Tour favorites take fewer risks in rain

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Associated Press
Friday, July 8, 2011
— Alberto Contador knew it made little sense to take risks on a day when blinding, torrential rain lashed riders in the Tour de France.

The 141-mile course Thursday—the sixth and longest stage in the three-week race—made for a dangerous trip. And the field was fortunate to avoid a major crash, a day after riders went tumbling everywhere.

“It was another nervous stage and because of the rain I virtually couldn’t see anything,” said Contador, the defending champion and three-time Tour winner who crashed Wednesday. “At the end of the stage I was moving to the very front of the pack, simply to avoid accidents, and not because I wanted to attack.”

Contador and his Tour rivals, like two-time runners-up Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck, played it safe as Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway led a sprint to capture his first stage on the Tour. He finished in 5 hours, 13 minutes, 37 seconds.

Matt Goss of Australia was second and overall race leader Thor Hushovd was third, giving Norway the distinction of having the stage winner and yellow jersey holder on the same day.

Moving fairly close to the front meant relative safety for Contador, Schleck and Evans. They all were part of the first 50 of the 197 riders who completed the stage.

“Yesterday wind, today rain. ... Luckily, there seemed to be some kind of understanding within the peloton not to take too many risks today,” Schleck said. “As if all the teams had suffered enough crashes yesterday.”

Evans kept second overall. The Australian is one second behind Hushovd while Schleck is 12 seconds behind in 10th spot. Contador is 1:42 off the lead in 34th place.

“In the last few kilometers I was thinking only about not falling because it was a dangerous course,” Contador said. “At the end of the stage I got to the front of the peloton not to lose time, to avoid problems.”

Tour organizers have been looking to spice up what is traditionally a predictable first week for sprinters by making otherwise routine stages more difficult, opening possibilities for others. It has not met with much approval from riders.

RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer was highly critical of the thin roads in Wednesday’s stage. The veteran American found himself bouncing on the road Thursday after coming off his saddle near the end.

Hagen, a sprint specialist with Sky, burst free with about 200 yards left and held on, crossing the line with rain spurting off his wheel.

“I really surprised myself,” he said. “Lots of people say that I’m a talented guy, so it’s nice to show it by winning a stage.”

Today’s seventh stage should favor sprinters. The 136-mile course from Le Mans to Chateauroux is the last flat stage before riders enter the Massif Central mountains.

Last updated: 5:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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