|Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quickstep) wins his first Tour de France stage.
(Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
The former cyclo-cross rider took advantage of a crash on the climb. He jumped away and powered to the finish unaware of the chaos behind him. The sprinters who had also avoided the crash hesitated behind Stybar, allowing him to reach the finish and win with his arms in the air. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished second with Bryan Coquard (Europcar) third.
It was a bittersweet day for Etixx-QuickStep. Stybar gave them another stage victory but Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) was caught up in the crash, injuring his left shoulder. He was pushed and escorted to the finish by several teammates as he held his left arm. He seemed to have broken his collarbone after landing hard on his left shoulder.
Martin was given the same time as the leaders and so kept the yellow jersey, but it is unclear if he will be able to continue in the Tour de France.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) were also in the crash but were not seriously injured.
Stybar celebrated his first stage victory at the Tour de France before knowing about Martin’s crash and his injuries.
“It feels really great. I think everyone who is participating here in France they wish to win a stage. It was my big dream. I thought I would have good chance on the stage with the cobbles, but I did it today, so I’m really very happy,” he said after celebrating on the podium.
“Only now I just have seen the crash from our leader Tony Martin, so I hope it’s not too serious and we can fight for the yellow jersey.”
Martin was able to pull on the yellow jersey on the podium but kept his left arm down by his side. He headed to the mobile x-ray unit near the finish to find out the full extent of his injuries and if he will at least be able to try and continue in the Tour de France.
Before the crash, a steady day in the saddle
Before the start, the 191km stage was expected to be another nervous day of racing due to the final 120km following the Normandy coastline. Riders were worried about echelons and attacks. However, the wind was little more than a breeze and just like in the finale on Wednesday, the peloton opted to stay safe and ride steadily below 40km/h rather than throw caution to the wind with so much racing still to come.
The riders rolled out of Abbeville in the sun, with 188 left in the peloton. Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) was the only non-starter after he was diagnosed with a fracture in his upper arm after stage 5. The Australian team is down to just six riders after also losing Simon Gerrans and Daryl Impey in the stage 3 crash, with Michael Matthews riding in pain with two fractured ribs.
Yet again the break of the stage formed early, with the peloton happy to let Perrig Quémeneur (Europcar), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Cofidis) and Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) go clear after just five kilometres. They were also given the freedom to open a big lead, reaching eight minutes after 21km.
Quémeneur has already been on the attack during stages 2 and 4, and according to l’Equipe has spent the most kilometres up the road in search of glory.
The Lotto Soudal team rode tempo at the head of the peloton to control the break and defend Andre Greipel’s green jersey. Giant-Alpecin also did some work, knowing that Degenkolb would be a contender on the uphill finish in Le Havre.
A historic day for Teklehaimanot and Africa
Teklehaimanot won the mountains jersey at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné, and he rode cleverly to take the single points on offer on the Côte de Dieppe and the Côte de Pourville-sur-Mer near Dieppe. That put him on equal points with stage 3 winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who won atop the Mur de Huy.
As the race hit the Normandy coast, the views were stunning and the riders seemed to take time to enjoy them, easing their speed to a steady tempo. The trio up front pushed on but their lead fell gradually, touching five minutes with 85km to go and then 2:50 with 60km to go. In Fécamp the gap was down to 1:50 as the teams again filled the road in lineout formations across the road to protect their team leaders.
Quémeneur won the intermediate sprint at Saint-Leonard, with 46km to go, but the real sprinting came behind as the green jersey contenders fought for the minor points. Europcar lead it out for Bryan Coquard but Degenkolb came past him to take fourth place and 13 points. Coquard was fifth, with Greipel sixth, Sagan seventh and Mark Cavendish eighth.
Damiano Caruso (BMC) crashed on a corner, hitting a straw bale at close to 50km/h but there were few crashes during the stage. Earlier Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had also taken a spill after stopping for a natural break but both quickly got up and back into the peloton.
The peloton eased after the sprint, allowing the break to extend their lead to back over a minute. It also gave the trio a chance to fight for the final climber’s points of the day. Teklehaimanot rode it perfectly, even if there was suspicion of a tacit agreement with Quémeneur and Van Bilsen. The Eritrean rider jumped away in sight of the summit and so scored a third point, giving him a historic Tour de France polka-dot jersey.
Teklehaimanot celebrated with a thumbs up live on television and celebrated even more on the podium when he pulled on the iconic polka-dot jersey.
A fast finale
Teklehaimanot, Quémeneur and Van Bilsen tried to stay out front as the kilometres ticked down on the way to Le Havre but the peloton upped the pace in the final 25km, reducing the gap to below a minute. After such a steady day in the saddle, everyone was pretty fresh and every team wanted to play their cards on the uphill finish.
Van Bilsen jumped away alone, with Teklehaimanot and Quémeneur preferring to sit up, shake hands and be caught by the peloton. Van Bilsen was eventually caught with four kilometres to go as the fight for the stage victory suddenly became very serious.
Everything seemed set for a sprint finish but then everything changed as Nibali, Quintana, Martin and others crashed and blocked the road for the riders behind. Even if most of the stage had been a quiet affair, the crash confirmed the golden rule of the Grand Boucle: there is never a quiet day at the 2015 Tour de France.
Friday’s 190.5km seventh stage is from Livarot to Fougeres. The stage rolls through the French countryside of the Mayenne department and is perfect for a high-speed sprint finish. Hopefully without the late crash of today.