Tour de France: Blow for Bradley Wiggins as Team Sky rider crashes out
If Britain's Bradley Wiggins had flashbacks of his crash and early departure in last year's Tour yesterday nobody would have blamed him.
The Londoner came within a whisker of falling in the final kilometre, his team-mate Chris Froome went flying into the barriers and a key climber for Sky, Kanstantsin Sivtsov, pulled out with a broken left shin-bone.
Yesterday's final 30 kilometres of fraught, high-speed racing over a seemingly endless series of single-track climbs on the badly surfaced backroads around Boulogne could have been specifically designed for the ensuing series of spectacular accidents and incidents, ranging from mass pile-ups to the single Dutch rider who miscalculated on the final corner and was last seen riding "offpiste" down a Boulogne sidestreet. Wiggins – to his credit – came through it all unscathed and was within sight of the finishing gantry and safety when a Katusha and Vacansoleil rider touched wheels in the front pack and went down. Then the centre of the bunch crumpled into itself as another dozen riders followed suit, and as Froome went spinning into the barriers – fortunately of the canvas variety – while Sky's Australian veteran Michael Rogers screamed to the most abrupt of halts just ahead of him, for a split second all the memories of Wiggins broken collarbone of the 2011 Tour came flooding back.
However, footage then showed that the Briton just managed to stop in time, although he collided with Rogers and had to pull his foot from its pedal to stay upright. In the ensuing delay, Wiggins lost nearly 50 seconds before he could remount and ease across the finish line, but because the crash happened so close to the finish, all time gaps it had caused were annulled.
"I'm fine, no problem," were Wiggins' first four words when he crossed the line, clearly aware that it had been the narrowest of shaves and relieved that his overall position, in second place behind Fabian Cancellara was intact.
"It was really, really dangerous," Cancellara said, "small roads, left-right, up-down, all the time. I'm used to that when I'm racing in a Belgian Classic, but not here."
If Wiggins could breathe again, his team-mate Sivtsov was far less lucky after a Katusha rider skidded on the ragged tarmac edge of a country road, and fell, bringing down the Sky man.
For a good five minutes Sivtsov sat on the road with his legs splayed apart, all but stunned with the pain of his broken shin-bone and the shock of the crash. Then the Tour's race radio announced that he was in an ambulance, the first rider to quit the event this year.
For Sky, losing one of their key mountain men so early in the race represents a serious reduction in the team's climbing firepower. Sivtsov had been a regular training partner with Wiggins in the Canaries and had been instrumental in his victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné last month.
"That was a major blow." sports director Sean Yates said, "Kansta is an integral part of the team. If we have the yellow jersey we need to defend it, but we've got a lot of strong guys. We just have to deal with it."
The biggest loser of the day amongst the overall contenders was France's Thomas Voeckler, fourth in last year's race. Suffering from a knee injury since the start, Voeckler said he had been dropped as soon as the pace picked up in the final hour. "All those changes of pace were unbearably painful," he said.
Others like yesterday's stage winner Peter Sagan, though, were in their element as the peloton shrank steadily on terrain worthy of one of cycling's toughest hilly Classics, bounding away on the final climb through Boulogne-sur-Mer for his second victory in three days.
Making his Tour debut at 22, Sagan's victory in Seraing on Sunday made him the youngest stage winner since a certain Lance Armstrong in 1993, and yesterday's victory – complete with a swaggering salute based on, of all things, an imitation of Forrest Gump doing a run – reinforced both the Slovak's grip on the points competition and his intention to win it outright.
"I want to take this green jersey [of points leader] all the way to Paris now, although [Mark] Cavendish" [who could take his 22nd stage win today] "remains a serious threat," Sagan said.
Asked to explain his bizarre victory gesture, Sagan guffawed and said his team-mates had told him to do it, because "when they tell Forrest to run, he runs, and when they tell me to win, I win."
Others, though, were merely thanking their lucky stars they had managed to remain upright.
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