Stage 4: Mondorf-les-Bains to Vittel

First, a correction to yesterday’s blog. Nate actually managed to take the polka-dot jersey from his teammate yesterday. Today he dedicated it to the USA for the 4th of July. Nate talked about how his pursuit of the polka-dot jersey wasn’t a strategy – the tactic was to try to make a break if it went, and things just developed from there.

Another sprint stage today, flat as a pancake, and a rider breaks away almost immediately. No one goes with him which means he’s going to be exhausted, but he achieved a thirteen-minute lead. You’d think that would be enough time – and sometimes it is.  Many years ago, a young Frenchman Thomas Veockler managed to win the stage, secure the yellow, and wear it for over a week (he’s retiring after this year’s race), but it is very hard for a single man to survive once the sprinters put the hammer down. At 74 miles out – a ridiculous distance, one of the teams decides to do just that and stretches the peloton out to a long skinny line.

About a KM before the finish, a number of bends complicate the finish, making it more dangerous.

Strategy                                               

The breakaway rider is on a smaller team; so his strategy is to earn camera time for his sponsor.

This stage is so flat that the GC contenders are really focusing just on surviving the finish. Tomorrow’s stage finishes on a mountain-top; so the contenders are focusing on consuming enough calories and staying hydrated. Otherwise they could have a bad day tomorrow and lose time to riders who are in better shape.

Yesterday was a sprint stage, too, but it was so mountainous that some of the pure sprinters like Mark Cavendish didn’t select it as a stage to try to win. Today’s stage is flat enough to appeal to those sprinters; so Cavendish is expected to go for it.

Tactics

46.5 miles and the peloton has slowed down again with the break at a little over 4 minutes out. They don’t want to catch the guy too far out because then other breaks will go off and they’ll have to chase down another break.

Intermediate Sprint Points

34.7 miles and the break is still out by a little over 3 minutes. He will be the first person through the intermediate sprint point line. The sprinters will be racing for second because they can pick up points for the competition, to supplement the points they can get at the finish line.

The race to the intermediate point sped the race up enough that the break only has a little over 2 minutes now.

At 23 miles out, the peloton is 1.36 minutes at the top of the only climb of the day. The breakaway cyclist gets today’s mountain points, so the jersey will stay with Nate, provided Nate survives the finish.

The intermediate sprint and the mountain points don’t just carry points for the competition, there are little cash bonuses for the people who cross the lines first, cash which they traditionally split with the rest of their teams.

15.4 miles, and the peloton has left the rider in front out by 1.13. They really don’t want to let anyone else jump off the front.

Catch of the Break

10.5 miles and they finally caught the leader. But he was out in front most of the way – his sponsor got their money’s worth. As soon as they catch him, the peloton starts to reorganize. The leaders come to the front to try to stay out of trouble in case of a crash; at the same time, the sprint teams are trying to organize in preparation for their train. Within the last KM, the road narrows dramatically and there are two 90 degree turns just when the pack will be going at peak speeds. That makes everyone nervous, and nervous riders tend to touch the brakes, which also leads to crashes.

5.5 miles – the front of the peloton is a series of columns as each team lines up. Some are sprinter teams; some are GC teams just trying to stay away from crashes. The green jersey, Marcel Kittel, is pretty far back from the front. His train is lined up behind another team’s train. At this point, the folks at the front of each train are getting tired and peeling off the front, drifting back through the peloton. The people behind him don’t want to move to the side out of fear that they’ll get pushed back.

2.4 miles, the pace is picking up and things are starting to get chaotic in the pack. The green jersey is still pretty far back – how will he get to the front?

1.6 miles and the pace picks up even more. The road narrows. Cavendish’s train is at the front.

The Finish

1.3 miles out and there’s a crash. The yellow jersey goes down. The green jersey is up but isn’t in a position to compete.

Arnot DeMare finished first, Sagan second, Kittel in third.

Mark Cavendish tried to come up between Sagan and the boards. Cavendish leaned on Sagan, Sagan elbowed him back, and Cavendish and two other sprinters hit the pavement at 100 meters. It looks like Cavendish got run over by another rider. The yellow jersey made it up and over the finish line – since it was within the last 3 KM, no one loses time and the GC race doesn’t change.

DeMare is the French National Champion. The French haven’t had a sprint stage win in years; so he’s a national hero now.

Cavendish lay on the ground, motionless, and eventually got vertical and hobbled across the finish line. His left hand is padded and bleeding and he eventually pulled out of the race with a broken scapula.

Usually in these situations, if a rider is found guilty of bumping another rider, he loses any points he achieved that stage, and is relegated to the back of the pack. In this case, however, he was kicked out of the race. His team is protesting, but it’s unlikely anything will change overnight.

Geraint Thomas keeps the yellow jersey and Nate keeps the polka-dot another day. Arnot DeMare takes the green jersey. The white jersey stays with Pierre Latour and Team Sky keeps the Team lead.

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