With an almost guaranteed sprint on the Champs-Elysйes on Sunday, today was the last real chance for the attacking riders as they took on the 222k lumpy race from Blagnac to Brive-La-Gaillarde. Pez favorite, Michael Morkov certainly made no secret of his desire to be in today’s break but finally it was his two teammates Karsten Kroon and Nick Nuyens who made the day’s move, getting away after 60km with a group of 14 others.
A perfect profile for the attackers today with just enough ‘bumps’ to make it interesting.
Joining the SaxoBank-Tinkoff pair were 14 other strong rouleurs that represented a wide range of teams; Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Nissan), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Davis Millar (Garmin-Sharp), Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Belisol), Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoliel-DCM), Luca Paolini (Katusha), Jeremy Roy (FDJ-Big Mat), Rui Costa (Movistar), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) and Patrick Gretsch (Argos-Shimano).
With 16 riders up the road and their last chance of a stage win disappearing with them, Omega-Pharma-Lotto, Euskatel, Ag2r, BMC and Saur Sojasun set about chasing down the group who were working very well together. The pace was on in both the bunch and in the break when disaster struck back in the peloton in the form of a large black dog who ran out into the middle of the peloton. The dog took down numerous riders with his little escapade including Philippe Gilbert, Denis Menchov, Arthur Vichot and of course Tyler Farrar who seems to have had a black cat following him around this Tour.
Luckily all were able to remount and get back in the peloton without suffering too serious injuries but before remounting his bike Gilbert had some choice words to say to the dog’s owner about his irresponsibility of bringing a dog to the Tour and not keeping it on a leash. In fact if Gilbert’s director wasn’t there to guide him away from the confrontation and the fact that the owner was seemingly hiding behind his 8 year old daughter, the words may have developed into even more looking at the state of Gilbert’s anger.
Understandably this crash didn’t just upset Gilbert, it also upset the rhythm of the peloton’s chase and the group was able to increase its gap to almost 3 minutes before the Omega Pharma, Saur-Sojasun, Euskatel, Ag2r, BMC chase alliance could finally get back into their chase. The 5 team alliance wasn’t having a great effect on the gap though with the 16 leaders pushing hard to hold onto their 2m30s lead, determined to get to the finish line to dispute the victory together.
Interestingly BMC’s director John Lelangue stated that his team weren’t chasing the break for the stage win, instead just to try and keep the gap small. With no GC riders in the break this might seem like a strange maneuver but there was logic behind it. They had a number of sick and injured riders in their rank (Stephen Cummings in particular) who were concerned about being dropped from the bunch in the final 10kms of the day and if the gap to the day’s winner would be too big then they would risk finishing outside the time limit.
With the time gap always hovering around the 2m30s mark, BMC saw that their riders should be safe today so they stopped their part of the chase with 60kms to go to be replaced in the 5 team alliance by Rabobank who injected some much needed firepower into the chase. It was this ‘Dutch’ power that brought the gap down under 2 minutes for the first time since the beginning of the break and their lead started to look tenuous. Ten kilometers later Liquigas then joined the chase to try and set Peter Sagan up for another stage win but despite this extra power, the break held firm with a 1m30s lead with 35km remaining.
28 km remaining and Cofidis were the next team to join the alliance and this time the added power produced some results dropping the gap to less than 1 minute for the first time. The gap then hovered around the 40 – 50 second mark for numerous kilometers before Adam Hansen attacked the break with 20km to go to be joined by Jeremy Roy.
Three others then tried to bridge (Vinokourov, Paolini & Nuyens) whilst the rest of the break was reabsorbed by the peloton with just 15 km remaining. These three finally got across with 13km remaining but their lead over the peloton was just 30 seconds.
The group then hit the last climb of the day and it was Vino who was the strongest taking Paolini and Hansen with him. By this stage though the pace back in the peloton was infernal and the gap had dropped to just 7 seconds with 10km remaining to a group of 3 attackers from the peloton (Roche, Sanchez & Kloden) and a further 5 seconds to the peloton. These three got across but the 5 were disorganized and this disorganization cost them dearly as the stage could have been theirs.
Instead it was the maillot jaune himself, Brad Wiggins who led the chase with 1.5km remaining trying to set up Cavendish before Boassan Hagen took over. Then still with 500m remaining and the break not yet caught, Cavendish launched himself out of the peloton at an amazing speed to catch the remains of the break and take the win with such ease that he won by a large margin. It was a truly amazing display by Cav to once again confirm that he is the quickest and THE big favorite for the Champs Elysee on Sunday and the Olympics in 2 weeks.
A bit of man love after a good leadout never seems to go astray….
That now makes it 22 stage victories for Cav in his short Tour de France career and for me it was one of his best with an incredible turn of speed that left all the other sprinters floundering.
The moment where Cav literally rocketed past the remains of the break and shattered their hopes.
Stage 18 Results:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling
2 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
4 Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team
5 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
6 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin – Sharp
7 Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana Pro Team
8 Sйbastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
9 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
10 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
General Classification After Stage 18:
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:41
4 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:05:53
5 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:08:30
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:09:57
7 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan 0:10:11
8 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:10:17
9 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:11:00
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:11:46