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Stage six analysis: The Sky opens

The British team take their first ever Tour stage, with Edvald Boasson Hagen winning in Lisieux.

Words by Edward Pickering

Thursday July 7, 2011

The teams of the new cycling countries are continuing to hold the Tour de France in an iron grip. Four days after Garmin won their first stage, two days after BMC won theirs, and a day after HTC won their 17th in three years, Sky joined the winners’ club when Edvald Boasson Hagen took victory in Lisieux. It was the first stage win by a bona fide British squad in 43 years, since Barry Hoban won for the national team in Sallanches in 1968.

In winning, Edvald Boasson Hagen finally began to clamber out of the gulf that separates his abilities from the expectations of others. Sky’s signing of the Norwegian at the end of 2009 was lost in the noise surrounding Bradley Wiggins’ move from Garmin, but he was seen by the cycling world as one of the cleverest acquisitions David Brailsford made. It’s taken a year and a half to happen, but Boasson Hagen was signed to win big races. Now he has done so.

The Norwegian’s win came off the back of a final kilometre effort by Geraint Thomas that was as generous as it was prodigious. The Welshman, his white jersey sodden and dulled by the rain and dirt, led out the winner for the second day running, but unlike yesterday, it was his own team-mate.

Through thick spray kicked up off the road, and with bright sunshine blinding the riders, Thomas covered a late attack by Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema under the kilometre-to-go flag, while Boasson Hagen cruised in his wheel. The Norwegian looked like he could hardly hold back, and he jumped out of Thomas’s wheel with 200 metres to go. Matt Goss was second, and Thor Hushovd, his yellow jersey glowing in the sunlight, was third, but neither could make an impression.

***
The clear skies and heat of the Vendée were a distant memory as the bunch rolled out of Dinan under heavy, gunmetal grey skies. Heavy showers soaked the riders through the day and left standing water on the smooth roads, which were treacherously slick.

Five riders – Johnny Hoogerland and Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoleil, Leonardo Duque of Cofidis, Adriano Malori of Lampre and Anthony Roux of FDJ – were given more rope than the bunch had allowed escapees on previous days, but it was clear that this would be all the better to hang themselves with. The lead stretched to over 10 minutes, but the gap closed with ease in the third quarter of the stage. As if to liven up the formulaic nature of the stage so far, Malori and Westra set off alone with 60 kilometres to go, their sole mission to delay the inevitable.

Also inevitable: a late attack by Thomas Voeckler, who countered a move by Omega’s Jelle Vanendert up the two-kilometre drag through Lisieux. It was as televisual as it was doomed. Behind, the reduced bunch were already setting themselves up for a sprint. First David Millar put in a huge turn for Thor Hushovd, then Geraint Thomas took over.

The Tour seems to be dividing itself into two. On one side, the teams of the old cycling countries, who are filling the breaks. On the other, the teams of the new cycling countries, who are winning the stages. It feels like the ground is shifting beneath our feet.

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