Tour de France 2014: Xabi Zandio crash adds to Sky woes as Andre Greipel ends Marcel Kittel's sprint dominance
German rider takes victory on the 194km stage between Arras and Reims
Twenty-four hours after losing Chris Froome to one crash, Team Sky’s woes in the Tour de France showed no sign of letting up as another of their riders, the veteran all-rounder Xabi Zandio, abandoned because of a heavy fall.
On today’s fast-paced stage across the plains of northern France – the type where a single moment’s inattention or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time could incur the highest penalty – the 37-year-old Spaniard found himself unwittingly entangled in a crash around 80 kilometres from the finish in Reims.
Already involved in the crash with Froome on Wednesday but able to continue, today French TV images showed Zandio slumped in the road clearly dazed and in no fit state to race. A few minutes later, race radio confirmed tha the had abandoned the Tour, with medical bulletins later saying the Spaniard had been taken to hospital in an ambulance, suffering from a back injury and a suspected broken rib.
Reportedly a last-minute call-up to Sky’s Tour roster, Zandio’s equally early exit means only seven of the nine Sky riders who left Leeds last Saturday remain in the race.
While Sky leader Richie Porte came through the series of crashes unscathed and with his eighth place intact, the British outfit were not the only squad to lose a top team worker.
Tinkoff-Saxo’s Jesus Hernandez, one of Alberto Contador’s most valued, also quit the race in an ambulance with concussion, while points leader and top contender Peter Sagan was another of dozens of riders to fall.
Observed race leader Vincenzo Nibali: “The problem was that lots of riders were already feeling bad after Wednesday’s stage” – where Froome abandoned and numerous other riders fell on the dangerous cobbled farm tracks of northern France.
“The roads were wet and slippery again, and the wind made it very difficult, too. I was lucky I didn’t fall off. It was a very fraught day.”
The high pace and splits in the peloton late on also seemed to catch out multiple-stage winner Marcel Kittel, with the German’s Giant-Shimano team losing control of the 70-strong front peloton and Kittel – himself sporting a nasty injury on his left leg – seen drifting out of contention in the final kilometre.
“We screwed up,” said Kittel’s team captain, Roy Curvers – responsible for organising Giant-Shimano’s build-up for the finale – on specialist website biciclismo. “Five kilometres from the finish we had to be in the front twenty, otherwise it’s very hard to have a chance.
“We weren’t there in the right place, we got split up and everything got complicated. What happened? I don’t know. We’ve got to talk this one through in the team hotel tonight.”
One German rider who appeared to have responded well to criticism was André Greipel, whose faultlessly timed, very long final acceleration gave the Lotto-Belisol pro his first stage win of this Tour.
Slated by his team manager after London’s stage three for failing to stay with his team’s support workers in the finale – as a result of which Greipel finished a lowly 23rd – the German national champion admitted that when it came to taking his 14th win of the season at Reims, his manager’s sharp words had had the desired effect. “Of course nobody likes criticism, but I haven’t lost any confidence,” he said with a wry grin before half-joking. “Maybe criticism is good sometimes.”
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