Hushovd storms to sprint win in stage 6 of Tour de France
July 9, 2009 —
What’s the easiest way to win a sprint at the Tour de France these days?
Find a hill just steep enough to eliminate Mark Cavendish and then punch the accelerator. That’s what Norwegian flier Thor Hushovd (Cervélo) did in Thursday’s 181km sixth stage from Girona to Barcelona that ended atop the Montjuic hill.
A winner of the first two sprint finishes so far in the 2009 Tour, Cavendish got gapped on the short, but steep run to the Olympic Stadium finish line used in the 1992 Barcelona Summer Games, opening the door for others to take the spoils.
Spanish favorite Oscar Freire (Rabobank) looked to have the victory in his grasp when Hushovd powered past his shoulder to win. Freire settled for second and Spanish rider José Joaquin Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne) was third.
“We knew this would be a good opportunity for me when we studied the route,” a happy Hushovd said. “I am usually pretty good on uphill finishes and we thought that Cavendish might not be able to make it.”
A breakaway effort by David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) was neutralized in the closing kilometers to set up the uphill mass gallop.
Cavendish still played spoiler, coming across 16th to earn just enough points to keep the green jersey, but Hushovd is closing in fast, with Cavendish leading 106-105.
Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) sprinted to 10th to retain his slender 0.22 lead to seven-time Tour champ Lance Armstrong (Astana) going into Friday’s first decisive mountain summit.
Some thought Armstrong would attack Cancellara and try to open up enough gap on the short climb to snatch away the maillot jaune, but Armstrong never tried.
Armstrong’s next – and perhaps last chance – to grab yellow comes in Friday’s 224km seventh stage finishing high in the Pyrénées at the Arcalis summit in the principality of Andorra.
Armstrong’s Astana team is hogging the GC, with four riders in the top 5, so it will be up to the other riders to try to keep the Texan out of yellow. Cancellara is expected to fade on the 10.7km final climb, opening the door for Armstrong to regain the prized yellow jersey.
“I think the others will have to attack before we do,” Armstrong said. “We’re in a position where we can wait and watch the others, Sastre, Evans, the Schlecks. I don’t know if we need to attack.”
The wildcard will be Armstrong’s teammate and 2007 winner Alberto Contador. If he sits in, Armstrong takes yellow and takes control of the team.
Contador will likely wait to follow attacks from other riders. If that’s the case, then the world will see if Armstrong has the same legs as his younger rivals.
“I’ll try to be good. There are no guarantees. It’s been awhile since I raced a big mountain stage, but I will be ready,” Armstrong said. “I know Alberto wants to assert himself in the race. I don’t need a team meeting to tell me that. I know he’s ready to go. If he does – and no one can go with him – I will just hang back and stay with the other leaders.”
Former Vail Daily editor Andrew Hood now lives in Spain and covers cycling. His reports on the 96th Tour de France will appear daily on RealVail.com. Also follow him on twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody.
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