The BMC Racing team had mixed fortunes on the third stage of the Tour de France, with Philippe Gilbert caught up in a crash and unable to contest a finish in Boulogne-sur-Mer which was perfectly suited to his qualities. Meanwhile, team leader Cadel Evans also missed the opportunity to go for the stage win, but he avoided the late-race carnage and finished with the main group, one second behind stage winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
"The first goal was staying out of trouble and then have a go at the finish," Evans said. "[The team] brought me into a perfect position into the last few kilometres but in the last kilometre it slowed up again. We pushed around and started a bit far back. Against Sagan there wasn't much anyone could do," Evans said.
With four climbs in the last 16km, including the 700m-long climb to the finish, the stage was perfectly suited for Ardennes Classics specialist Gilbert. However, the narrow roads in the Nord-Pas de Calais region made for nervous racing, and he was caught up in one of the several crashes.
Gilbert eventually crossed the line nearly eight minutes after double stage winner Sagan. The Belgian cycling star now seems destined to convert into a domestique for Cadel Evans, the defending champion in this Tour de France. The latter showed compassion for his teammate, for several reasons.
"We're always worried to lose teammates. We need all the cylinders to make it to Paris. For him [Gilbert] of course it was probably one of his last opportunities to have a go for himself today," Evans said. "The most important thing is that we're staying healthy and our GC is pretty good; we're right there."
Gilbert banged up
After finishing the stage a sombre Gilbert headed towards the team bus to freshen up. The Belgian didn't talk with the awaiting media and was examined on the bus by the team doctor.
Director sportif John Lelangue said Gilbert wasn't seriously injured. "He's a bit touched on his left leg and elbow," Lelangue said. He added that the team worked in the peloton early on because Gilbert was feeling good. Things obviously turned around when the Belgian rider crashed.
"He had bad luck on a bad moment. He was riding near the front and somebody rode against him from behind, making him hit the deck. He broke his shoe in that crash and it was impossible to ride 30km with a shoe that doesn't click into the pedal," Lelangue explained. Gilbert had to get a new shoe from the team car, and could not rejoin the front of the race.
"It's part of cycling as a crash can happen and luckily Phil was not seriously injured. We left Schär and Cummings with him. Meanwhile the speed in the first group was fast and as they were behind the third group at that moment there was no more time to come back. That's why he had to finish the stage easy. The priority from that moment on was Cadel," Lelangue said.
Evans gets into the groove
In contrast with the bad luck for Gilbert, things are going smoothly for Evans. In contrast to the nervous man who rode for the Omega Pharma-Lotto team the Australian seems to be totally at ease in the BMC squad. Four days into the Tour de France Evans talked about how he judged the team's performance.
"We're starting to get into a rhythm. It's a year since we raced the Tour and it's a very particular race. As a team we're getting into our old habits. We're starting to get into the groove and get going," Evans said.
When asked about Wednesday's stage along the coast which might feature echelons due to crosswinds Evans didn't worry too much. "I suppose it's a little bit flatter and as the race goes on some guys get tired which makes it finally a little bit easier to stay in the front. A little bit of a pecking order has been established. The next five or six days are probably still going to be nervous. Of Saturday on it's probably more where it really matters as well."
In Saturday's stage the riders have to cover 199km and finish on top of a first category climb named La Planche des Belles Filles.