July 12, 2007
       
 

By Graham Jones and Barry Boyce
CyclingRevealed Historians

 

 

Tour de France Champions Living and Dead

 

 

 

 

 

 

CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '07

Stage 5 - July 12th, Chablis to Autun, 182.5 km

What to Do?

With the vineyards of the Champagne region at their backs the peloton set off from the town of Chablis which gives its name to one of the most famous wines in the world. The route to the stage finish in Autun included four Category 4 climbs, three Category 3 climbs and one Category 2 climb. This difficult stage was full of opportunity and danger for those targeting the major jerseys (yellow, green, polka dot and white).

Stage racing, especially at a Grand Tour, is an incredibly complex affair. At the very basic level each rider needs to recognize their personal strengths and weaknesses, keep healthy and ration their efforts to survive three weeks of racing. Unless you are a team leader this is easier said than done. As a domestique you are at the mercy of the team manager who will dictate when and where your services are needed. However a Grand Tour is almost impossible to win without team support and so the astute team manager will take care to not drive his domestiques into exhaustion.

What to do? CSC has held the Yellow Jersey since Fabian Cancellara won the London Prologue. Unfortunately Cancellara is no climber and is destined to lose his Yellow Jersey very soon. Up until today CSC has actively defended the jersey by controlling and driving the bunch along every day. Now they are surely contemplating a change of tactic. Their GC hopes are Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck and it will be an obvious decision for CSC's team direction to keep their boys away from the front of the race in order to preserve their energy for the bigger days to come. Simply let the other teams dictate the pace and if they keep the race together then maybe get aggressive on the run in to Autun to retain the Yellow Jersey. Don't work harder, work smarter!

Yesterday Sylvan Chavanel was in the (doomed) race long break and got within one point of his teammate Stéphane Augé who was holding the KOM jersey. Chavanel could have taken the jersey but held back on the last categorized climb in favor of Augé. But of more important note was the fact that the talented Chavanel was tantalizingly close to the race leadership. For the Cofidis team manager, what to do? Help Augé preserve his jersey or have Chavanel, who has a good Grand Tour pedigree, go for the KOM and/or the Yellow Jersey?

In the world of the fast twitch muscled sprinters the Green Jersey is the ‘holy grail'. Of the top sprinters still massed closely together in this competition today's hilly route will force a real selection. Rabobank's Oscar Friere and Milram's Erik Zabel are the best climbers from this group and it will not be a surprise to see their teams working to keep their men well ahead of the likes of Boonen, Hushovd and McEwen.

In terms of the much touted GC contenders like Vinokourov, Liepheimer, Menchov, Valverde, Hincapie and co. we have seen little if nothing of them. For any rider dreaming of making it on to the GC podium in Paris the race has not yet begun. Their choice of what to do today is relatively simple (unless a very dangerous break gets away), stay near the front of the race and alongside your main adversaries.

From the gun it was clear that Augé wanted to hang on to his KOM jersey but the bunch would not allow him to escape. However his teammate Chavanel was more successful and along with Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Giampaolo Cheula (Barloworld) and William Bonnet (Crédit Agricole) soon created a good working escape. Back in the Cofidis team car the team manager now had to decide what to do. There were basically three choices; focus on the KOM jersey, focus on the Yellow Jersey or go for broke and grab both jerseys. For a French rider in a French team success with any of these choices would send the nation into raptures of adulation.


Sylvan Chavanel starts the long breakaway that earned the Polka Dot Jersey [ Images ©: www.gazzetta.it ]

As the climbs came and went it was clear that the KOM jersey was the Cofidis choice as Chavanel claimed maximum points at each summit. The reality was that Chavanel escaped just 13.5kms into the stage and the possibility of staying clear to the end to claim Yellow was very slim.

Meanwhile behind the escape fugitives we started to see the emergence of teams that have been very quiet thus far. Rabobank (for Menchov), Caisse d'Epargne (for Valverde), Astana (for Vinokourov and Kloden) and Discovery (for Hincapie), all took turns in driving the peloton and maintaining a respectable distance between them and the break.

With 74kms to go Kloden was suddenly in the ditch and as he got himself up was not looking good. Once on the road again his teammates were sent back from the bunch to pace him back. Along the way the race doctor checked Kloden out and with 66kms to go he regained the peloton at the feedzone.

With the big teams keeping a tight rein on affairs in the peloton the four leaders hit the Cat 2 Haut-Folin 12.9km climb (3.7% avg., 12.5kms) with a 3m 20s advantage. As he had done on all six previous climbs Chavanel took the mountain points to add to his rapidly expanding KOM point's account. However the peloton was closing in and had trimmed about one minute off the break's advantage. Over the top Chavanel and Gilbert rode away alone but they still had 44kms to go to Autun.

The pressure on this long climb dealt a blow to yesterday's winner, Thor Hushovd, as he lost his fight to stay with the peloton and with it his dreams of claiming the Green Jersey. It was not long before Hushovd started to get company as other sprinters slipped back to create the beginnings of the ‘autobus'.

Up front the peloton was stringing out as the pace rapidly increased. Then with 25kms to go Vinokourov was on the road with his teammate Colom for company. ‘Vino' was bent over in pain with his shorts ripped open. Whatever Astana had planned ‘what to do' today certainly did not include these unfortunate crashes. The entire team, except Kashechkin and Kloden, was sent back to pace their big star back to race.

Over the final climb of the day (Cat 3 Côte de la Croix de la Libération) Chavanel failed to make it a clean KOM sweep for the day. With 11kms to go the fast moving peloton swept up Gilbert and shortly thereafter an exhausted Chavanal. CSC smelt blood and restarted their efforts to keep the Yellow Jersey in their camp. Patrick Lefevre (Boygues Telekom) took the climb with the majority of the peloton just behind him.

In the chaos behind the main peloton the Astana team was loosing ground. Just ahead of them Carlos Sastre (CSC), another GC favorite, had also become disconnected from the bunch but mysteriously no teammates were coming back to help him. On the climb itself Vinokourov shed his teammates one by one as he painfully edged his way back to the bunch.

On the mainly 5kms downhill into Autun all hell broke loose as attacks exploded off of the front. Cancellara misjudged a bend, left the road, but managed to stay upright on the grass verge. The sheer speed of the bunch extinguished Vinokourov's hopes of rejoining.

Stage 5 winner Filippo Pozzato [ Images ©: www.gazzetta.it ]

Astoundingly after such a tough day it came down to a bunch sprint which was won by Filippo Pozzato, Liquigas from Oscar Friere. The heaving mass was clocked at 78kmph (50mph) on the line. The badly battered Vinokourov, generally considered the big favorite to win the Tour, came in 1 minute 20 seconds later.


Popular favorite Alexarndre Vinokourov fnishes 1'20" behind [ Images ©: www.gazzetta.it ]

Cancellara unexpectedly retained his Yellow Jersey and Chavanal took a commanding lead in the KOM competition. Despite a puncture in the final phase of the race Erik Zabel was able to contest the final sprint where he got fifth and thus grabbed the Green points Jersey from Tom Boonen.

For the riders it is very easy to decide on what to do after today's brutal ride. Massage, eat, patch up any wounds and sleep. Similarly for anyone lucky enough to be in the area of the Tour this evening, a nice bottle of Chablis together with a local pork dish like Chablis andouillette makes it simple to decide what to do!


A local pork dish like Chablis andouillette

 


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