x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Course takes a bite out of Tour de France competitors

Mark Cavendish held off a charging Philippe Gilbert for the yellow jersey as wind tossed the field around on the fifth stage, sending several riders crashing out.

Mark Cavendish, left, reacts to the challenge of Philippe Gilbert, right, during the final sprint in the fifth stage of the Tour de France from Carhaix to Cap Frehel. Cavendish held him off to win the stage.
Mark Cavendish, left, reacts to the challenge of Philippe Gilbert, right, during the final sprint in the fifth stage of the Tour de France from Carhaix to Cap Frehel. Cavendish held him off to win the stage.

CAP FREHEL, FRANCE // Janez Brajkovic, the RadioShack rider, pulled out of the Tour de France last night with a broken collarbone after getting caught up in one of the crashes which marred the fifth stage and involved several contenders.

After falling close to the halfway mark of the stage, Brajkovic quickly received treatment for minor cuts and scrapes to his face, and was then evacuated to a hospital in the town of Guingamp.

He was diagnosed with a broken collarbone and a mild concussion, but a head scan showed no serious injuries.

The Slovenian, who won the Criterium du Dauphine race last year, was one of the four RadioShack leaders with Levi Leipheimer, Christopher Horner and Andreas Kloeden.

"It's a bad day for us," Johan Bruyneel, the team manager, said. "But we still have three leaders. Regarding Brajkovic, I think it's just a small fracture, let's wait and see if he can recover in time for the [Spanish] Vuelta."

Bruyneel said Brajkovic could not remember the crash afterward.

"He couldn't tell us what happened, where he was and on which race," Bruyneel said.

Leipheimer was also involved in a crash after other riders bumped into him but returned to the race, while another key cyclist from the American team, Yaroslav Popovych, fell twice.

"I don't know if Popovych will be OK, he was badly damaged and we need to assess the situation regarding his wrist," Bruyneel said.

Alberto Contador, the defending champion, fell after 72 kilometres, shortly after Brajkovic, but escaped uninjured and was able to return to the race after getting a new bike.

Contador, who lost more than one minute during the first stage after being slowed down by a crash, quickly returned to the front of the pack with the help of his Saxo Bank teammates.

Among other contenders who crashed during the windy 164.5km stage between Carhaix and Cap Frehel were Bradley Wiggins, the Team Sky rider, Rabobank leader Robert Gesink of the Netherlands and Quick Step's Tom Boonen of Belgium.

Boonen, a former world champion, crashed at the 102km mark and remained on the ground for several minutes as the race medical staff treated him, before getting back on his bike. He finished the stage more than 13 minutes behind yesterday's fifth stage winner Mark Cavendish.

Gesink injured his left knee and was last night seen discussing the situation with the race doctor.

The most spectacular crash involved Contador's teammate Nicki Sorensen, who went down after he hit a motorcycle which was trying to overtake him.

"I was riding safely on the side of the road as a motorbike knocked me off the bike," he said. "He was actually going so close that my bike was drawn after his motorbike for 200 metres and I landed heavily on the ground. Luckily, I'm OK and able to ride again tomorrow."

Britain's Cavendish took the stage after a mass sprint, while Thor Hushovd of Norway kept the overall race lead.

"It was very nervous, and because of that you get a lot of crashes, because there are 200 riders who want to be in front," said Hushovd, who retained the yellow jersey for a fourth successive day.

Cavendish, one of the world's best sprinters, collected his 16th career Tour stage victory and first this year by speeding past Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, in second, and Jose Joaquin Rojas in third.

"I am really happy. It was a difficult finish," said Cavendish. "I put every thing into it ... If we win, it's not because we're lucky, it's because we're good."

The top standings didn't change because the vast majority of riders crossed in the pack right behind the sprinters. Hushovd holds a one-second lead over Cadel Evans of Australia in second, and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg is third overall, four seconds back.

The sixth stage, the longest of the Tour, is from Dinan to Lisieux. At 226.5km, is not flat but rolling, and presents a chance for the breakaway artists.

At 1.5 km from the finish at the front of the basilica in Lisieux there is also a decent climb and it is expected that some riders will lose contact at that point because the peloton will lose shape. Pure climbers, such as Andy Schleck, will be more comfortable than a sprinter.