With the ludicrous profile of this stage, starting with a very overrated cat. 2 climb and the last climb of the day topping out at 100 kilometres to go, it was never going to be the spectacle it could have been. Also, TV coverage started just as the boring flat bit commenced. Break or sprinters, we wondered, break or sprinters? Sprinters.
The break got away, Europcar again taking a conservative approach, just ending a solitary rider in the break, Perrig Quemeneur, a good climbing domestique, as he proved in the Giro last year. MTN wanted the break to get away on the first climb, so King of the Mountains Daniel Teklehaimanot could get a few more points, and that he did, taking five on the first climb to further pad his lead, and grip on the reverse polka-dots. They were joined by FDJ rider Arnaud Courteille.
As the break crested the final climb of the day (100 kilometres out and taken by Teklehaimanot, obviously, the Eritrean taking 15 points on this stage, to make 25 altogether) the peloton were far closer, taking four minutes on the climb and descent, leaving the break with a tenuous advantage, under two minutes, thanks to Cofidis and Luis Angel Maté, who for the first time ever was seen outside of a break. Giant also took to the front for Luka Mezgec.
The break continued to roll along, sharing the work in what was probably a crosswind, judging by how many times the team cars came beside them.
Nelson Olivera started riding for Lampre, in what was really a monotonous few kilometres, as the peloton chased but didn't really chase, because the break was barely a minute ahead with thirty kilometres to go, and they didn't want to catch it so early, in case there were more attacks.
However, the pressure was building, and the almost inevitable happened. On a straight, though narrow piece of road, Yaroslav Popovych went down, causing several riders to go down, and far more, including Katusha's Joaquím Rodríguez were caught behind it, causing splits in the peloton, with Rodríguez, as in a long line 40 riders threaded through the team cars, back to the peloton. The break also profited, but not substantially.
Rodríguez would eventually come in 1:10 down on the peloton, taking the GC out of the picture with the TTT to come tomorrow.
Cofidis and Lampre were committed now, really chasing the break, as they turned into crosswinds, and as they are contractually obliged to, LottoNL and Lotto Soudal turned up. The gap fell accordingly to a non-threatening thirty seconds.
Courteille, probably the strongest, was pulling the break, but they were down to seventeen seconds of a lead with five kilometres remaining and as the lead slipped into single figures, Quemeneur attacked, in vain, but they were all successfully caught with 3.1 kilometres left.
Lampre had four men, Cofidis five, and Lampre were on the left, Cofidis to their right. Orica GreenEDGE completed the trident on the extreme right as there was yet another crash, Wilco Kelderman going down along with Kris Boeckmans. MTN started the leadout in earnest, as Modolo switched to their train. Boasson Hagen opened up the sprint from 300 metres, but Nacer Bouhanni went around him, and easily held of Samuel Dumoulin's desperate lunge to take his third win of the season and by far the biggest.
It was an excellent win by Bouhanni, and a first sign of Cofidis getting their leadout train up to speed, after Bouhanni being isolated many times.
|Edvald Boasson Hagen
|Jonas Van Genechten
Yellow: Peter Kennaugh
Green: Sacha Modolo
Red-white: Daniel Teklehaimanot
White: Nacer Bouhanni
Tomorrow's the TTT, otherwise known as the only stage all week where we're sure that Daniel Teklehaimanot will not be way ahead of the rest, going for mountain points.
As you can see, not too long, not too tricky, though a slight false flat for a bit. Not particularly technical either, ripe for a real power effort. The thing about it is though, is that there aren't too many major time triallists here. The usual favourites, Orica GreenEDGE have only brought one of their Worlds six, in Damien Howson, so they're probably out. BMC, the World Champions, however, do bring Schar, Van Garderen, Rohan Dennis and Daniel Oss, none of whom are too bad at the discipline, so they could be favourites. Also, Sky and Etixx don't bring teams of complete climbers. Sky won the Romandie TTT with a similar team of Froome, Roche, Rowe and Stannard, and they're all here. Etixx have Tony Martin, which is always worth about a minute, and Terpstra, Serry and Vandenbergh are no slouches. But BMC are my bet, to put Van Garderen a few seconds ahead before the mountains.