I just have to say this; I picked the winner in a conversation this morning. I am SO smrt!
Today, as expected, was a sprint finish. Unexpectedly though, the drama was in the fact that the early break away was only caught in the closing meters- not kilometers- of the stage. Mark Cavendish provided Team Boring Kit (Columbia... seriously Bob, I'll help you for free) with their first ever stage win. Cavendish is considered to be the new McEwen- brash, cocky, mouthy, aggressive and damned, damned fast.
The day was marked with a long breakaway- as always- of three riders; Nicolas Vogondy- the current French National Champion (Agritubel), Florent Brard (Cofidis) and Lilian Jegou (Francaise des Jeux). Jegou was part of the stage 1 break that stayed away for the day and almost to the line- his legs obviously recovered. At a very close 1.5km from the line, the break was still just in front of the peloton as Vogondy launched himself in a last ditch effort to get his National Champion jersey onto the podium. It didn't work as the sprinters had worked their teams into a lather racing to the finish. Columbia was nearly upset in the sprint by an impressive ride by Credit Agricole as Mark Renshaw once again launched an amazing leadout for Hushovd. Cavendish, not wanting to lose this chance to win a Tour stage, launched his sprint a bit earlier than usual and won easily enough to sit up and celebrate the moment.
The sprint was a great finish and the top 5 riders was a blend of the best of two generations of sprinters with Cavenidsh winning in front of Oscar Freire and Erik Zabel, with Hushovd in 4th and a resurgent Baden Cooke (Barloworld) in 5th. Oddly, Robbie McEwen was a surprising 8th and has not shown his usual flash of sprinting brilliance... but we're only 5 stages into this race and I predict that the pocket rocket will find a way.
Sadly, after just 12km, Mauricio Soler of Barloworld abandoned the race. The wrist fracture proved to be too painful for him to continue the Tour. His presence will be missed in the mountains this year- his less than beautiful climbing style was a welcome sight last year. Hopefully he'll be back next year to contend. Gerolsteiner managed to have an easy day protecting the yellow jersey of Schumacher, since the sprinters were unwilling to let the break stay away and had their teams at the front reeling it back. Schumacher had an enjoyable first day with the jersey, but will have his hands full tomorrow.
Stage 6 is gonna hurt. It isn't the Alps or Pyrenees... but it's real climbs after a few days of not climbing and people still working their legs into the race. Expect the GC contenders to be paranoid of losing time to each other and also expect the unexpected. The first day of real climbing always seems to hurt a few people in ways nobody expected. Valverde had a crash today that might prove to be a problem tomorrow- he'll heal for later in the race, but tomorrow is gonna sting a bit. Schumacher can climb well enough that he should be able to defend, but it is not a given- especially if one of the other contenders wants to really test their legs. Of the GC contenders, I'd expect to see Cunego try something tomorrow and if not him, possibly Riccardo- nobody understands my genius- Ricco. Mr Mouth now sits over 4min down in 59th and is surely itching to pick a fight with somebody/ something.
The GC might look a good bit different tomorrow... so it should be fun to watch.