Keukeleire sixth, Clarke and Hayman animate stage five

Wed 9 Jul 2014

Tour de France debutant Jens Keukeleire has highlighted an incredible day of racing, finishing sixth on stage five of the 2014 Tour de France.

Whilst many teams took a cautious approach to the stage, which as it promised was plagued with crashes as a result of wet and slippery conditions, ORICA-GreenEDGE featured heavily amongst the day’s action.

2012 Vuelta a Espana stage winner Simon Clarke and teammate Mathew Hayman joined an early escape group of nine riders.

“Bottom line, it was a very pleasing day on two fronts,” sport director Matt White said.

“Firstly, not one crash between our nine guys today so we are all healthy and safe.  And the second reason is that we really featured in the race today.

“We were on the front foot with Clarkey (Simon Clarke) and Maty Hayman. 

“It was always going to be a bit of a gamble to go in the breakaway, it certainly wasn’t planned, but they saw an opportunity with some big strong boys launching off the front early and took that.”

The breakaway, which developed its strongest lead of three minutes before Cannondale took control over the peloton ahead of the first cobblestone section, varied in formation as riders suffered from several minor crashes or mechanicals.

Eventually when it was caught by a much-diminished peloton with 26km to go, Clarke and Hayman were joined by teammate Keukeleire who had bridged across with the likes of the yellow jersey of Vincenzo Nibali and green jersey of Peter Sagan.

As Keukeleire took the reigns, a bold attack by Nibali, his teammate Jakob Fuglsang and Belkin’s Lars Boom caught the 25-year-old and remainder of the breakaway off guard with the latter taking out the stage.

“Whilst it (the breakaway) was a gamble, it did put us in the pole position behind so we could just sit there and follow,” White said.

“And when Jens Keukeleire was able to go across with the best it was a very pleasing sign.

“As always we would have liked to have gone for the win but Lars Boom was just too strong today and when it did split on the last cobble section, Jens was just in the wrong position to react.”

For the young Belgian, it was a pretty surreal day.

“This didn’t feel like the Tour de France,” Keukeleire said. 

“It felt like cyclo-cross today with the mud and the wet cobblestone sections.

“I always said I wanted to do Paris-Roubaix in the wet to have that experience, yes it’s 100km less and less cobblestone sections, but I think it came pretty close.”

Staying out of trouble was the key to survival for the majority of the race, whilst an aggressive ride by Astana in yellow proved the difference.

“I tried to stay as good as possible at the front,” Keukeleire said. 

“In the last couple of cobblestone sections the difference was made, especially by Astana, who were riding pretty impressively for Nibali. On the second last cobblestone section there was a small gap and it was only Lars Boom who could close it.

“I tried, I came close, but I just couldn’t make it and went through to the finish with Sagan and (Fabian) Cancellara.”