Tour de France 6: Boasson Hagen wins in the wet

Hushovd third to remain in race lead

Another dramatic day at the Tour de France, another tough finale and another thrilling sprint finish, with Edvald Boasson Hagen taking both his and Team Sky’s first stage win at the Tour. The talented Norwegian beat HTC-Highroad’s Matt Goss and countryman Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo), who held onto the maillot jaune of race leader for another day.

The younger of the two Norwegians – who successfully worked together to deliver their nation a road world championship in October last year – went close to winning the stage on Wednesday but mis-judged his effort. This time was a different story and he had a perfect lead-out from teammate Geraint Thomas before accelerating close to the barriers and throwing his arms up in celebration.

“I felt good yesterday but it went wrong and I really wanted to work hard to do well in today’s stage,” said Boasson Hagen. “G (Geraint Thomas) did a good lead-out and it’s just fantastic to win a stage of the Tour.”

Boasson Hagen’s family was in attendance in Lisieux and the talented Norwegian was a little choked with emotion during the post-stage interview.

“It’s hard to say anything right now,” he explained. “I’m just really happy and winning my first stage of the Tour [in front of my family] is really great.”

Team Sky bid their time and waited for the final two kilometres to their key: Boasson Hagen, Thomas and Ben Swift, hit the front.

“It’s great – we’ve been knocking on the door for a while and the team’s been riding well so far this Tour,” said Swift, who was also an outsider for the win today. “It was the longest stage but it felt like one of the quickest. I tried to position Edvald and G and it was a tough climb at the finish so I went a long way up the climb for the two of them before they did their thing.”

Thomas paid tribute to the efforts of Swift, saying: “Swifty sacrificed himself for us and I delivered Eddy (Boasson Hagen) to the last 500 metres. It was a massive team effort. We’ve been up there or thereabouts all week and we knew we were in with a chance today.”

A quiet start to the day

After yesterday’s nerves and with 226.5km of racing on the menu, the peloton was content to let the day’s move make its way off the front and lick its wounds.

Under constantly threatening skies, Vacansoleil-DCM rider Lieuwe Westra instigated the aggression and when joined by teammate Johnny Hoogerland, Anthony Roux of FDJ, Cofidis’ Colombian Leonardo Duque and Adriano Malori from Lampre – ISD, the day’s break was formed.

Hoogerland would ultimately benefit from his presence in the break by taking the polka-dot jersey as leader of the mountains classification, whilst Malori earned himself the combativité award for his efforts.

After reaching a maximum advantage of 11:30, the break still had 7:43 with 100km left until the finish, although just 14km later, nearly three minutes had been wiped off that mark – a sign that the likes of HTC-Highroad and Garmin-Cervélo were getting serious about the chase and that the tension was high in the peloton after Wednesday’s thrills and spills.

And then there were two…

With just under 50km remaining it was time for Westra and Malori to say farewell to their three other breakaway companions, making a dash for the glory, regardless of the little potential for success in their endeavour.

It was a gutsy move, evidenced by the fact that Hoogerland, Roux and Duque were caught by the bunch soon after the leading duo made their attack and managed to retain a lead of 2:38 with 38km until the line in Lisieux.

The recommencement of rain showers coincided with the peloton reducing the advantage of the leading duo to one minute – and with 27km remaining, the sprinters’ teams kept a keen eye on the gap to ensure it wasn’t closed too soon. Meanwhile, behind them Alberto Contador was having more issues with his equipment and was forced to change bikes, causing another hindrance to his progress during this year’s Tour.

The breakaway’s advantage was reduced to just 29 seconds with 20km to go and as the heavens poured an increasing amount of water on the international parade marching through Normandy, Malori decided it was his cue to try a solo effort.

Despite being the Italian national time trial champion it was always going to be a task too large for the Lampre-ISD rider. And so it was. Despite a brave effort, he was caught 2.7km from the line, at the foot of the climb to the finish, with a strong ride coming to an end as another strongman, Thomas Voeckler, made his move with Omega Pharma-Lotto rider Jelle Vanendert. The pair never looked like succeeding and with the flamme rouge beckoning the Franco-Belgian alliance came to an end after a brief attack at the head of affairs. Everything was set for a high-speed finish.

As expected, Philippe Gilbert was in the mix, as was Hushovd, José Joaquin Rojas and Goss but after Thomas’ perfect lead-out, it was Boasson Hagen who emerged from the pack to time his sprint immaculately and secure his British team’s maiden win at the Tour de France.

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