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Crashes Take Toll on Vinokourov, Kloden

Stage Five
182.5 kilometers/113.4 miles
Stage: Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas)
Maillot Jaune: Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
Green: Erik Zabel (Milram)
Polka-dot: Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis)

Though the rain and cold were no-shows today, there were plenty of thrills and chills on the first stage to include a category two climb, and seven other lesser ones to stretch the legs a bit. Everyone was betting that Fabian Cancellara, who has worn the yellow jersey since he won the time trial Sunday, would shed it today. And many commentators, including me, figured that someone would show themselves in the general classification race.

The early part of the race was all Sylvain Chavanel. The Cofidis rider took the King of the Mountain jersey from teammate Stephane Auge on a breakaway with three other riders. Wednesday, Chavanel, who was in the break, didn’t go after the last climb points because that would have wrested the jersey from Auge, considered bad form in cycling.

Today, however, he took each climb except the last and will wear the yellow jersey tomorrow. Chavanel has Friday’s flat stage to rest and keep the jersey into the first mountain stage Saturday. But remember that Micheal Rasmussen is lurking back there, and he rarely shows himself until the high mountain stages, which seem to suit him better than any climber I have ever seen.

Paul Sherwen said early that this day might be the first “to see how their legs are,” but the drama of the day came in the crashes through the last half of the race. The breakaway was caught just at the top of the last climb, and the final 20 kilometers became a mad downhill scramble at speeds around fifty miles per hour.

Discovery Channel’s Vladimir Popovych made an attempt to slip the pack near the end, just before stage winner Filippo Pozzato weaved his way through the front group to take the stage by a nano-second. And there was Cancellara there not far behind protecting the maillot jaune. On the downhill, he followed another rider down a sharp curve with an arc that took him off the road. He still managed to stay aboard and get immediately back into the action. No matter what happens to him in the mountains, Cancellera has proven to be a tough and highly qualified defender of the yellow jersey.

The accidents exacted painful tolls, and it will take a day or so to see how the injuries will affect their performances. Geoffrey Lequatre went down on a musette, the bag that cyclists grab along the road at designated stations for their lunch. Discovery Channel’s Benjamin Noval took a few stitches in his arm and chin after he went through the rear window of a French TV crew car that hit the brakes in front of him while going downhill, a cowboy maneuver that drew the wrath of team manager Johan Bruyneel.

Among the leaders, two Astana standouts, Andreas Kloden and favorite Alexandre Vinokourov, suffered crashes that left them in a lot of pain. Kloden, who is second in the general classification standings, just 33 seconds behind Cancellara, was seen lying in pain along the side of the road before finally catching up. German news is reporting that Kloden suffered a fractured coccyx, similar to one he had in 2004.

Neither of the crashes were caught on camera, but Vinokourov was literally ass to elbows to knees in blood as he got back up and started riding again, dazed and confused. The knee wound went to the muscle and required stitches, and it took six members of his team (nobody came back to help Kloden after his fall) to bring him back into the race, As the boys melted off behind him (Phil said he had to “assassinate his team in order to survive”) he joined up with a group that included Tom Boonen. Still, with all that, Vinokourov is now in 81st place, 2:10 off the pace, a devastating blow to his chances of winning this race.

Among the top ten in the overall standings are stage winner Pozzato in third, Discovery Channel’s George Hincapie and Vladimir Gusev, and Thomas Dekker. Among those considered favorites, Levi Leipheimer is 22nd, a minute off the pace and tied with Rabobank’s Denis Menchov, and Alejandro Valverde three seconds behind them in 25th.


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