CyclingRevealed's First Impressions '08
Stage 3 - (Monday) July 7th, Saint Malo to Nantes, 208 km Flat Stage
Journey to the Center of the Earth!
Today's stage has three intermediate sprints, one feed zone and no hills! Unless a powerful break is accommodated by a lethargic peloton, today should see a rip roaring sprint finish. It is a fair bet that the likes of Cavendish, McEwen, Hushovd and co. will not let this juicy opportunity pass.
As the peloton speeds briskly across the rolling green country side of Brittany we can take a moment to look closer at their destination.
Nantes is located on the Loire River and was founded around 70 BC by a Gallic tribe. Ever since then Nantes has figured prominently in French history. From 56 BC when Julius Ceasar conquered the city, through the French Revolution and then to WWII when the Germans occupied the city and it's strategic port of St. Nazaire, there is enough raw history here to suit everyone.
During the period up until the 18th Century the River Loire was a popular location for executions by drowning. It is thought that hundreds of thousands met their end this way in and around Nantes. One popular method became known as the ‘Republican Marriage' in which a man and a woman were stripped naked, tied together, and thrown into the river.
The Ultimate Town Line Sprint
With this fact in mind it would have been appropriate for Le Tour (or perhaps the City of Nantes) to post a ‘journey to the center of the earth' sprint prize at the 'town line' sign!
Knowing the cyclists love of sprinting for town lines, today's finish should rank as the ultimate sprint. Nantes is at the exact center of the Earth's “land hemisphere”. The land hemisphere is defined as the hemisphere on the earth containing the largest possible area of land (the other half of the Earth is the “water hemisphere”). The land hemisphere has seven eighths of the land on the Earth, including Europe, Africa, North America, most of Asia and most of South America. Europe is at the center of the land hemisphere and Nantes is at the geographic center of Europe.
An appropriate guide
Right on cue, a break quickly established itself in the early kms. Four riders pulled away and quickly set about establishing a significant lead. Today's “fab four” comprised Will Frischkorn (Garmin Chipotle - H30), Paolo Longo Borghini (Barloworld), Romain Feillu (Agritubel) and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis). Perhaps the most useful of these guys was Frischkorn who could supply his sponsors GPS system to help them find “the center of the earth”!
The day's four-man break Romain Feillu (Agritubel), Will Frischkorn (Garmin Chipotle),
Paolo Longo Borghini (Barloworld)
and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it/AP ]
The break peaked at just over 14 minutes with around 80kms covered. With 125kms still to go it was a good bet that the sprinters teams would not be letting this one go all the way.
Drip, drip, drip
As the kms ticked away the peloton gradually nipped away at the leader's advantage. Somewhat like the ‘Chinese water torture'! Mother Nature was playing her role in this with on and off rain and blustery winds tormenting the entire field all day. But for the ‘grand finale' the wind would be blasting on the rider's backs and therefore helping to create some pretty scary speeds.
How the cat and mouse game evolved:
95km to go: 9'54" / 70kms to go: 8'00" / 60kms to go: 7'00" / 30kms to go: 5'30" / 20kms to go: 4'30"
At 60kms the monotony was punctuated by a road-side protest trying to block the road. The riders were able to squeeze through as race director Prudhomme deftly negotiated his way through the disturbance. Having slowed down, the riders quickly accelerated to get away from there as fast as possible!
As Nantes appeared on the horizon it looked very much as if the break was holding strong and looked to be in a great position to take the day. But were they holding strong? For the longest time Caisse d'Epargne were very visible at the front of the peloton. Had they chosen today to relinquish Valverde's Yellow Jersey to a (GC) non-threat rider in the break?
If this was the case then for the leaders on the road this truly was a lucky break.
With 23kms to go a road divider caused a bad crash in the main peloton. As the fallen gathered themselves and their bikes together Team Quick-Step were hammering ‘full gas' at the front. In fact it was their impetus that probably caused the crash as riders further back in the bunch were scrambling to hang on to wheels. In the chaos some big names had quickly found themselves up to 20 seconds behind the flying Valverde group.
Suddenly the “boring” day was full of drama. With 15kms to go the Valverde group, which included Evans, comprised the 1st chase peloton now 3'30" behind the leaders. A second peloton which included Menchov and Ricco were 30 seconds behind the Yellow Jersey group and yet a third peloton was another minute behind them.
As predicted the strong prevailing wind was now firmly at the riders backs creating a veritable wind tunnel. After being out front all day this was a true blessing for the four leaders who were now giving it everything.
With just 5kms to go the break still had just over 3 minutes advantage. Time to think out a race winning strategy. Coming into the final couple of kms the attacks came thick and fast. On the line it was Samuel Dumoulin who just out kicked Will Frischkorn and Romain Feillu with Paolo Longo a few lengths back.
Stage winner Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) [ Image ©: www.gazzetta.it/AFP ]
These guys had been out front for 207.5kms and the pay-back was huge. France now had a double celebration as Dumoulin's stage win was accompanied by Feillu who claimed the Yellow Jersey. For Will Frischkorn this was a dream come true in his first ever Tour. As a member of the newly minted Garmin-Chipotle team he came desperately close to winning the stage, but second is not so shabby especially when it vaults you into third on GC (one place ahead of Valverde!).
Behind the break the first peloton was lead in by Robbie McEwen 2'03" back. Another 40 seconds behind them the second peloton rolled in with Menchov and Ricco looking somewhat miffed.
SPECIAL NOTE: One final surprise for the day was when yet another protester mounted the awards podium. Confronting Bernard Hinault is never recommended and he quickly, and none too gently, dealt with the blockhead and then handed him over to the police!
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