Leaving Scotland behind for another year, the Tour today travelled 217.4km south from Edinburgh to Blyth in Northumberland. With a category 2 and two category 3 climbs there was a chance of a breakaway might last the distance, though it was unlikely given the flat finish and the tenacity with which the peloton have chased down escapees in this year’s tour, reluctant to miss out on an opportunity for the sprinters.
Unfortunately the curse of crashing in the yellow jersey carried itself over from the Tour De France and our leader yesterday, Petr Vakoč, had to join Fabian Cancellera and Tony Martin in abandoning a race they were once winning. A real shame to see him forced to leave, though no doubt he will be back in fighting trim next season.
However, with Matteo Trentin only 18 seconds down in the GC, Etixx-QuickStep must’ve still fancied their chances in the overall competition, proving as much when he got into an early 6 man breakaway with another notable GC contender, Danilo Wyss (BMC) – only 22 seconds down himself. Movistar, wearers of the yellow jersey in the form of Lobato, chased hard all day with Sky and Lotto-Soudal aiding as well, hoping to end the day with a bunch sprint and stage win glory. With 16.5km to go the break were caught and sprint trains started to form. Lotto were the most impressively formed, with normal service resumed as they tried to set up the german powerhouse Greipel for the win (not Jens Debusschere like yesterday).
Curiously, there was no sign of a solid lead out train for Etixx-Quick Step and Cavendish was forced to float on the back of other riders – notably a very strong-looking Edvald Boasson Hagen who was being led out by the 2014 Milan San Remo winner Gerald Ciolek, a great sign of lack of egos and functioning teamwork in the MTN-Qhubeka squad.
As the peloton rounded the final corner it was Greipel who was in the strongest position. He and Boasson Hagen fanned out across the road – it looked to be a real head-to-head fight as they powered forward, until the young Columbian Fernando Gaviria from Etixx-QuickStep shot round the outside and nosed ahead. Even the commentators thought it was Cavendish and had to correct themselves as he threw his hands up in celebration. Greipel leaned over to shake Gaviria’s hand as they decelerated, and another warming sight was Mark Cavendish himself in the background celebrating just as hard as his teammate, the ‘Manx Missile’ having led out the ‘Columbian Cannon’ (you read that nickname here first). Who says cycling isn’t a team sport?