prize.
The Easton-Cyclingnews Wheelset a Day GiveAway gives you 21 chances to try for a prize and you need to follow our live coverage for your shot.
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The gap has now leaped up to 5:50.
For those of you playing our Easton-Cyclingnews Wheelset a Day Giveaway during the Tour de France, here is your trivia question for the day: US National Champion George Hincapie is attending his fifteenth Tour de France. Where was the American born?
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Enter your answer in our contest page here
Today's prize is an Easton EC90 Aero wheelset.
Click here for information about the prize
Dan Benson has just called in to tell us that there was another crash in the neutralised zone earlier. Team Sky's GC contender Bradley Wiggins hit the ground, but he's ok.
Mark Renshaw of HTC-Columbia is not only Mark Cavendish's lead out man, but also his roomate here at the tour. He says the Manxman isn't all that worried about not winning so far,a dn that the team mood is still good.
This was the Tour's fourth visit to Eparnay. The first stage of the 1963 Tour ended here, with Eddy Pauwels winning it. Stages started her in 1978 and 2002.
The gap is up to 6:50 now.
The leading trio has tackled the second category four climb. Van de Walle got 3 points, Gutierrez 2, and El Fares 1.
The peloton hit the top of that little climb exactly 10:50 after the trio! That is the biggest gap so far in this Tour.
Let's take out daily peek at the various rankings, just so we remember what is going on. Fabian Cancellara i(Saxo Bank) is still the number one:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank 18:28:55
2 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team 0:00:23
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:39
4 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions 0:00:46
5 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step 0:01:01
6 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:01:09
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team :01:19
8 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:01:31
9 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana 0:01:40
10 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:01:42
Tour Radio doesn't seem to know what it is talking about. That gap wasn't 10:50, but 6:50. The highest it got today was 7:55 at km 28.
And it is now down to 5:35 anyway. HTC-Columbia has moved into the lead work.
There is really a brliliant blue sky today, with not a cloud anywhere in sight.
Thor Hushovd of Cervelo still leads the points ranking, but Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) is getting closer and closer.
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team 80 pts
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini 70
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha 62
Over in the polka-dot department, Jerome Pineau of QuickStep is leading with 13 points ahead of teammate Sylvain Chavanel and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), both with eight points.
Prince Albert of Monaco is at the race today. Right now he sees the gap dropping to 4:52.
Geraint Thomas of Sky is best young rider so far, ahead of Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas).
There is the break of the day, with Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne) wearing the Spanish national champion's red and yellow jersey.
Stéphane Auge (Cofidis) has topped for a rear wheel change after a puncture. He's off quickly and will soon be back in the peloton.
After the vineyards of the first part of the stage, the break and the peloton are now riding through huge wheat fields in the heart of France.
Fabian Cancellara's Saxo Bank team is leading the chase with some help from HTC-Columbia. Cancellara is again on his yellow bike, with matching yellow helmet and sunglasses. However no matching yellow shorts for Fabian. He is a more of a traditionalist.
The gentle rolling hills of the Seine-et-Marne region are dotted with small villages with some spectacular churches, small castles and chateau.
With 87.5km covered so far, there are 100km remaining in the stage. In just 12km the race will pass through the feed zone and pick up extra food and drinks. The hot, sunny weather will mean the riders will go through a lot of bottles today.
The Cyclingnews photographers will be happy today. We've just hit a section of sunflower fields. Expect some iconic shots later, on the stage report page.
The three riders in the break are following the white line down the middle of the road. They are riding smooth and taking equal turns like a trio in a team pursuit.
The gap to the peloton is actually increasing again as the break and peloton play games with each other. The peloton is keeping the trio under control but eases the pace because it does not want to bring them back too soon. We can expect the gap to come down rapidly in the final 30km but the break will also accelerate and try to stay clear for as long as possible.
The Cyclingnews team is at the finish and Tech editor James Huang has just confirmed that the temperature is 35C. That's 95F. He describes it as 'Africa hot'
It's time for lunch for the race. The break and the peloton have gone through and grabbed their musette. As ever there is a big crowd hoping to get a musette or bottle thrown away by the riders.
There is a lot of debate today about if Mark Cavendish and his HTC-Columbia team can bounce back and win the sprint in Epernay. Has Cavendish lost his winning edge? Is his HTC-Columbia leadout train slower and weaker than in 2009? Have his rivals stepped up, become more organised and aggressive? We will find out in around two hours time.
Eurosport television talked to Bernhard Eisel. Cavendish's Austrian bodyguard admitted the team was lacking power yesterday but said they are 100% confident today.
"We were missing some horsepower because we started early. Other teams stepped up but we’ve got to fight back"
"Mark's not in his best shape ever but he’s really, really fast. We’re 100% confident it will work out for us. We have to be, otherwise it won’t work out."
The lead of the breakaway is now melting in the heat. It is now below three minutes and Julian El Fares (Cofidis) is no longer the virtual race leader.
The pace is rising now, with the peloton strung out in a long single line. Tough for the domestiques who have to go back to the team cars and then haul them back to their teammates.
The race has just crossed the Seine and Yonne rivers. We're not far south-east of Paris today.
The leading trio rides by another of those lovely fields of sunflowers.
Bert Grabsch of HTC-Columbia punctures. Again.
The GErman rider jumps in behind the Milram car to get back to the peloton. We don't know who is driving that car, but we do know that one of Milram's directeurs sportif here is Ralf Grabsch, his elder brother.
This intermediate sprint is slighlty uphill. The points go to El Fares ahead of van de Walle and Gutierrez.
Cavendish is back at the team car. He is having shoe issues.
Van de Walle gets a new water bottle. It is important to drink as much as possible on days like this.
We could have a very interesting finale today. There are tight corners at 5.5km and 4.5 km, but the real fun comes in the final km. There is a right hand turn at 600 meters, tight and extremely narrow. We do not want to think about what might happen there....
Our leading trio has been out front since km six. That is a long time on this hot day. And the gap is now 2:15.
What did it look like at the start this morning? You can take a peek here at our exclusive photos.
The gap has dropped again, and is now under two minutes. Just barely: 1:59
A very green-looking rider is dropping back. Oh, it is Thor Hushovd visting the Cervelo team car.
Lampre has sent a rider to the head of the peloton. He is followedd by two HTC-Columbias and a whole slew of Liquigases.
Denis Menchov of Rabobank has punctured. After a quick repair he is on his speedy was again.
Menchov makes a quick stop at the team car for further bike adjustments.
Get those cameras ready, folks, We see more sunflowers approaching.
We are not real agricultural experts, but we think it looks like an excellent crop of sunflowers this year.
Menchov gets some help in his journey back to the peloton.
Yukiya Arashiro of Bbox Bouyges Telecom had planned to be in today's break group. At least that is what he told us yesterday.
We still see quite a large number of bandaged riders. We don't want to say Mummies on Bikes, but....
Congratulations to Kim and Caroline Kirchen. They are now the proud parents of Liam and Mika. And everyone is grateful that the father has survived for the birth.
The peloton doesn't want to catch the escape group too soon (that just might give someone else the idea of getting away). So they have cut the lead to just under two minutes, where it is holding pretty steady. Right now it is 1:48.
Now we have a double dose of sunflowers -- big fields on both sides of the road!
Jens Voigt of Saxo Bank plays water carrier.
It's just about "last call" at the Tour bar. The riders can't pick up anything to eat or drink in the last 20 km, so everyone is loading up now.
Cervelo has moved in to help with the lead work. The gap is now 1:26.
Jonathan Vaughters told Christian Vande Velde to go home and forget about racing until he has the motivation to come back. The Garmin-Transitions rider crashed heavily on stage 2 and failed to start the following day due to his injuries. Read more here.
Only 20 km to go. And we have every indication that it will indeed be a mass sprint.
Here is an interesting piece of trivia from Carl0880 of the CN forum:
Today is the latest since 1997 the TDF hasn't had a first time stage winner since 1997, when Cedric Vasseur won Stage 5 (Racing Day 6). Since then the first time TDF stage winner were
98- Tom Steels Stage 1 (R Day 2)
99- Jaan Kirsipuu Stage 1 (R Day 2)
00- David Millar Stage 1
01-Christophe Moreau Prologue
02- L. Bertogliati Stage 1 (2)
03- Alessandro Petacchi Stage 2 (3)
04- Fabian Cancellara Prologue
05- David Zabriskie Stage 1
06- Jimmy Casper Stage 1 (2)
07- Gert Steegmans Stage 2 (3)
08- Samuel Dumoulin Stage 3
09- Thomas Voeckler Stage 5
The peloton has decided that enough is enough and has turned on the speed.
Speaking of sprints, we had the final intermediate sprint of the day. The points go to van de Walle ahead of El Fares and Gutierrez.
Fourteen km to go and still 1:10.
HTC-Columbia is pulling the peloton along and the gap is now under a minute. Will their effort be rewarded with a win today?
Lampre and Cervelo now helping at the front.
Only ten km left for the leading trio, but the peloton is only 39 seconds back.
The gap is down to 20 seconds now.
Gutierrez refuses to give in to fate and takes off from his two comrades.
Gutierrez stays away while the field makes that first sharp right hand turn. Safely.
Gutierrez has an 18 second lead with five km to go. His former escape companions have already been caught by the peloton.
So much for that lead. They will have him any second now. The peloton survives another sharp turn.
Tony Martin pulls the peloton past Gutierrez.
Garmin in the lead with three km to go.
Lots of turns and curves here, and we have a roundabout coming up momentarily.
Two km to go. This is not the wides road we have seen.
Everyone wants to be on Julian Dean's wheel.
Final km. There is a grop of 30 or so in the lead.
The last curve, and they come through safely.
Cavendish sees a hole and ploughs his way as first across the line!
Gerald Ciolek of Milram and Edvald Boasson Hagen of Sky fill out the podium.
Cavendish raised his ams in celebration. No nasty gestures today!
Hushovd finished fifth, so he is stil comfortably leading the points ranking.
Looks like about two bike lengths between Cavendish and Ciolek.
No changes in the overall.
Marcus Burghardt of BMC leads a group over the line about three and a half minutes down.
Great relief this afternoon for Cavendish and his HTC-Columbia team. Thanks for joining us and be sure to read along again tomorrow.