Tour de France 2013: Stages 5 – 9
One of the last flat stages before entering into some serious mountains, Stage 5 saw Mark Cavendish (Omega-Pharma Quickstep) whip the final sprint in ways that are quickly becoming his norm.
Cavendish’s Omega-Pharma team was primed with an organized lead guiding him smoothly to the finish, ahead of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky).
It was in similar fashion that sprinter André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won Stage 6 the following day, beating out Cavendish and Sagan, who lost for the second day in a row. Greipel’s team simply had the better, longer lead-out train, but Sagan's day will come.
The rider’s specialty is sprinting, but he's not a true sprinter like Cavendish and Greipel. This obviously has its drawbacks, but it has an important advantage, as well: Sagan can climb mountains.
Stage 7 marked the first real mountainous stage of this year’s Tour, and team Cannondale was in it to win it, dominating the entire stage at speeds none of the true sprinters could maintain. In fact, the true sprinters spent the day riding off the back of the peloton just trying to stay in the Tour! Sagan earned the maximum sprint points available for the day, and took the stage itself. After crossing the finish line, he tugged at his Cannondale jersey to show appreciation for the team that pulled him up the mountains all day long.
By Stage 8 we were truly in the thick of things, with a category 1 climb and an Hors Catégorie climb. Longtime Tour commentator Paul Sherwen summed it up best, describing the mountainous stage as one in which team leaders make their first moves towards earning the yellow jersey. It made sense to see team Sky riding up front, controlling the pace of the peloton.
What surprised everyone, however, was young Nairo Quintana (Movistar) breaking away from the peloton at top speeds near the end of the stage in a bid for the white jersey. His speed coupled with the surprise of his attack cracked Tour veterans like Cadel Evans (BMC) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard), who struggled just to keep in the peloton as the young rider sped ahead of them. Amazingly, Christopher Froome (Sky) managed to pull himself together and respond to the young rider’s moves, eventually surpassing Quintana and winning the stage. Both riders were rewarded, Froome with the yellow jersey and Quintana with white.
Monday’s rest day couldn’t come soon enough. For all of his efforts in the previous stage, Richie Porte (Sky) – arguably Froome's right hand man – and the rest of team Sky struggled just to stay in the race in Stage 9. This left Froome – trying to hold on to the yellow jersey – alone at the front of the peloton surrounded by a pack of Movistar riders who were trying to take yellow for their leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
As if Froome didn’t have enough drama in his life, what with his team abandoning him, it was also widely expected that Valverde and Quintana would make a move on the last col in a bid to throw Froome and gain yellow for their team. Not only this, but Evans and Contador, two other top team leaders in contention for yellow, were riding in the lead pack with Movistar.
Froome was able to keep up with Movistar all day and held off multiple attacks by Valverde and Quintana, who both eventually caved and stopped trying to sprint ahead. The day ended with Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) earning the stage win, but the biggest accomplishment was Froome managing to stay in yellow for another day, without the help of anyone.
The satisfaction of his accomplishment was overshadowed by Froome’s utter disappointment in his teammates. Post-stage, when he should have been on the podium, Froome was in his team bus hiding out for so long there was speculation he wouldn’t stand on the podium at all. He came out for the ceremonial podium standings, but his tight lipped half-smile barely concealed his anger.