Stage 6: Troyes - Nancy
Bada Boom: huge crash ends Mengin's chances, delays Armstrong
Italian Lorenzo Bernucci scored his first pro win today on Stage 6 of the 92nd Tour de France in Nancy with an opportunistic counter-attack in the last kilometre. Bernucci had followed an audacious attack by T-Mobile's Alexander Vinokourov in the final two thousand meters, as the Kazakh champ was in hot pursuit of fading breakaway rider Christophe Mengin, who was going for a hometown win. As Mengin crashed in the final corner, Vino slowed to avoid him and the Italian dove inside and held off Vinokourov for the win, kissing his wedding ring at the finish to dedicate the win to his new bride Valentina. "I'm really very happy to win my first professional race here at the Tour. I'm a passista-veloce so finishes like this suit me well."
Bernucci is new to Fassa Bortolo this season after three seasons at Landbouwkredeit-Colnago. Third place finisher in the 2000 U23 World Championships in Plouay, the talented Bernucci had some good results as a pro, but before today, the 25 year old from Sarzana had never managed to win. Last December, Bernucci had a bad crash which left him with multiple fractures in his left ankle and 60 stitches in his right knee. Bernucci missed the entire classics season and only came back to competition in May. With his Fassa Bortolo team likely folding at the end of the year, Bernucci shouldn't have any problem getting a ride with a Tour de France stage win in his palmares.
Although he went all out for the win, Vino was unlucky in the final but still happy with his result today. The Kazakh champ explained post-stage, "We knew the finale in Nancy would be dangerous, so I was up front. When the sprinters teams hesitated in the last kilometres, I decided to attack. It's too bad that I had to slow down at the end, but I'm happy how things turned out as I moved up on GC."
Despite the big mouse over his left eye from his last kilometre crash, local guy Chris Mengin (Francaise des Jeux) was happy. Selected as the days most combative rider, Mengin told Cyclingnews post-stage, "I had planned to attack today because the stage was to Nancy, where I live. I didn't feel that great this morning, but I got in the good break, so that worked out well. We worked well together all day and I knew the finale today as I train on these roads all the time. It was hard in the end, but my morale gave me good legs."
Mengin then explained the tumultuous finale, saying, "With 2km to go, I looked back and saw Vino coming across, so I knew that my break was finished. I didn't take any risks because I knew that the finish in Nancy would be dangerous. As I went through the last turn, my front wheel slipped out and I hit the handlebars with my knee and went down. But after everything today, it's OK. The Tour is going through the Vosges Mountains; that's where I was born so maybe I'll try to attack again."
Although Maillot Jaune Lance Armstrong (Discovery Channel) lost 0'19 today to Vino (0'07 gap at finish + 0'12 time bonus), when asked about the loss of time to the Kazakh post stage, Armstrong shrugged, like it was no big deal. Discovery Channel manager Johan Bruyneel told Cyclingnews post stage that Lance didn't see Vino attack in the finale, but did say the time loss was "nothing serious."
Armstrong explained that it wasn't a great day at the Tour de France office for anyone today. "It was a hairy finish with lots of turns," said Armstrong. "With the weather and (also) the fact that the finish is in a town with crosswalks with white (paint stripes), it's awfully scary so I just tried to stay up front in the finale. At the last corner, it was nearly blocked by the crash, so there was nothing you could do. Now we have a new 3km rule that if you're stopped behind a crash like that, you just have to pick your way through and try and get to the finish."
As for the general state of the Tour de France so far, Armstrong's analysis is: "Riders are generally tired. There was a relatively insignificant climb at the end of the stage today and we heard on the race radio that quite a lot of guys were dropped. That's not normal for this race. When you add in the tail winds, the cross winds, the rain, the weather and the high speed, the Tour has been hard so far."
How it unfolded
Today's 199km stage started under leaden skies and cool conditions at 12:25 with 188 riders, as Saunier Duval's Tino Zaballa packed yesterday after 40km. Stage 6 had a 7 km neutral section, where a crash put Lefevre (Bouygues), Cente Acosta (Illes Balears) and Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) on the deck, but all got up and continued with only injured pride. First attack was by mini-cannonball Sammy Dumoulin (Ag2r), favourite rider of Cyclingnews French correspondent Chris Henry, but Dumoulin was brought to heel immediately. A sextet countered, with three Americans, Hincapie (Discovery), Julich (CSC) and Trenti (Quick.Step), plus Posthuma (Rabobank), Contador (Liberty Seguros) and Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) but nothin' doin'.
Posthuma went again with Albasini (Liquigas) and van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto) but it was clear Quick.Step and Davitamon-Lotto were guarding the gate on Stage 6 and the duo was caught after 24km. Christophe Mengin (Francaise des Jeux) made a perfect counter-attack, then Gerosa (Liquigas) bridged up to Mengin up front. For 10km, the two dangled 20 seconds ahead of the peloton, with Cofidis chasing at a frantic tailwind fuelled pace, the first 39km were covered in 44 minutes. A few kilometres later, Kroon (Rabobank), Kirsipuu (Credit Agricole) and Augé (Cofidis) managed to get across and this was the right combination. The peloton sat up and the break quickly gained time, posting a lead of 2'30 after 47 km.
At the first intermediate sprint at Nully (km 56), Mengin beat Kirsipuu and Augé, with 51.5km raced in the first hour! With 60km the break had 4'25, as Discovery Channel rode the tempo up front. 12 kilometres later, the lead was 5'25 and Liquigas-Bianchi boy Gerosa was maillot jaune virtuel. Just before the first of four categorized climbs on stage 5, the Cat. 4 Côte de Joinville (83.5km), a cold rain started to soak the break and the peloton as the break's lead hit 6'50. Augé took the KOM points ahead of Mengin and Kroon as the break's lead kept growing.
With 100km to go at the feed zone in Suzannecourt, the sprinters teams took up the chase, as Quick.Step and Davitamon-Lotto were now on the front with the break over 8 minutes up the road. After two hours, the average speed was well over 48 km/h, with 45.9 km raced in hour two. The riders have had tailwinds for most of these early stages, which has helped push the average up a bit. With 15 degree temperatures, cold rain and a 22 km/h tailwind, it's not much of a day for a race.
With 93km to go, the sprinters pursuit was pulling back the break with the lead just over 7'00, with Domina Vacanze now in the chase for a little while. 300 clicks later, the break's lead was cut back by 2'00 to 5'09 in Montigny. Up the third climb of the day, the Cat. 4 Côte de Montigny (km 141), it was Karsten Kroon taking his second straight KOM, which would put him into the maillot a pois of Best Climber at the end of Stage 6. As the rain continued, Augé took the sprint points in Dommartin-Les-Toul (km 169.5) ahead of former maillot jaune virtuel Gerosa and Mengin. The peloton was at 2'20 and closing down fast.
As the break started the final climb of the day, the Cat. 4 Côte de Maron (km 185) with 14km to go, local lad Mengin made his move on the 3.2km ascent he knew well. The experienced Francaise des Jeux man made a solo bid for glory as CSC moved to the front to keep Basso out of trouble. The gap was less than 0'30, but Mengin gave it his all, using his cyclocross skills to carve his way through the slippery streets of Nancy. With 3km to go, Mengin was just 0'15 ahead, but the sprinters teams, who had done so much work, seemed to hesitate.
Suddenly, the aqua blue jersey of Kazakhstan champ Alex Vinokourov (T-Mobile) exploded off the front of the peloton, followed by Italian finisseur Lorenzo Bernucci (Fassa Bortolo). Vino and Bernucci had just made it up to Mengin with 1km to go, with the peloton closing fast 0'05 behind. But when Mengin crashed on the last corner, Vino had to slow to avoid crashing himself as Bernucci went underneath and gapped the killer Kazakh to hold him off for the stage win, the first professional win for Bernucci in his 4 year career.
Just behind the two escapees, a massive crash took down the sprinters as Mengin was crumpled in a heap just a few meters up the road. Boonen, O'Grady, Davis, and Cooke hit the deck, while maillot jaune Lance Armstrong and other Tour favourites Ullrich and Basso among others lost 0'19 to Vino, who had a 0'07 gap at the finish, plus a 0'12 time bonus. The T-Mobile man moved from seventh to third on GC and is now sitting just 1'02 behind Armstrong, who maintained the maillot jaune.
Despite crashing, Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) kept the maillot vert, while Discovery Channel's Yaro Popovych kept his maillot blanc of Best Young Rider. Karsten Kroon took over the maillot a pois of Best Climber from his Rabobank teammate Erik Dekker and unfortunate Chris Mengin (Francaise des Jeux) earned Most Combative.
Stage 7 - Friday, July 8: Lunéville-Karlsruhe, 228.5km
Lunéville hosted a stage start 41 years ago and as the Tour de France heads east after seven stages of racing into Germany, this first stage over 220km will certainly be a hard-fought battle to the Karlsruhe, birthplace of Baron of Drais de von Sauerbronn, inventor of the precursor to the bicycle. As the Tour de France crosses the Vosges Mountains into Germany, a cool cloudy start is forecast, with rain showers expected across the Rhine River valley to the finish in Karlsruhe.
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