Finally a massive field sprint after days of breakaways!
It would seem that larger fields encourage group finishes, but a number of factors have change in this year’s Tour. In an effort to split up the pack, the organizers have used narrower and more twisting roads than in previous years, and incorporated more hills at stage finishes. Not only that, but race distances are shorter this year, and riders have less need to hold something in reserve for the end of mammoth 330km stages.
As Panasonic directeur sportif Peter Post pointed out, “with 21 teams in the race, it is harder for one team to control the racing, especially this year as many more teams than usual don’t have sprinters. We can’t control the racing all along, and that’s the reason we lost Van der Velde’s yellow jersey yesterday.”
Today, Panasonic made up for the loss by placing Eddy Planckaert and Vanderaerden in first and second on the stage. With 25km to go, it looked to be another breakaway finish, as a 12-man group including 7-Eleven’s Andy Hampsten looked certain to stay away.
Concerned about Hampsten, Fignon called his armada to the front and they pulled for 20km until the last rider was caught literally within sight of the finish line.
The beneficiaries of this wasteful policing action were the Panasonics, and 500 meters from the line Planckaert led out Vanderaerden. But Vanderaerden has not been going so well this year and, feeling good enough to have already tried a solo breakaway in the afternoon, Planckaert continued his pull and won the mad gallop to the line.
The 185th man in, dropped only in the last kilometers, was diarrhea-plagued Bob Roll. At one point in the stage he had dropped back to 7-Eleven director sportif Mike Neel and asked if he could quit.
With his thumb jerking toward the back of the race, Neel indicated that Roll was not welcome in the 7-Eleven car and would have to wait for the broom wagon if he wanted to hang up his wheels.
Roll struggled back to the peloton.
The State of le Tour
As the race heads into its first real confrontation — the 61km Nantes time trial — a few observations can be noted.
- Thanks to Systeme U, the racing has been unusually fast with the average speed so far over 40kph, easily a Tour record.
- The Carrera team is surprisingly calm. The most international team in the race with three Swiss, four Italians, a Dane, a Belgian, and an Irishman, the Italian jeans manufacturer’s squad has used its efforts wisely and as a result has won a stage and holds the yellow jersey.
- Finally, the GC hopes shine upon many potential winners: Roche, Zimmermann, LeMond, Hinault, Hampsten, Fignon, Millar.
Today’s race coverage brought to you by the Seiko Digital Quartz Pulsemeter, which measures heart rate using the same principle as hospital electrocardiograph machines.
Please enjoy this footage of today’s very exciting field sprint from the 1km flag.
Join us tomorrow for Stage 9, the second of three individual time trials, which is bound to shake up the GC and provide the “color” that Bernard Hinault wants to see from his beloved race.