Result German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) again showed his speed at the business end, edging Australian Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Argentine Juan Jose Haedo (Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) in a thrilling finale to stage five.
Here’s how it happened: Again a crash took place in the final three kilometres of a stage while Jan Ghyselinck (Cofidis) almost led from start to finish with the Belgian only overtaken in the final 200m of the day. Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) retained his seven-second lead in the race for the yellow jersey, with race favourite Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) of England and Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) just behind.
Reigning champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) of Australia remains 17 seconds adrift of Cancellara. Green jersey leader Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) was held up in the late pile-up and saw his lead in the race for the points classification cut to 18 points by Goss, while American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) leads the young rider classification.
Almost all of the day’s action was led by a four-man breakaway group with Ghyselinck, Julien Simon (Saur-Sojasun), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat) charging away from the main group after just three kilometres. The 196.5km race from Rouen to Saint-Quentin was not the most challenging of stages and as a result, the peloton were happy to sit back and wait for their time to attack.
The quartet led the race for over 190km as the crashes that marred stage four were almost avoided. But with just under three kilometres remaining, riders – aware if a crash occurred they would receive the same time as the stage winner — began to get more aggressive.
One of those was American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and with too many riders in too little space, a collision seemed inevitable. It appeared that Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) cut across Farrar and caused the incident which saw the latter hit the deck hard as the peloton were broken up. Further ahead, Ghyselinck, Simon, Urtasun and Ladagnous were still in the lead and with as little as one kilometre to ride, they remained in front.
That was when Ghyselinck launched his bold move to win the stage as he charged away from his fellow escapees. At one stage it appeared he might have been able to stave off the chasing pack but with just under 200m remaining he simply could not go with the sprinters and eased off.
That allowed Goss to take the lead but it was short-lived as for the second day running, Greipel finished better than everyone else.
The big winner: Greipel seemed to have lost the stage at the last to Goss but he dug it out to claim another stage win.
The big loser: Let’s say Mark Cavendish. Yesterday the Manx Missile crashed and burned in the final furlongs. Today, he would have wanted to bounce back on the Isle of Man’s national day. When he went for the gas however, it looked as if yesterday’s fall had taken its toll. On a day when Lance Armstrong’s shadow again loomed large, it’s small beer.
What about the Irish? “Crash crash and more crash” Nicholas Roche wrote on Twitter after the race. He came in in 34th place while his cousin Dan Martin was down in 56th.
So what happens tomorrow then? Stage six will be raced from Epernay to Metz over 207.5km on Friday.