Less than one week into its debut Le Tour de France, the Cervélo Team scored a sprint victory today with Thor Hushovd in the 181.5km sixth stage to Barcelona.

Hushovd battled through rain and slick roads that saw team captain Carlos Sastre fall without major consequences early in the stage before attacking up a climbing finish to Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium to claim Cervélo’s first-ever Tour stage win.

Thor takes a very hard finish up the Montjuic climb.
Thor takes a very hard finish up the Montjuic climb.

Hushovd positioned himself perfectly in the uphill sprint, relegating three-time world champion Oscar Freire to second place with Spanish rider José Joaquín Rojas trailing across third.

Le Tour de France
Dave Miller and Sylvain Chavanel in the break.

Scot Dave Millar (Garmin) made a brave move, attacking after just 20km of the stage completed, and then 30 km from the finish from the three other riders with him in the break, then time-trialling to the finish, only being caught with 1.2km to go, once he had started the Montjuic climb.

On occasions, Millar had been maillot jaune virtuele, but ended losing over a minute in the last kilometer as his battery drained completely;

“I knew when I got to the city and the big 4km-long, wide boulevards, that any advantage I had on the wet, narrow streets would be gone. I wasn’t able to build up enough of an advantage, and I knew the bunch were bearing down on me.

“I tried not to look behind me, and then on the climb I was aware they were on me and glanced round – and it was like someone had pulled the plug out, the energy just went completely.”

Le Tour de France
Cervélo lead the bunch between the showers.

Overnight leader Fabian Cancellara retained the yellow jersey.

Thor was understandably chuffed.
Thor was understandably chuffed.

A delighted Hushovd said;

“Of course, winning makes me very happy. It’s always important to win a stage at the Tour de France.

“I knew that today would be a good opportunity for me. I was able to get on Freire’s wheel and that was the perfect place to be.

“We wanted to win a stage in the first week and now that we’ve done it, I’ll work to help Carlos in the mountains.”

The 31-year-old’s seventh career Tour victory brought him within one point of Mark Cavendish in the fight for the green points jersey.

The victory certainly helped take the sting out of a painful day for some of the Cervélo team riders, as scores of crashes and accidents marred the rainy and slick stage along Spain’s rugged Costa Brava.

Sastre slipped in a pileup early in the race, but was not seriously injured. The 2008 Tour champ finished safely in the main bunch and didn’t lose any time relative to his main GC rivals.

Beautiful Barcelona.
Beautiful Barcelona.

Tom Boonen came clattering down on the run-in, his front wheel washing out on a painted zebra-crossing and bringing several other riders with him.

Spanish climber José Angel Marchante and Heinrich Haussler also crashed, with Haussler hitting the deck twice in the closing kilometers.

Haussler reckoned;

“I went down on a slick spot coming out of a roundabout. It was just so wet there, my front wheel just slid out.

“I took a lot of risks to catch back to the front group to try to help Thor in the sprint, but then I fell again when a huge crash took out 30 riders. I don’t care, though, I’m just glad Thor won.”

Laurens ten Dam and Yukiya Arashiro
Laurens ten Dam and Yukiya Arashiro hit the deck.
Tour 09 Stage 6 Map.
Tour 09 Stage 6 Map.
Tour 09 Stage 6 Profile.
Tour 09 Stage 6 Profile.

Tomorrow…

The Tour continues tomorrow with the 224km seventh stage from Barcelona to Arcalis in the principality of Andorra. The stage features the first major climbs of the race and we will surely see a major reshuffling of the overall standings.

The route opens with two relatively minor climbs in the first half before the Cat. 1 Col de Serra-Seca at 127km, ahead of the long approach to the hors-category climb to the Arcalis summit high in the Pyrénées.

ed-thumb2Ed Hood

I just made it today; the remote control is too smart for me and it takes an age to find channel 521.

Eventually, there it was – Barca, one of my favourite places on earth.

The long, straight boulevards, the plane trees and – David Millar.

I’d caught a glimpse of him on a “box’ somewhere, earlier in the afternoon in a four man break, now here he was, two hours later riding ‘la course en tête, en seulle.

Tall, loose, stylish, urging his Felt across the slick tar of the Catalan capital.

Dave won the most combative rider today, and well deserved.
Dave won the most combative rider today, and well deserved.

There were eight kilometres to go and his lead was around 40 seconds – “not enough” I thought, but maybe there would be a lull or a big stack up in the peloton on a bend and he could pull it off.

Past the exhibition halls, the museums, the fountains at the foot of Montjuic through huge crowds, braving the rain.

A right and he was on the climb, the “easy” side of Montjuic, the famous Escalada ascends the brutal hairpins from the port side.

Not steep, but one man – however stylish, strong and brave – is no match for the rampaging beast that is the peloton.

In a blink, he was washed away; Feillu went suicidally early, Freire countered, Pozzato showed, Feillu died and Oscar was left in the middle of the road looking for a wheel; in that moment, the stage was gone for Spain.

Hushovd is a big man but somehow it’s the uphill sprints that suit him – on the right, sure and true he propelled that Cervélo to the line.

Hands high, beaming – sweet, sweet victory.

Freire was second, Cav 15th – and still in green.

I tried hard to get an interview with David Millar last night, but no dice – texts and emails came to nought.

Never mind; but if you are reading this David – “Respect!”

Mountains tomorrow – a different Tour begins. Ciao.

Al Hamilton

¡Bon Dia i benvinguts a Catalunya! Good day and welcome to Cataluña!

Today the Tour comes to Barcelona and as Oscar Pereiro says “The finish in Barcelona is especially big for all the Spaniards” and Antonio Flecha, the classics-man of Rabobank says he will be working for his team-mate, Oscar Freire.

Freire was up there, today, but didn't take top spot.
Freire was up there, today, but didn’t take top spot.

Antonio said “the finish in Montjuic is ideal for him (Freire)”. The course is not flat with a few little hills and the last 3 kilometres have a rise of 3%.

The last time the Tour came to Barcelona, Spanish rider, Pérez Francés won the stage on the 2nd of July 1965, and he was 44 years old at the time.

When asked who he thought would win the Tour he says “I like Contador very much, he’s extraordinary”.

Armstrong, what of him? “Not in the category, he’s part of a show!” So he won’t win? “No, or be on the podium”.

Astana's internal wars, reckons the paper. we're not far away from finding out who is the rightful team leader.
Astana’s internal wars, reckons Meta2Mil, we’re not far away from finding out who is the rightful team leader.

Also in AS today the old report has risen again of “the new English team, Sky which will début next year, has signed Bradley Wiggins and David Millar”, we’ll have to wait and see!

Yesterday we had the token French stage win to keep the home fans happy, but it seems that wasn’t the Columbia team plan – they were annoyed that no-one was helping them to pull back the escapees. With the form of “Cav” what’s the point?

The weekly cycling paper, Meta2Mil, came out today. It has all the old news from the first week of the Tour, but they do add the padding we miss from the dailies, but, of course it’s out of date by the time it’s in print.

The front page has to be Cancellara “First leader of the Tour’09” and “Contador the best of the favourites”. This was before the break and the TTT.

Big double page spread on the success of the Columbia-HTC team, 37 wins last year and 49 so far this year. “Columbia is a machine for winning races and money.”

Back page on AS today has the sad news of the abandonment of Gesink (Rabobank) with a broken wrist. Oh! And Claudia…

Adéu, fins després. Al.

Le Tour de France
The back page of AS – sports paper.

Le Tour de FranceGordan Cameron

So, I’ve been a little bit tardy the last couple of days, but not without good reason. Some technical problems with a major broadcaster wasted a couple of precious hours in the press room in Montpellier on Tuesday. The problem last night was a long, long walk from the finish area to the press centre in Perpignan.

And now, Thursday night, it’s late again and after a madcap drive to Andorra, I’m just about to crawl into bed.

Le Tour de France
They start reading the papers young en France.I saw the last 20kms of Dave Millar’s brave, doomed bid for victory this afternoon on TV … which mirrored my own problems.

The idea was to miss out the 400+ kms of driving to Barcelona then up to Andorra, that I’d check out Arcalis today. Never happened. Not even close.

To go back to Tuesday, I’d been supposed to meet up with a press rep to go and have a look at Specialized’s new TT toy, the Shiv. QuickStep and Saxo Bank were using them, but Bjarne Riis’s guys were locked down for the day and we couldn’t get close. It seemed to work for them though, hanging onto the steaming Astana express just enough to keep Cancellara in the lead.

Cervelo about to start the TTT.
Cervelo about to start the TTT.

Montpellier was a hard day for us, just waiting in the heat. The word back from the guys who’d ridden the course in the morning was that it was super-hard, and very dangerous, with a lot of road furniture and awkward corners. And we saw for ourselves what happened to Skil-Shimano, BBox, etc.

Yesterday was an off-course day, driving through from Cap d’Agde to Perpignan, and my girlfriend’s first time in the press space just beyond the finish line.

Total chaos, we could hardly have chosen a more ‘real’ day.

The cops were super aggressive, shoving people every which way – but still not clearing the bottleneck that got all the riders stuck tantalizingly close to the buses.

Le Tour de France
Gordan took a photo of this cop’s badge number – he was so aggressive, shoving him out of the way, between two cars without noticing that Efimkin (AG2R) was trying to get through the same space.

It was a real up-close-and-personal day. Someone, not sure who, grabbed my arm as a support to get through the crowd. A rider with good English, politely saying ‘Excuse me!’ and using me as a lever to get out of the finish. His gloves were wringing wet with sweat …. You don’t get that close to footballers or other sportsmen do you?

Today, over the stress of our close encounters with the police, we had an abortive drive to Andorra. It seemed we weren’t the only ones with a similar plan to get to Arcalis, and most of them were lorry drivers. After four hours or so, we just gave up and went to hang out in the local bike shop in Andorra La Vella.

The general view from the guys in the shop, our new pals Manuel and Dot, is that it’s between Lance and Alberto to sort it out tomorrow. In 24 hours, we’ll have more of an idea who is the real boss of Astana.

And hopefully, I’ll have had a more successful day.