Michael Albasini powered to fifth on the uphill finish to the third stage of the Tour de France. The course included six categorized climbs – three category three and three category four – in the second half of the race. The narrow roads over the day’s difficulties set the scene for chaos and crashes that saw Simon Gerrans taken out of contention ahead of the finale.
“It was a mixed bag for us,” said Sports Director Matt White. “It was always going to be a stressful day. We looked at the course last week, and we saw the narrowing of the roads and the other elements that made up the second half of the race. We knew it would be nervous. We had some bad luck but so did other teams. That’s the Tour de France. All that aside, Albasini had a great ride to finish things off for us with fifth place.”
The day started calmly enough with a five rider break going clear in the opening kilometers. RadioShack-Nissan-Trek, working for race leader Fabian Cancellara, set a steady tempo that kept the escape group in check. The quintet would build up an advantage of nearly six minutes before the field pegged them back closer to the five minute mark.
The intermediate sprint set the scene for the first hints of the action that would follow. Although Matt Goss handily dominated the mid-stage sprint from the bunch on the previous two stages, he could only manage three points, for 13th place, today.
“The boys mistimed the intermediate sprint,” admitted White. “That’s all there was to that.”
With the intermediate sprint completed, the day’s difficulties came in quick succession on windy, narrow roads, and with the difficulties came the crashes.
“I think Simon went down the hardest,” said White. “He has some cuts and scrapes from touching the ground and hitting a barbed-wire fence. Sebastian Langeveld and Brett Lancaster waited for him. The crash occurred on a descent, and it took us a long time to get bikes to him. He had to wait for so long, and the bunch had already split into a lot of different groups from that crash.”
Ahead, the field reabsorbed the remnants of the break. Albasini had Baden Cooke for company in the lead group that formed during the final frantic kilometers. Cooke put Albasini into prime position on the finishing climb, and Albasini led the charge to the line.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) jumped from the bunch behind to easily claim top honors on the stage. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky Procycling) and Peter Velits (Omega Pharam – Quickstep) filled out the podium with Cancellara edging out Albasini for fourth.
“We did not have anyone involved in the crash at the finish,” said White. “Only Albasini and Cookie were in the front group, and Alba was in front of the crash.”
White expects tomorrow to be more of the same.
“It’s going to be another interesting day on the coast tomorrow,” said White. “It’s looking like it’s going to be wet and windy. It will be a long stressful day in the saddle tomorrow.”