Stage three of this year's Tour de France held its promises. As much spectacle as it provided, the race over the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix also claimed many victims, of which Fränk Schleck of Saxo Bank may be the most important one.
The Danish team had a brilliant day with Fabian Cancellara re-claiming the yellow jersey he had purposely given up on Monday, and overall favourite Andy Schleck making up some precious time over his nearest rivals. But they also lost Andy's older brother Fränk, who crashed in the third cobblestone sector with 40 kilometres to go and was taken to hospital with a broken collarbone.
"About Fränk, it's very sad," team manager Bjarne Riis in the finish, keeping his usual calm but probably not knowing whether he should laugh or cry. "It's very sad for us, and for the Tour. A great rider has to go home. We did everything we could to keep them out of trouble on the pavé, but today it was not enough for him."
Riis re-iterated that he wasn't sure that the inclusion of the pavé roads of Paris-Roubaix in the Tour de France was a good thing. "I'm not sure I'm a big fan of the cobbles in the Tour de France. It's stressful, and very dangerous. Even if we showed a great performance with Fabian and Andy today, I'm not sure that this is the right thing to do."
Cancellara paced Andy Schleck to the finish, making up time on general classification, and profited of the fact yellow jersey Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) punctured several times in a row to re-claim the race lead.
"The team rode great today," Riis said. "We saw an excellent Fabian, and Andy, too. I'm very happy about how they rode. They were very strong."
But the tall Dane could not help regret the abandoning of Fränk Schleck, an essential part of the squad in its search for stage victories and the overall win in Paris. "Fränk is in the hospital now," he said. "He's OK, but he has a broken collarbone.
"I went to Fränk immediately, he took my hand and just squeezed it," he said. "We didn't speak. We just knew that that was it. I went back to the car and took the microphone and told the rest of the riders that he was out. I said, 'we do the rest of the race now. Come on, keep going. Let's do this for Fränk.' When things like that happen, you have to make quick decisions and then move on and keep concentrated."
The decision paid off. Cancellara showed off another impressive performance over the cobbles he knows well, and paced Andy towards the finish. After giving up the yellow jersey on the day before, in a voluntary bid not to make any more riders crash after the stage to Spa had already caused many injuries, he took over the overall leadership again.
"You can't please everybody," the Swiss rider said, commenting on the decision not to compete the sprint. "Yesterday, over 70 riders crashed, and you don't see that every day. It was a complete mess. I just thought of fair play and respect for the riders. Today, people expected many crashes, and prepared for them - that is different. Yesterday, I just stood up for what I thought was right, and I don't care what people say.
"Just one more thing: In life, what goes around comes around. And I think that today, the yellow jersey came back to cover the right shoulders."