Le Tour Stage 13: Crosswinds and Chaos as Cavendish Wins

Omega Pharma - Quickstep was on the front almost all day, eventually splitting the group over 100km from the finish. - Bryn Lennon

Mark Cavendish won the 25th Tour stage of his career, but his victory will be overshadowed by the work of three teams who split the race asunder in vicious crosswinds, reshuffling the GC and giving Cavendish a 120 kilometer leadout.

If you tuned into the final 20 kilometers of an ostentatiously sprinty stage, you missed the best action of the day as Omega Pharma - Quickstep lit the afterburners and did what Belgians do - gutter the group in crosswinds, this time 110 kilometers from the finish. With a strong 35kph wind blowing from the side, a surge from the team of Mark Cavendish quickly split the bunch in half with Marcel Kittel the most notable name caught behind. With one less rival to contend with in the final sprint - and the one who appeared the most notable challenger to Cavendish - Omega Pharma was happy to continue to drive the pace and widen the gap to an isolated Kittel. As an extra bonus, Matthew Goss was also caught behind the split.

But with 90 kilometers remaining, the racing was not nearly done, and as Alejandro Valverde had a mechanical issue with his rear wheel the pace picked up again, this time with Belkin contributing mightily to the pace setting in order to move Bauke Mollema up into second place on the overall classification. Though Valverde had five teammates working with him to chase back on, the gap held steady at 30 seconds and then exploded as gruppo Valverde went backwards to the Kittel group. More accelerations in the crosswinds managed to split the front group once more, but it was only temporary as approximately 80 riders hurtled towards the finish in Saint Amand Montrond.

That was the status quo until 30 kilometers to go, when Bjarne Riis pulled a tactical coup de grace and put his Saxo - Tinkoff riders on the front to surge again, prying free a group of about 20 riders including Contador, Bauke Mollema, Laurens Ten Dam, Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, and a few teammates for each of the two sprinters in the group. The gap hovered at 10-15 seconds for seemingly forever before the elastic snapped, giving the Saxo driven lead group a lead of 40 seconds. Froome looked isolated with several teammates in groups further down the road and for a while surprisingly received little help from the teammates of André Griepel, who was similarly distanced from the lead group.

The Sky workers fell apart on the front, dropping backwards one by with desperation and resignation on their faces as engine rooms shut down. Ahead, the leaders pressed on, now numbering less than 20 riders, with Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam contributing occasionally to the pace making to distance Froome. Under four kilometers to go, and entering the technical run into the finish, the gap was over a minute and still growing. Omega Pharma sent Niki Terpstra off the front early, approximately 1500m from the finish, in an attempt to wear down Sagan's sole teammate. After Bodnar dutifully closed the gap, Sylvain Chavanel took over leadout duties with Sagan on his wheel and Cavendish happily parked behind. When Chavanel pulled off, Sagan was left on the front and futzed around for a bit, clearly not wanting to open up the sprint early with Cavendish on his wheel. Then Cavendish jumped and it was all over, the victory margin back to Sagan a clear bike length and a half.

Behind, Froome's group was led home by Greipel some 1:08 down and Valverde, the air clearly having left his sails tens of kilometers before, came in 9:30 down. Though Froome still leads, his gap seems less insurmountable, especially if Contador and teammate Roman Kreuziger get feisty in the Alpes.

Top Five:

  1. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quickstep)
  2. Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling)
  3. Bauke Mollema (Belkin)
  4. Jacob Fuglsang (Astana)
  5. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma - Quickstep)
Overall Classification:
  1. Chris Froome (Sky Pro Cycling)
  2. Bauke Mollema (Belkin), at 2:28
  3. Alberto Contador (Saxo - Tinkoff), at 2:45
  4. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo - TInkoff), at 2:48
  5. Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin), at 3:01
Young Rider:
  1. Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma - Quickstep)
  2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), at 0:34
Points:
  1. Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling)
  2. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quickstep)
  3. André Greipel (Lotto Belisol)
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