Saturday, July 21, 2007

Boonen Wins Again

How yesterday's stage 12 of the Tour de France would unfold was a bit difficult to predict.  Coming on the day before an important individual time trial, it made sense that the main GC riders would want to avoid riding too hard and try to keep the pace calm.  Also, a category 2 climb 50km before the finish created the possibility that the sprinters wouldn't be able to stay in contact with the front group, ruling out a mass sprint finish.  On the other hand, with the stage profiles of uncoming stages indicating that a mass sprint finish would not occur again until at least next Thursday, the sprinters' teams would probably want to set up their men one more time before the roads kick uphill.

In the end, the stage turned into a bunch sprint.  The peloton only allowed a group of 2 riders to get away as they kept a close eye on proceedings.  After riding at a pace that allowed all of the sprinters to stay in contact over the category 2 climb, the peloton began a full on chase.  Their pursuit of the breakaway turned out to be perfectly timed as they caught the two breakaway riders with 1.5km to go, setting up a bunch sprint.

In the finale, Tom Boonen used an expert leadout train by his Quick-Step team to take him up to the line.  Following faithful lieutenant Gert Steegmans, he sprinted in from 200m out and finished comfortably ahead of Erik Zabel (Milram) and Robbie Hunter (Barloworld).  It was Boonen's second stage victory of this year's Tour de France and fourth overall for Quick-Step.  Boonen also extended his green jersey points advantage to 20 over Hunter.

Crash/Abandon Notes Stage 12: A new feature of this column.  We will try to keep you informed of any crashes and withdrawals from the day's stage.  Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom) crashed with around 65km to go and missed the time cut at the finish line.  He is now out of the Tour de France.  Alberto Ongarato (Milram) also did not finish the stage as a result of a crash and suspected broken collarbone.  Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) and Juan Migel Mercado (Agritubel) touched wheels on an uphill section and crashed, but were both alright to continue.  Wegmann finished in the main peloton, while Mercado came in over 9' back.


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