Thinking that this longest of Tour stages from Poitiers to Bordeaux was to be a hot, lazy, flat slog, many Tour journalists went 130km ahead to take advantage of a sumptuous Bastille Day buffet put out free by the rich brandy burghers of the French region of Cognac.
But, true to the pace of this year’s Tour, the pack was again ahead of the fastest possible schedule — this time by 25 minutes — and the buffet was abandoned, to the dismay of both its organizers and salivating beneficiaries.
Readers may find it amusing to learn that the peloton was ahead of the predicted pace because they were “racing it up” for a film crew shooting for the upcoming movie Yellow Jersey. As the film truck rolled through Cognac, there was none other than matinee idol Hinault five meters off the front and hammering for Hollywood. For the Tour’s most glamorous rider, it was highly appropriate.
A strong tailwind spurred numerous attacks in the last hour of racing. The Hitachi team knew that to win a stage, they would have to force a breakaway, which was what team leader Claude Criquielion did on a small hill with 15km to go.
A 13-man group gave chase, carrying second-place Paris-Roubaix finisher Rudy Dhaenens.
Realizing that breakaway companion Matthew Hermans was the best sprinter in the bunch, Dhaenens attacked in a corner just as the group arrive on the 4km finishing circuit. Criquielion took the group wide through the turn, and before the others realized what had happened, Dhaenens had 40 meters. Going into time trial mode, he held off Hermans to take what is considered the most prestigious flat stage of this year’s Tour.
GC: no change
Watch Dhaenens sneak attack for Hitachi’s first win of the race:
Today’s race coverage brought to you by The Race for the Yellow Jersey.
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