Tour de France Stage 6: Road Rash
Yesterday's stage winner crashes—twice. An overall favorite is knocked virtually out of contention. A top team is shattered. And Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) wins his third in only seven stages (including the prologue). Nobody could've predicted such a dramatic day on what was to be a relatively quiet, flat 207.5-km (129-mile) stage leading into the mountains.
Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) led an early, four-man breakaway up the road only 10km into the day, taking advantage of the fact that teammate Tyler Ferrar was taking "a timeout" from bunch sprints to lick his wounds from four crashes in only six days. That meant the big American was off the hook for leading Ferrar into a finish line sprint scrum, and was free to pursue personal stage-victory glory in his final Tour de France.
Things started getting interesting 50km in, when a crash brought down two-stage winner Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Tour of California winner Robert Gesink (Rabobank), among others.
For the next 2.5 hours, it was a textbook sprint stage, with the peloton slowly reeling in the break, who's lead maxed out around 6:50. With the gap under a minute, and only 25km of racing left on the day, a massive crash—dubbed the "Metz Massacre" by some cycling media—blew the stage wide-open. Caught up in the fracas was, well, nearly half the field, including Giro d'Italia champ Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp), Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), Mark Cavendish (Sky), Greipel and, once again, Tyler Ferrar. The peloton was split in half, with GC favorites Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, and current leader Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) safe and sound in the lead half of the peloton.
Evans, Wiggins and company continued the chase into the finish, eventually sweeping up the break, including Zabriskie, with only 1.3km left to the line. In the sprint, Slovak champ Peter Sagan beat out Greipel and Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE), letting out a primal scream as he took his third stage in this Tour. A crash victim chase group that included last year's third-place finisher, Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), Scarponi, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Gesink finished 2:09 after the lead group, putting a damper on their GC hopes.
After what seemed an interminable wait, the remains of the Garmin-Sharp team—including Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal, Christian Vande Velde and Dan Martin—limped across the line at 13:24. American Tom Danielson (Garmin), who'd separated his shoulder in a crash just days before, withdrew and was carted off to the hospital. Teammate Johan Vansummeren, who was knocked out in the crash, crossed the line another three minutes back, his jersey in tatters.
Fabian Cancellara retains the yellow leader's jersey going into stage 7, which will be his 28th career stage in the maillot jaune (a record for a rider who's never won the Tour). He fully expects to lose it after Saturday, when the race drives 199km into the mountains, ending on a steep, category-1 climb into La Planche des Belles Filles. And, who knows, with so many GC hopefuls so deep in the hole after today's stage, maybe we can expect to see some individual heroics in the form of big attacks in the upcoming mountain stages.