A dramatic day of racing today, as the race lead passed to French rider Sylvain Chavanel of Quick-Step. It looked like a day for the sprinters with only three category three climbs on the menu. The teams of the sprinter and the race leader, Alberto Contador, controlled an early break of five with ease. Everyone expected a sprint.
With 50 kilometers left to ride, Rabobank overturned all expectations. The boys in Orange went to the front and went big. In an unusual turn of affairs, race leader Alberto Contador got caught behind the split with no team-mates for help. Rabobank and Quick-Step worked together, widening the gap precipitously. Windy and rainy conditions helped their cause. At the finish, both teams benefitted, though Quick-Step came out the double winner. Sylvain Chavanel took the stage win and the race lead. But Rabobank's climber, Juan Manuel Garate sits just 33 seconds down in second. Tomorrow's stage covers a bumpy, classics style course and perhaps the opportunity for more drama.
The new general classification:
Sylvain Chavanel Quick-Step
Juan Manuel Garate, Rabobank, 33 sec.
Juan Antonio Flecha, Rabobank, 36 sec.
Former race leader Alberto Contador sits 6th after today's hijinx at 1.03. Luis Leon Sanchez is close behind, 1.12 behind French rider Sylvain Chavanel. Neither Spanish favorite is completely out of the race, with a climbing finish on Stage 6 still to ride. No doubt Sylvain Chavanel will ride out of his mind to keep the jersey, and climber Juan Manuel Garate may well retain his high position in the general. Still a long way to Nice.
Here are the stage results.