More than a millennium after Norsemen settled in Normandy to give the region its name, Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen led a second Viking invasion this afternoon, getting a great leadout from Geraint Thomas to win Stage 6 of the 2011 Tour de France in Lisieux. Fellow Norwegian Thor Hushovd was third and retains the yellow jersey, while second place went to HTC-Highroad's Matt Goss - whose own surname, while Germanic in origin, is thought to have entered the English language via Scandinavia or even Normandy itself. Boasson Hagen's win, on a rainswept day following what was at 226.5km the longest stage of this year's race, is Team Sky's first in the Tour de France.
The last survivor of a five-man breakaway, Adriano Malori of Lampre-ISD, had been swept up just under 3 kilometres out as the main group of around 60 riders, led by HTC-Highroad, hit the foot of the climb up to the basilica in Lisieux ahead of what proved to be a tough finale.
Jelle Vanendert of Omega Pharma-Lotto was first to go on the attack as the road rose upwards, and behind him it looked as though defending champion Alberto Contador, who had earlier been forced to change bikes and chase back to the peloton as his run of bad luck in this year’s race continues, would go with him.
Any advantage the Spaniard gained over the group was negated though as he took the slightly longer way around a roundabout and rejoined the bunch, and next to attack was Thomas Voeckler of Europcar, who quickly got ahead of Vanendert, but once again the Frenchman’s attack was doomed to failure as he was passed with just over a kilometre still to ride.
Under the flamme rouge, Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema who was next to launch himself of the front, but Thomas, riding strongly as ever, was right behind him, with Boasson Hagen on his wheel. Yesterday, the Norwegian admitted that he had gone too early when he attacked inside the closing kilometre in Cap Frehel, but today he timed his run for the line to perfection. It's difficult to imagine that less than a fortnight ago, his participation in the race had seemed in doubt due to illness.
Despite helping his team mate to victory, Thomas joked afterwards that Boasson Hagen was going to have a hard time getting the best young rider’s white jersey off his shoulders as the Welshman’s spectacular form in this year’s Tour continues, as does that of the team in general.
While its main aim for this year’s Tour surround Bradley Wiggins GC ambitions, that is not Team Sky's sole focus and it now has a long-awaited Grand Tour road stage win to add to the Briton’s Giro d’Italia Stage 1 time trial victory in Amsterdam last year.
Wiggins still sits sixth on GC, with Thomas and Boasson Hagen occupying the two places immediately beneath him on what is turning out to be a fantastic Tour for Team Sky, in stark contrast to its disappointing debut last year. To round of a fantastic day for Team Sky, Ian Stannard had earlier clinched Stage 5 of the Tour of Austria.
Back in France, it didn’t take long for a break to get off the front today following the start of the stage in Dinan, and when it did it included some of the peloton’s serial escapees, with the quintet made up, besides Malori, of Jonny Hoogerland and Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoleil-DCM, Anthony Roux of FDJ and Leonardo Duque from Cofidis.
Approaching the halfway point in the stage, the breakaway group had an advantage of 10 minutes over a nervous peloton as the rain lashed down, a tailwind helping them cover the first 100km of the parcours at a speed approaching 50 kilometres an hour, not too far short of the record pace set for a road stage back in 1999 when Mario Cipollini took the sprint on Stage 4 into Blois.
With the first two of the day’s climbs being Category 3, Hoogerland did enough to ensure that he would be leading the mountains classification this evening, a just reward for the combative style he displayed during May’s Giro d’Italia and has carried over into this race.
In between those two Category 3 ascents, the five escapees had already filled the top five places at the intermediate sprint at Vassy, 70 kilometres out, and it was yesterday’s stage winner, Mark Cavendish of HTC-Highroad, who led the chasing peloton over the line, with Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas and Garmin-Cervelo’s Tyler Farrar the next two men over.
With the time gap tumbling as the peloton took advantage of brief respite from the rain to reel in the break, Westra attacked off the front of the break 60km out and was followed by Malori, with their three companions soon swallowed back into the main bunch.
Inside the final 20 kilometres, Westra sat up, leaving Malori, winner of the Italian national time trial championship last month, and the man who finished the 2010 Tour in last place as the lanterne rouge, in the unaccustomed position of being alone at the front of the Tour de France, but he couldn’t hold out as the main group swept past ahead of today’s hard-fought finale.
One rider who didn’t start today was Ivan Velasco of Euskaltel-Euskadi who finished yesterday’s crash-littered Stage 5 with a suspected broken collarbone. Other riders who suffered heavy falls but did ride today included the Quick Step pairing of Sylvain Chavanel and Tom Boonen and Rabobank’s Robert Gesink.
Tour de France Stage 6 Result 1 HAGEN Edvald Boasson SKY PROCYCLING 5h 13' 37" 2 GOSS Matthew HTC - HIGHROAD All at same time 3 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO 4 FEILLU Romain VACANSOLEIL-DCM 5 ROJAS Jose Joaquin MOVISTAR 6 VICHOT Arthur FDJ 7 GILBERT Philippe OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO 8 CIOLEK Gerald QUICK STEP 9 MARCATO Marco VACANSOLEIL-DCM 10 JEANNESSON Arnold FDJ 11 FUGLSANG Jakob LEOPARD-TREK 12 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING 13 EL FARES Julien COFIDIS 14 HINAULT Sébastien AG2R LA MONDIALE 15 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK 16 THOMAS Geraint SKY PROCYCLING 17 BOZIC Borut VACANSOLEIL-DCM 18 DUMOULIN Samuel COFIDIS 19 GAUTIER Cyril EUROPCAR 20 GERDEMANN Linus LEOPARD-TREK Tour de France Overall Standings after Stage 6 1 HUSHOVD Thor GARMIN - CERVELO 22h 50' 34" 2 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING + 00' 01" 3 SCHLECK Frank LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 04" 4 MILLAR David GARMIN - CERVELO + 00' 08" 5 KLÖDEN Andréas RADIOSHACK + 00' 10" 6 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 10" 7 THOMAS Geraint SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 12" 8 HAGEN Edvald Boasson SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 12" 9 FUGLSANG Jakob LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 12" 10 SCHLECK Andy LEOPARD-TREK + 00' 12"
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.