I'm not one to say "I told you so"... but...
Saxo Bank gets Fabian Cancellara back in Yellow, Andy Schleck puts time into all of his rivals (thanks to Fabian's help/ expertise/ experience), the team stamps its authority onto the race as possibly the team to beat... but also sends Frank Schleck to the hospital with a broken collarbone. Andy's brother was the main casualty of a brutally savage day at the Tour. Not unlike eysterday's bloodletting, today's stage changed the outcome of the Tour- one way or another. Andy will now have to face the rest of the Tour without the physical and on-the-road emotional support of his brother. The two brothers would have surely been a very potent one-two punch against both Contador and Armstrong, but now the Saxo script is being rewritten.
The cobbles of Northern France exacted a heavy toll and provided the Tour organizers with another day of controversial spectacle. Riders bounced around the cobbles, with crashes happening all over the route. The pace of the race was unrelenting as well, as riders and teams fought to get into position before each of the 7 sections of pain-inducing ancient road. Along the way, riders and equipment snapped under the pressure. In the end, the Tour was reshaped again, for the second day in a row.
The finish in Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, near the entranceof the infamous Arenberg Forest section of paris-Roubaix, saw Thor Hushovd sprint from a small break group and claim the win ahead of Geraint Thomas (Sky) and cadel Evans (BMC). Evans was the highest placed of the real GC contenders by the end of the day, moving up to 3rd overall. Andy Schleck now sits in 6th, with Contador in 9th and Lance Armstrong in 18th. The race is far from over, but with the way things have been going in this race, every second might become more important than in previous years.
Sylvain Chavanel began the day in Yellow, with a custom painted Eddy Merckx- signed by Sir Eddy himself- and nearly 3 minutes cushion. By the end of an horrendous day for Chavenel, he would slip to 5th after numerous mechanical issues and flats. Chavanel soldiered on as best he could, but the jersey was lost at the end of the day... as was the Green jersey that is now back on the wide shoulders of Thor Hushovd.
In all of the years that Lance has ridden the Tour, today was the first time he has ever experienced a flat tire... and it dropped him to 18th place due to the timing late in the race. Lance rode the stones as if he had been riding them for years, but in the end it was the fickle mmistress Lady Luck who forced him into a very defensive position. After flatting, he and his reliable lieutenant Yaroslav Popovych chased like hell to regain the group. Lance burned up Popo' and had to carry on by himself until reaching a 2nd chase group.
Alberto Contador once again proved that his head is as strong as anybody's in the elite group of multiple Grand Tour winners. AC stormed in to the finish, until flatting just a few hundred meters from the finish line, with the first chase group. Many predicted the ultra lean Contador would be eaten alive by the jarring of the cobbles, but he managed to prove that he is at this Tour to win again. Just as he was previously criticised for his TT abilities, which are now so good that he was able to win the Spanish TT title last year and then beat Cancellara at the tour, Contador has proven that he is a champion who can ride any type of surface.
Another hero of the day has to be Ryder Hesjedal for was in the early break all the way to the finish. He finished the stage in 4th and moves up to 5th on GC. Hesjedal has enjoyed a fantastic season so far this year and today's result is proof that he's maturing as a rider for the harder racers.
It was a day of chaos and broken dreams. Tomorrow's Stage 4 should be the "easiest" of this year's stages- at just 150km and very little climbing. I am sure many sore riders from today and yesterday will be happy to have an easier day tomorrow to recover before things heat back up in the mountains. I'd expect to see the sprinters out in force. since things should be easier... but there are so many injured riders that nothing is certain. Thor should have a shot at a second stage, but I also expect Cav to be trying to redeem himself. Sadly, with his fractured wrist, Farrar may be out of contention, but somebody always seems to rise to the occasion... so we'll just have to wait and see who it is.
Footnote; This was on Velonation.com today after the stage and is a visceral reaction to the stage, given by everybody's favorite hard man Jens Voigt; it's something to think about.