Ok the kick at the end of yesterday's route was harder than many expected with the narrow streets, sharp bends, cobbled climb and the gradient itself. So it was left to the puncheurs and not the stronger sprinters to take line honours. So it was that Fabian Cancellera (BMC) took off on the steep ascent before the more level final part. But with him went Tour debutant Peter Sagan (LIQ) but in their wake only Edvald Boasson Hagen (SKY) came after them to close the gap they built up.
But for Cancellara the other two sat on his wheel not willing or not able to help increase the lead over the pack, until the Slovak champion took line honours from Cancellera just ahead of the chasing small pack led by Phillippe Gilbert (BMC) close enough that there wasn't a time gap for any of the first 48 riders. That 48 included all the main Tour contenders except Levi Leipheimer (OPQ) who had already had to recover from a crash in the last 25 km who having got back on found himself 17seconds back, Jerome Coppel (SAU) at 23", Chris Froome (SKY) who had a puncture in the last 5 km 1'25".
While this was a stage for the sprinters what the intermediate sprint told us was who was going to be competing for that Green Jersey. After the six in the breakaway passed there were still key points up for grabs and the first sprinters read like a who's who of former HTC sprinters. As it was Matt Goss (ORG) ahead of Mark Cavendish (SKY) , André Griepel (LOT) and Mark Renshaw (RAB) all four formerly of that team. So maybe Cavendish has been talking down his chances and still has hopes of retaining his jersey. Though Sagan picking up four points there and Boasson Hagen with one are two of the puncheurs who can also sprint.
Cancellera retains both Yellow and Green (the latter will be worn by Sagan today), Teejay Vangerderen (BMC) is still best young rider in White, the Polka Dots were awarded to Dane Michael Morkov (STB). The yellow helmets will remain planted on the heads of Team Sky Procycling.
de la Citadelle de Namur (pictured). But that is at 82.5km of a 207.5 km stage. It
is only a category 4 and the field will have stuck together for the
2.1km of its length.
intermediate sprint is at 153km at Soignies too early for the bunch to
have pulled back the day's breakaway so again expect to see the
sprinters go after what points are left and to stretch their legs ahead
of the finish near the border at Tournai which seeing as it is just
across the border from Roubaix means it is just a day's cycling from
Paris, only of course our riders still have another 18 days in the
saddle before they arrive.
It should all come back for the finish to set it up for the sprinters so we should really see who has the speed over the closing stages today and be able to see which Teams have the organisation to help their man. The interesting point will be just what Sky will be doing for Cavendish or after yesterday when he appeared to surf his way on the back of other teams' work to come second in the group to the intermediate whether he'll be doing the same again.
Here is what Chris Boardman makes of today's stage.