Hunter finishes 4th on Monday and 5th yesterday
Yesterday was the longest stage of this year’s Tour de France, at 236km. One Discovery Channel rider didn’t start because of multiple fractures to his thumb in a massive crash just under 3km from Monday’s finish into Ghent.
It was this stage into Ghent that Hunter, riding in scarlet colors for Team BarlowWorld, emerged behind the likes of Pozzato, Boonen and winner, Boonen’s teammate Gert Steegmans. Hunter edged out two Supersprinters: the Aussie Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel, shouting an expletive as he crossed the line. It was Hunter’s best ever stage finish, and he is obviously in fine form as he put himself into virtually a perfect position in the run in to a slightly awkward uphill finishing stretch. Despite an excellent effort, Robbie was obviously frustrated not to have done better.
In Tuesday’s longest stage into Compienne, the riders rode well within themselves, covering large sections at an average speed of around 32km/h, some riders exerting their hearts no more than 120 bpm, and the peloton allowing an early breakaway of 2 French riders to build a sizable lead.
With around 60km remaining two riders crossed the 3 minute gap that still remained between the peloton and the leading French duo. The four man break worked well together, especially the one Belgian (Willems, riding for Liquigas) amongst the 3 French riders.
With 10km to go the breakaway still had a sizable lead despite a massive effort from the peloton, who were totally strung out, riding at around 55km/h and heart rates approaching 170bpm. Willems surged, leading the storming peloton by 27 seconds at the 3km banner. In the final corners Willems seemed to have it in the bag, but when he sat up and eyed his companions for a few fractions of time, the unthinkable happened. The yellow jersey, Cancellara (CSC), cancelled the lead two French riders had enjoyed for well over 200km, and powered by them in the final 500 metres. This move even caught the sprinters offguard. Cancellara, the same Swiss rider who decisively won the opening prologue in London, went across the finish line first, pumping his arms. Once again, Robbie Hunter was in the thick of things right behind him.
So a very exciting end to a long day in the saddle for the riders. At one point a motorbike cameraman focussed on a snail that was on the helmet of the motorbike pilot in front of him. He was trying to get a shot of a snail in the foreground, with the cyclists out of focus in the background. Indeed, the stage took the riders 6 hours and 36 minutes, the average speed bumping up at the end to a modest 35.81km/h.
Overall Cancellara (one commentator today kept referring to him as Cancerella) has extended his lead (winning a stage means a 20 second bonus) over Kloden (Astana). British rider David Millar is third in the overall classification, but has now lost the polka dot jersey. Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) is out of the top10. George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) is in fourth, and a possible contender for the overall tour title.
Today (Wednesday) we’ll see some small category four climbs. Catch all the action on Supersport at around 14:30, or visit www.letour.com for regular updates.