It seems that winning stages with the best sprinter in the world isnât enough for Team Columbia-Highroad. Mark Cavendish delivered the knock out blow but really the bout for GC honors also began with 30km to go when the US-registered team caused a split in the peloton. All riders from Cavendish team were present â as was the seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong and the yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara.
âCavâ won the stage, Tony Martin moved to second overall and Armstrong proved that smart riding has its rewards: he is third overall after three stages.
The Progress Report
The third stage of the 2009 Tour de France, from Marseille to La Grande-Motte began at 1.01pm. There were 179 riders at the sign-on. The non-starter was Jurgen van de Walle (QSI) who crashed in stage two. The three intermediate sprints were in La Fare-les-Oliviers (48.5km), MouriĂšs (90.5km) and Arles (118.5km). The route was essentially flat although there were two small cat-four hills at Calissanne (56km) and VayĂšde (102km).
Immediate Attack By Four RidersâŠ
As soon as the stage began, there was an attack. At the 1km mark Bouet (FDJ) and Dumoulin (COF) had jumped ahead of the bunch; they were chased down by De Kort (SKS) and Perez Moreno (EUS) but the peloton didnât react at all. At 10km the four attackers joined forces. By then the peloton was already 8â15â behind. De Kort was stung by an insect at the 15km mark but his quartet continued to build its advantage: 9â35â at 19km; 10â20â at 20km; 13â00â at 37km. This was the maximum gain of the escape. The average speed for the first hour was 35.9km/h.
Bouet Becomes Virtual Leader
Bouet, the virtual leader of the Tour, won the first intermediate sprint of the stage. Then Saxo Bank started to up the tempo for the peloton. At 43km the bunch was 12â00â behind, at 48.5km â 11â00â behind. De Kort took three points at the Calissanne climb. The advantage dropped to 8â25â after a brief stint at the front by Saxo Bank riders but then it grew again. The average speed for the second hour was 33.7km/h. As the bunch arrived at the site of the second intermediate sprint, it was 10â10â behind. The average speed for the third hour was 36.6km/h.
Sprint Teams Take Charge Of ChaseâŠ
With 70km to go, Saxo Bank riders retreated from the front of the peloton and Columbia took over the chasing duties. The average speed for the fourth hour was 42.1km/h. With 130km to go, the deficit was 5â45â; 150km to go â 3â05â.
Columbia Cause Chaos In Finale
With 30km to go, all nine riders from the Columbia team â who were working to reel in the escapees â upped the tempo to such an extent that it caused a split in the peloton. With 27km to go, they caught the escapees and the front peloton consisted of 29 riders: Hushovd and Roulston (Cervelo), Armstrong, Popovych and Zubeldia (Astana), Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Perez Moreno (Euskaltel), Cavendish, Eisel, Grabsch, Hincapie, Kirchen, Martin, Montfort, Renshaw and Rogers (Columbia), Auge, Dumoulin and Kern (Cofidis), Pineau (Quickstep), Bouet (Agritubel), Gerdemann and Wegmann (Milram), Lemoine, Beppu, De Kort, Geschke, Hivert, Hupond (Skil-Shimano).
Silence and Saxo riders tried to reel in the move but failed because of a strong headwind. The only rider to drop out of the lead group was Eisel but the 28 then arrived at the finish together with a lead of 41 seconds.
Cavendish Claims Number Six
Although there were other good sprinters in the selection of 28 at the finish, no one was able to get around Cavendish who increases his lead in the points classification, after winning a fine sprint ahead of Hushovd. Cancellara finished sixth in the stage and will retain the yellow jersey with a lead of 33â over Martin (THR) and 40â over Armstrong (AST).
Team Columbia seems as though it can do no wrong. With two successive stage wins and the green jersey for Mark Cavendish theyâve got plenty to celebrate but Tony Martin also made an appearance on the podium today to collect the white jersey. The best young rider in the race is also ranked second overall and in the climbing classification.
âThe white jersey is a nice prize for sure. Iâm happy to have something but really this is just the reward for the work of the whole team. We made a plan today and it came off very well but we have a lot more to do yet. Now Iâm first in the youth classification and second overall. And the polka-dot is also a possibility for me, Iâm second there. But whatâs great about today is that Mark (Cavendish) was able to take the win. Thatâs not a bonus, itâs what we worked for. It shows the class of the guy. Oh sure, weâre a little tired but thatâs because we worked but we worked together just like we will in the team time trial tomorrow.â
The only Saxo Bank rider to make the front group in stage three happened to be the overall leader. Fabian Cancellara will live another day in yellowâŠ
"In the end I was at the right place at the right time. I had to ride the final at the back of the group behind Columbia. I couldnât do anything else other than survive. In the end there were some winners and some losers. Thatâs sport. Itâs a shame that Andy (Schleck) lost a bit of time but thatâs the Tour de FranceâŠ these things can happen. I canât say anymore than that. Itâs certain that this is not the best day for Saxo Bank but at least weâre still in yellow and Iâve gained some seconds to other riders.
âI donât know if what the team did early in the stage will cost us for the team time trial but we close the chapter of stage three and start considering the next one now.
âThe split happened in a moment when a lot perhaps werenât expecting it. I got news over the radio, âOkay, now thereâs a right turn and then in one kilometer thereâs a cross wind and itâs going to be strong.â So I jumped over some speed bumps and just luckily I arrived at the front at the right moment. I couldnât drop out of the lead group to go and help my team-mates because that was too risky.â
Some squads wanted to save energy for the team time trial of stage four so Columbia decided to cause a bit of chaos to teach the âjuniorsâ a lesson. Mark Cavendish won his second successive stage and once again he insists itâs a win for his team.
âIt was sweet for us. No one else wanted to ride. None of the other teams were doing any work so we were the only ones who took it on. Iâm glad Fabian was there actually. I would have felt sorry for him if he missed out. I think Saxo Bank rode well at the start today and we did the finish and it was sweetâŠ the other teams â especially Garmin â were all trying to save themselves for the team time trial and in the end they had to ride anyway, but they werenât riding for the win, they were riding to save time. So it was perfect.
âWhen he hit the front it was great timing. We took the race on as normal; we were riding for the win and we won.
âAt the finish we were amazing. I was able to sit on while the guys did all the work. And I crossed the line first. It was brilliant. It shows were were the only sprint team willing to take responsibility and that worked in our favor.
âToday wasnât a full-on bunch sprint. I was just taking the win on behalf of the team. They did so much work at the finish. All the other teams are riding like theyâre juniors and if they want to behave that way then they get results like juniors.â
The third stage of the Tour de France will be one to remember for the final 30km in which Columbia caused all sorts of chaos. The team also picked up the victory (again) thanks to Mark Cavendish. The top five is:
1. Mark Cavendish (GBR) THR
2. Thor Hushovd (NOR) CTT
3. Cyril Lemoine (FRA) SKS
4. Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) COF
5. Jerome Pineau (FRA) QSI
6. Fabian Cancellara (SUI) SAX
There was about 40 seconds between the first group and the second group at the finish of the third stage. Cancellara will keep his lead in the general classification.
Make that six stage victories for Cavendish. The Columbia sprinter crossed the line holding his fingers to his ear in the gesture of a phone call. He makes sprinting seem so easy that he can toy with the others as he does his victory salute.
Can anyone hold off Cavendish? Don’t count on it. The Columbia team has now started thinking about the stage win and Cavendish is lining up for the sprint...
It was meant to be a formality: a sprinter’s stage but it’s no longer that at all. This is a day for Columbia which has caused chaos with its move 30km from the finish. The winner will come from one of the group of 28 which is now 2km from the finish with a lead of 38".