Tour de France Stage 5 – Froome falls while Lars booms

I love the Tour de France. I’m not sure why. Last time I got on a bike was in a gym and my VO2 max is more like a VO2 min. Nonetheless, I have been watching the Tour on SBS since the early 90s, when all you got was a 30 minutes highlight package each evening. Year on year, SBS’s coverage has improved and correspondingly so have my late nights. I’m not the only Almanacker, judging by my Twitter stream last night.

Stage 5 was one of those stages that, outside the Alps and the Pyrenees, offered the most to the occasional cycling viewer. The cobblestones, slippery roads and cross-winds of Belgium and Northern France bust up the peloton and create opportunities for individuals and teams to move more quickly than even a relatively organised peloton can manage. Then, of course, there is the omnipresent threat of a crash or two. I am sufficiently ghoulish to feel some level of thrill at that prospect, no matter how much I intellectualise it away.

Cobblestones are a weird thing to race bikes on. It’s kind of like filling the pool with piranhas just before the final of the 10m platform diving at the Olympics – an added difficulty and danger to something that is already difficult and dangerous. As a boy I would occasionally visit my Aunt and cousins in the Adelaide Hills during the school holidays. Riding a bike downhill on dirt roads between Harrogate and Woodside was always an act of faith. You would hold your line and hang on knowing you had little control of the wheels below your feet. The shortest moment of doubt would see you on your backside with a scrape or two to get dettolled. I imagine that’s what riding on cobblestones feels like. While it makes for fascinating viewing it’s more than a little bit nuts.

As it turned out in Stage 5, the cobblestones were just the bogeyman that made every moment on the wet tarmac like Travis Cloke kicking for goal – constantly on the edge so mistakes are made. The heavy rain on the metal roof in Adelaide provided the immersive experience for the Tour. The support cars sprayed large volumes of water behind them as the cyclists nervously approached each sodden corner. And there were crashes – heaps of them.

Froome went down again after having crashed in Stage 4. The tell-tale bits of bloodied flesh peeking through his torn shorts a clue as to the outcome. When he went down a second time for the day and got up holding his wrist, Froome sensibly decided not to mount his third bike for the day, instead climbing into the team car. Whether he should have been out there at all may be a key part of the debate about whether the Tour will go over the cobblestones again.

Froome had plenty of company (literally) on the road. Kittel went down like a skittle. Van Garderen, Greipel, Kristoff, Pineau, Valverde, Kiryienka and Rojas, amongst many others, all went down on the road before what was left of the peloton even made it to the cobbles. During and after the cobbles more left the saddles – most spectacularly Van Den Broeck who missed a corner and almost completed a forward roll into a spectator all while still attached to his bike.

This aside, there was some fascinating and bold riding. Aussies Simon Clarke and Matthew Hayman braved it out in a breakaway before being swallowed up by the acceleration of Nibali’s team. Particularly Fuglsang helped Nibali to put time on his rivals for the yellow jersey. Geraint Thomas rode Richie Porte back into contention once it was clear Porte was the new team leader in Froome’s absence.

Finally, Boom stuck with the front group as it dissolved around him and rode himself up to Fuglsang and Nibali just prior the last stretch of cobbles. As they hit the bumps, he attacked. Nibali and Fuglsang were content to let him ride off and claim the victory, knowing their goal for the day was achieved with Froome out and putting a couple of minutes on a cautious Contador.

It was an engrossing night’s viewing and, I suspect, a rare privilege. I can’t imagine we will see too many more stages like this in future Tours. The danger is just too great when sandwiched in the middle of a grand tour. Riders won’t tolerate this sort of risk, outside the Paris-Roubaix, for much longer. I did 30 minutes on the spin bike in the gym today, not a cobblestone nor any Dettol in sight, thankfully.

About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"

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