The fifth stage of the Tour de France presented hillier challenges than the opening four stages as the race hit Brittany for what was billed as a mini Amstel Gold Race. While EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale’s goal was straightforward, the stage was not. Narrow and twisty roads and numerous short climbs presented plenty of challenges.
#PinkArgyle rose to the occasion. Only 38 riders made it to the finish line in Quimper on bunch time. Uran was among them. With Michael Matthews (Sunweb), ninth overnight, a non-starter, Uran jumped up one spot overall. He’s now in ninth place, 37 seconds behind Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), who pocketed two bonus seconds out on the road.
“It was the same game for us today, keeping Rigo safe into the final,” said sport director Tom Southam. “It wasn’t as straightforward a sprint as the last couple days, so we really had to be up front.”
“Today was a hard day, a really hard day,” said Uran. “It was nervous but this kind of nervous is no problem for me because Sep and Tom and everyone stayed very close to me. I’m very appreciative of the teamwork today.”
“We train for stages like this. Sure it was tough but the Tour de France wasn’t designed to be easy.” #PinkArgyle road captain @SimoClarke, who is once again giving interviews from atop the @tacx rollers as he cools down pic.twitter.com/hjJ803DG5m
— EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale (@Ride_Argyle) July 11, 2018
The peloton’s day was devoted to keeping the early seven-man move in check. Sylvain Chavanel, Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Jasper De Buyst (Lotto Soudal), Julien Vermote (Dimension Data), Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Samsic) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) slipped up the road following a flurry of early attacks. The group gained a maximum advantage of four minutes over what was initially a BMC-led peloton.
Tom Scully and Sep Vanmarcke assumed responsibility for shepherding Uran throughout the peloton until the final kilometers.
“I need to give a special shout-out to Scully and Sep,” said Clarke. “They did the major work today, and it was really special to see them work so well.
“Obviously today was an important one,” Clarke added. “It was technical roads, a lot of climbs and tricky sections but being an Ardennes rider myself, being used to racing in these conditions, we had everything under control.”
Clarke’s shout-outs extended to #PinkArgyle’s support staff, who positioned themselves with bidons and wheels at 14 different points along the 204-kilometer route.
“We had some great team support, which really made a huge difference,” said Clarke. “We can’t thank the staff enough, all the extra staff, who were out on course to provide that extra support for us on a day that had such narrow roads. It wasn’t possible to go back to the car without wasting so much energy, precious energy we needed to save to help support Rigo. That was a very appreciated effort that had a big impact.”
Bora-Hansgrohe, riding for eventual stage five winner Peter Sagan, upped the pace over the rugged roads that featured in the second half of the race, burning off the sprinters.
By the time the race reached the last of the rolling hills in Finistère, the general contenders and their teams had come to the fore, scooping up the remnants of the early escape before the bonus sprint on Côte de la Chappelle de la Lorette with 13 kilometers left to race.
“I felt in my element today, guiding the boys with Rigo,” said Clarke. “We worked really well once again today and sure enough we got to the finish line with him on bunch time.”
Lawson Craddock was the final rider to reach the finish today. The Texan rolled in with the “sprint bus” nearly 21 minutes after Sagan celebrated across the line.
This is just crazy… closing in on $40,000 for the @AlkekVelodrome. Another day done @LeTour for me means another $100. Thank you to everyone for contributing! You are changing lives. https://t.co/oRUzsNB3ao pic.twitter.com/iEZK9y7MOt
— Lawson Craddock (@lawsoncraddock) July 11, 2018
“I think as far as the other stages are considered in the first 10 days of the race, I think today was the biggest test,” said Craddock. “I’m happy to make it through.”
“Lawson came to me and asked to contribute today,” Clarke noted. “He said he was feeling good, and I told him to feel good for a day and then we’ll see what tomorrow brings. He’s definitely on the up. He was able to ride out of the seat for the first time today since his crash, so he’s making some great progress. I’m sure we’ll see him contributing to the team more in the next couple days.”
Thursday’s stage six from Brest ends atop the Mur-de-Bretagne, billed as “the Breton Alpe d’Huez”. The 181km day finishes with a circuit that includes two times up the 2km road, which averages a seven percent gradient. Unsurprisingly, the stage has drawn comparisons to Flèche Wallonne.
“These days are different from the sprint days but for my characteristics and Rigo’s, they’re better for us,” said Clarke. “A lot of teams may be dreading these days, but we’ve been looking forward to these stages – today’s and tomorrow’s. They’re much more up my alley. This is terrain where I can be even more influential in supporting Rigo.”
“It sounds a bit boring, never racing for the finish each day,” said Clarke “But until the first rest day, we can’t win the Tour de France, we can only lose it.”
Visit ProCyclingStats for complete stage five results.