Result: Mark Cavendish won a frantic bunch sprint ahead of Philippe Gilbert and José Joaquín Rojas.
Here’s how it happened: A breakaway of four riders formed early in the day but didn’t last in front as long as they would have hoped. The peloton reeled them in with more than 70km remaining as the Garmin-Cervelo team rode hard at the front to try and cause a split in the bunch amidst the cross winds that swept through Brittany.
With about 30km to go, the former French champion Thomas Voeckler and his compatriot Jeremy Roy attacked out of the peloton in an effort to thwart the sprinters. The gap reached a maximum of about 1’10″ before the teams of Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar got the chase organised. Despite a solo Voeckler counter-attack with 3km remaining, he was swept up just under the 2km banner.
The yellow jersey wearer Thor Hushovd hit the front with 300 metres to go but was rounded by Philippe Gilbert who, although not noted for winning bunch sprints, looked to have the stage win in the bag. But then Mark Cavendish came storming past having had to start his sprint from way back to take his 16th stage victory in the Tour de France.
The Big Winner: The stage winner Mark Cavendish. Yet again he misfired in the first sprint stage in a Grand Tour (back on Stage Three) only to prove his doubters wrong almost immediately.
However the cohesion of his HTC-HighRoad sprint train should remain a worry. Again they looked disorganised and lacked numbers in the finale. Cavendish was required to make his own way to the front of the race to contest the sprint and almost didn’t make it.
Cavendish looked to have been given a slight helping hand by fellow-Brit Geraint Thomas in the final few hundred metres. It is widely rumoured that Cavendish will be a team-mate of Thomas next year at Team Sky.
The Big Losers: Janez Brajkovic. The Team RadioShack rider crashed shortly after the intermediate sprint. He never recovered and was forced to abandon the race. The Slovenian had ambitions to finish in the top five overall and having acted as a domestique last year, he had geared his entire season around success at the Tour.
Throughout a hectic middle portion of the race there were plenty of other crashes too. Alberto Contador came down, ripping the back of his jersey off the tarmac. He then threw his bike in the ditch in frustration as he waited for a replacement. Other G.C. favourites Bradley Wiggins and Robert Gesink also hit the deck but managed to make it back into the peloton without any serious damage.
The former green jersey winner Tom Boonen was less fortunate. He came down in a separate crash landing awkwardly on his arm. He remounted and soldiered on but he struggled to grip the handlebars which he means he may have broken a wrist or a collarbone.
What about the Irish? Nicolas Roche finished in 20th place on the stage keeping well out of trouble. He moves up three places to 24th place overall, still 1’12″ down on the race lead.
What happens tomorrow? Stage Six at 226.5km is the longest stage in the race and should provide another opportunity for the sprinters to shine. There is a slight ramp up as the race reaches the finish line so it should suit the more versatile sprinters such as Borut Bozic, Edvald Boasson Hagen or the race leader, Thor Hushovd.