Lars Boom of Belkin has won a dramatic Stage 5 of the Tour de France at Arenberg-Porte de Hainaut on an afternoon when Team Sky’s Chris Froome’s defence of his title came to an end as he abandoned the race after crashing twice. Race leader Vincenzo Nibali of Astana, winner of Stage 2 to Sheffield on Sunday, put more than two minutes into the man who is now his chief rival for the overall title, Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto Contador.
It’s too early to say whether Nibali, a past winner of the Vuelta and Giro d'Italua, can emulate the Spaniard in winning all three Grand Tours – Contador is one of only five riders to have done so – but the Italian now appears in control of the race.
Nibali rolled across the line in third place along with his team mate Jakob Fuglsang,who took second, both of them 19 seconds down on Boom but, crucially, around two and a half minutes ahead of Contador. The two Astana riders had got away from a select front group together with team mate Lieuwe Westra with more than 12 kilometres of the 152.5km stage from Ypres.
Only Boom was able to go with them from a select front group of around 15 riders which contained two of the world’s finest Classics riders – Trek Factory Racing’s Fabian Cancellara and Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Peter Sagan, who in finishing fourth tightened his grip on the points jersey he has won for the past two years.
The Belkin rider Boom, a former world cyclo-cross champion – a useful background, given today’s rain and mud – and also a top-ten finisher at Paris-Roubaix, made his stage-winning move with around 5 kilometres remaing.
For Astana, however, the main goal instead of chasing the Dutchman down was for Nibali – one of the top GC riders when it comes to racing in the wet – to put as much time as possible into potential overall rivals, and Contador in particular, and they achieved it in style.
By the time the first of seven cobbled sections – none had been planned, but organisers decided to cut two of them on safety grounds this morning – arrived with a little under 70km remaining, Froome was no longer in the equation.
The Sky rider, nursing injuries from his crash yesterday, abandoned shortly before the cobbles of the Carrefour de l’Arbre section following his second crash on today’s rain-soaked roads as Cannondale forced the pace ahead of the first stretch of pavé.
That Team Sky’s efforts are now firmly behind Richie Porte was made clear by Geraint Thomas, a top ten finisher on the cobbles of both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders this year, staying back to shepherd the Australian rather than being given the okay to go for the win himself.
There are still two and a half weeks of racing to go, but it’s Nibali, following his win in Yorkshire and his stellar performance today, who emerges from what had been seen as the two key stages of the opening week in the best shape of all those who will now fight for the vacant crown.
Stage winner and former world CX champion Lars Boom
This was an epic stage! For many years, I've dreamt of a wet Paris-Roubaix and I got what I wanted today at the Tour de France, exactly nine years after a Dutchman won a stage [Pieter Weening in Gerardmer], so it's all very very special. This is my most beautiful win.
It rained all day and the roads were extremely slippery. It was a crazy race with all the crashes but I stayed at the front, out of trouble. After the cobbled section number 8, the main group split and I said to my team-mate Sep Vanmarcke to go hard and split it more. Both of us rode away but Nibali was in a really good shape and he chose the right tactic.
This morning, when I saw the weather, I smiled a bit. I was relaxed and confident all day. In the last corner, when I looked back and realized that I was going to win, I was shaking my head because it was an amazing feeling. I've been unlucky earlier this year. I had a broken elbow. This win is what I needed for my career.
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali
I'm delighted with the outcome of today's stage. It was a really stressful day and a very hard race. I wasn't thinking of the yellow jersey. I was just focused on riding the best I could. I'm in good shape. I've prepared for this particular stage but the conditions today were very different from those I experienced when I came and ride on the cobbles. It was also a very different feeling as when we rode the ‘strade bianche' at the Giro d'Italia.
Here I managed to guide my bike much better. It was extremely slippery. I've lost some team-mates who slipped but at the end, it was still a great team work with Jakob Fuglsang and Lieuwe Westra who went in a breakaway to be able to help me in the finale as he fantastically did. It went all well.
I didn't think I would distance Contador so much today. But I'll keep my feet on the ground. I want to remain quiet. It's still a long way away with lots of mountains and everybody has seen today that crashes can happen.
Alberto Contador, who lost two and a half minutes to Nibali
It was a complicated day. We lost some time and we're certainly going to try and get some back in the days ahead. But the most important thing if that we finished the day without crashing. We now have to recuperate well.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.