Monday July 6
Anvers to Huy
100 mile - 6328 ft elevation - 1 sprint - 4 KOM's
1st – Joaquim Rodriguez, Team Katusha
2nd – Chris Froome, Team Sky
3rd – Alexis Vuillermoz, AG2R La Mondiale
General Classification – Chris Froome, Team Sky
King of the Mountains – Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver, Team Katusha
Sprint Competition – Andre Greipel, Lotto-Soudal
Best Young Rider – Peter Sagan, Tinkoff - Saxo
Most Aggressive Rider - Jan Barta, Bora - Argon18
Team Competition - BMC Racing Team
It was total carnage on the course today - our on-the-ground contributor John Trevorrow referred to it as "the most horrific crash I have ever witnessed" and there's been a huge shake-up among GC contenders.
Four riders broke early and established a good break with Trek Factory Racing controlling the peloton. The group was made up of Serge Pauwels of MTN-Qhebeka p/b Samsung, Martin Elmiger of IAM Cycling, Bryan Naulleau of Team Europcar and Jan Barta of Bora - Argon18 who makes his second appearance in the break in as many days.
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The first hour of racing covered just a tick over 28 miles but was subdued. Trek Factory Racing and Tinkoff - Saxo controlling the front of the peloton keeping the breakaway at arms length, not allowing them more then three and a half minutes.
At just over the halfway mark, following a feed zone, the tempo suddenly lifted. The peloton were now only 12.5 miles away from the first categorized climb of the day (and the tour for that matter), and you could see the urgency from teams trying to get to the front and stay out of trouble. Jan Barta can count himself very unlucky. Two days, two breakaways, and both attempts blown away with no chance of a victory.
The 40 miles to go there was a show of strength at the front of the peloton. From left to right, AG2R La Mondiale, BMC Racing Team, FDJ, Astana Pro Team, Movistar and Tinkoff - Saxo lined up across the road, drilling it approaching the Cote de Bohissau.
The pressure at the front of the race caused a touch of wheels, resulting in an enormous crash. Cancellara the major causality, but also including Rui Costa and Tom Dumoulin.
To give an indication of how bad the crash was race director Thierry Gouvenou decided to neutralize the race. Unusually though, the race appeared to start back up almost immediately, Team Sky launching a strong attack at the foothills of the first climb. To add to the drama, the race was then officially stopped, with riders coming to a complete halt and wondering what on earth was happening.
Some big name withdrawals were to follow - Simon Gerrans of Orica-GreenEDGE and Tom Dumoulin of Giant - Alpecin the two most notable, along with Gerro's teammate Daryl Impey.
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The race was stopped for over 10 minutes, riders eager to start again but tour officials neutralizing the race until the top of the Cote de Bohissau. The riders were finally released with 31.25 mile to go, but (at least initially) no rider was keen to force the pace.
Yellow jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing was positioned at the back of the race, looking in terrible condition and spending a lot of time in discussions with his team car.
The pace did increase slightly with 28 miles to go, signalling a return to racing. Unfortunately that also saw a number of riders involved in the crash unable to hold the pace, and dropping back. The sight of Lotto Soudal rider Greg Henderson's ripped jersey and slumped posture one of many heartbreaking images at the back of the race.
At the front of the race, Astana Pro Team and Tinkoff - Saxo returned to hostilities, quickly splitting the bunch in two approaching the intermediate sprint. Cofidis Solutions Credits were the first team to open up the sprint, leading their man Nacer Bouhanni to within 1200 ft from the finish. Green Jersey wearer Andre Greipel was locked onto his wheel, and jumped early get a small gap on Bouhanni. The Gorilla would have enough strength to hold off John Degenkolb of Giant - Alpecin and take maximum points ensuring he would wear green tomorrow.
Approaching the first of three categorized climbs in the final 12.5 miles, the peloton were hitting speeds above 35 mph. The ascent of the Cote d'Ereffe was measured to begin with, creating attacking opportunities of which Team Europcar rider Angelo Tulik took advantage. The Sky train applied a small amount of pressure towards the top of the climb, which closed down Tulik's attack and spat some big name sprinters out the back. BMC Racing Team rider Michael Schar crested the climb first and scored the first KOM point of the Tour.
Team Sky who had been largely unsighted on the stage came to the front and forced the pace, with Richie Porte at the head of affairs stringing out the peloton.
Onto the climb of Cote de Cherave and riders were getting shelled left and right, such was the pace. Tinkoff - Saxo and Etixx - Quick Step were the key protagonists at this point. Rafal Majka of Tinkoff - Saxo laying down the hurt, riders visibly suffering just trying to hold a wheel.
And so it came down to the final climb of the Mur de Huy. A short climb that produced a grand stand finish, so much action in the final mile.
Young Bob Jungles from Trek Factory Racing went early, youthful enthusiasm getting the better of him as he quickly faded. Team Katusha came to the front trying to set it up for Joaquim Rodriguez.
Froome hit the front at 1500ft to go, trying to blow everyone else up riding at a staggering 12.5mph up gradient's well in excess of 10%. Rodriguez was able to answer Froome's attack and standing up out of the saddle managed to gap the previous tour champion. Try as he might, Froome couldn't hold the wheel and Rodriguez looked the winner with 600ft to go. These two cleared out from what was left of the peloton, crossing in first and second, putting huge time gaps into everyone else.
The yellow jersey wearer Cancellara struggled to finish the stage, but did the jersey proud, pushing through the pain and finishing.
There will be a large number of sore bodies tomorrow, potentially more withdrawals overnight, and the really bad news for those riders is Stage 4 will be raced over the cobbles...
A quick note on Aussie Ironman Adam Hansen from Lotto Soudal, who crashed on Stage 2 dislocating his AC joint. After a visit to the doctor's office he was told he was going to be in for "the most painful 3 weeks" if he continued to ride... to which he replied "I eat pain for breakfast. Bring it on!" How can you not love him?!