Team RadioShack’s Slovenian Time Trial Champion Janez Brajkovic crashed hard just shy of the halfway point of today’s 165-kilometer 5th stage in the northwest Brittany region of France. After about 75 kms while tightly packed on the far left of the peloton he went down in a heap, hard and fast with little warning, looking very much like someone had clipped him from behind. Rabobank’s team leader Robert Gesink (NED) somersaulted over the top of our numbered leader-Jani, crashing hard himself, and another Rabobank rider also went down. Everyone was able to get back up and resume the stage, except for Janez, who for almost a minute had the entire TV viewing audience holding their breath as he lay motionless in the middle of the road for nearly a minute.
In very little time Team Manager Dirk Demol was on the scene, jumping out of his car to administer to his fallen rider. Finally, with a sigh of relief, Janez was seen getting to his feet with Dirk helping him remove his helmet, but it was pretty apparent from the minute the TV cameras panned in, this would likely be the end of Jani’s 2011 Tour effort. At this writing, it is not apparent how extensive his injuries are, but on top of several scrapes and cuts, medical staff on the scene had wrapped what seemed a pretty nasty head wound in gauze. Janez looked dazed but it was good to see him standing under his own power at the side of the road leaning on a guardrail waiting to be transported to a medical center for analyses.
This complete crashfest of a stage saw more bad accidents, punctures, and changes of bikes than one can remember in a single day at the Tour de France. Several big names went down at different times including RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer, Chris Horner, and Yaroslav Popovych. All got back up and finished the stage in good time. In separate crashes, Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador, went down, so did Quickstep’s Tom Bonnen and Euskaltel’s Ivan Velasco. In an extremely odd incident, Saxo Bank’s Nicki Sorensen was hooked by one of the many passing motorcycles and was literally dragged off his bike to the ground. (Word had it that the motorbike operator working for the Tour organizers was pulled over and sacked on the spot.)
Besides Janez, most of the other crashes appeared not to result in too much damage except for Bonnen’s. He was in pain as he fought valiantly, grimacing all the while, trying to finish the stage within the time limit.
There didn’t seem to be one major reason for all the crashes today other than the peloton continually trying to ride 7 abreast where the route only allowed 6 – someone kept getting pushed off, or jammed in. The dry roads where most of the problems occurred were not slick, or particularly technical, but they were a bit narrow given the peloton’s want to stay tightly bunched most of the day. With every team attempting to shuttle their protected riders to the front to stay out of danger, the jostling for position probably created the danger with riders on each side of the swelling pack being pushed to the curbs, gutters, and barriers on each side of the road.
After a long 4 man break that got caught in the last 25 kms, and then another 2 man break getting swallowed near the finish, a bunch sprint formed with just about every big name sprinter having a go at it before it was over on the slight uphill finish. HTC-Highroad’s Mark Cavendish came from nowhere to win the stage with Quickstep’s Philippe Gilbert taking 2nd and Movistar’s Jose Rojas nabbing 3rd.
Team RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden, once again stayed tucked in close at the finish coming in 12th today, with Chris Horner 36th, and Levi Leipheimer in 59th. But don’t fret over those finishing positions, everyone was so tightly bunched today, that our top contenders all received the finishing time of the stage winner. In fact you had to go as far back as 110th place to see any time gap.
No change in the overall standings after today, Andreas is still holding down 5th place.
The Top Ten After Stage 5
1. HOSHOVD, Thor (NED) Garmin-Cervélo 00’ 00”
2. EVANS, Cadel (AUS) BMC 00’ 01”
3. SCHLECK, Frank (LUX) Leopard-Trek 00’ 04”
4. MILLAR, David (GBR) Garmin-Cervélo 00’ 08”
5. KLöDEN, Andreas (GER) Team RadioShack 00’ 10”
6. WIGGINS, Bradley (GBR) Sky 00’ 10”
7. THOMAS, Geraint (GBR) Sky 00’ 12”
8. HAGEN, Edvald Boasson (NOR) Sky 00’ 12”
9. FUGLSANG, Jakob (DEN) Leopard-Trek 00’ 12”
10. SCHLECK, Andy (LUX) Leopard-Trek 00’ 12”
Team RadioShack’s GC Contenders After Stage 5
5. KLöDEN, Andreas (GER) 00’ 10”
13. HORNER, Chris (USA) 00’ 18”
14. LEIPHEIMER, Levi (USA) 00’ 18”
DNF BRAJKOVIC, Janez (SLO) — —-
The medical staff on most teams will be working overtime tonight, trying to make the riders as comfortable as possible after so many spills. Worse thing after days like this is riders not being able to get enough sleep with all the road rash sticking to the sheets. But lets all hope tonight, that’s all Jani has to worry about.
By George Hurst, staff writer