Today’s stage brought the glorious countryside of Scotland to the Tour, and along with it the usual hilly terrain that the race organisers seem to favour. Yesterday’s events helped determine the GC battle a little with any riders missing out on the late breakaway kissing goodbye to their chances to make an impact in the overall standings.
With 216km to cover and a flat finish into Floors Castle, the big teams must have been considering their tactics carefully, especially Team Sky – do they ride for Ben Swift who excels at the longer distances (Milan – San Remo for instance) or continue putting their efforts into Elia Vivani? Etixx-Quickstep too must’ve been in a conundrum; ride for Cavendish and hope for a stage win or prioritize protecting the yellow jersey wearing Vakoč? Unfortunately, as the stage unfolded fate intervened and made the decision for Etixx.
A strong breakaway of three, most notably containing Tyler Farrar (MTN), were still out in front with 15km to go and the peloton had to chase hard to ensure they could bring their sprint trains into play. Ian Stannard (SKY) worked tirelessly on the front to reel them in with around 3.5km to go. The stern look on his face as he gritted his teeth highlighted just how much Sky were after this stage.
With the pace upped by the formation of their respective sprint teams, Lotto, Sky and Movistar all started to move to the front. It was at 3.2km that disaster struck for Ettix Quickstep, with a crash occurring off camera that held up Cavendish — but more importantly brought down their GC leader Vakoč, who fell heavily onto the side of the road and appeared to damage his wrist. Just 200m outside of the magical 3km safety mark, he would later cross the line ten minutes after the stage was over with a bandaged hand, cruelly forced to say goodbye to his once strong G.C. prospects.
The peloton however waited for not a single man and there was yet a stage to be won. Lotto formed a very impressive-looking train led, surprisingly, by Andre Griepel – clearly they had their faith in the Belgian Jens Debusschere. By this point, there was no Etixx team of which to speak other than the rangy figure of Matteo Trentin sat in fourth wheel, just behind the menacing presence of Sky’s Elia Viviani.
With Lobato (MOV) also near the front of the pack it was set to be a fast finish. With around 150 metres to go, the Norwegian Enger (IAM) popped off the front and made a spirited effort to get away from the pack. Viviani, clearly the most vigilant of the group, jumped straight on to his wheel, rode past him and, with what looked like ease, took the stage win and his team’s 200th race victory. Viviani proves for the second time this tour that sprints are just as often won by master tacticians as they are by out and out power. Trentin would come in third to save something of the day for Etixx, and it was Movistar’s fast man Lobato who took second place, also securing the yellow jersey – plucked from the shoulders of the downtrodden Vakoč.
With the overall top thirty riders only separated by 34 seconds and with five stages still remaining in the Tour of Britain, it is once again proving to be a thrilling and unpredictable race; few would dare predict a winner at this point.