Peter Sagan has won stage 5 of the Tour de France.  The world champion took the stage win ahead of Sonny Colbrelli and Philippe Gilbert.  It was a day for Dion Smith to say farewell to his polka dot jersey as it passed to former teammate Toms Skujins of Trek-Segafredo.

Lorient to Quimper presented a lengthy 204.5km and the certainty that if Dion Smith wanted to keep his lead in the king of the mountains classification then he had to get into the break of the day and score points on some of the 5 categorised climbs that featured on today’s stage.  With three category 3 climbs to hand in the stage these would be the hardest climbs of the race so far – advancing from the category 4 climbs that had featured so far; providing 2 points for first and 1 point for second.

Matthews abandons, Smith releases KOM lead

 

Two riders opted not to start stage 5 of the Tour de France, with Tiesj Benoot of Lotto Soudal and Michael Matthews of Team Sunweb not taking to the start line.  It transpired that a fever picked up by last year’s green jersey winner was the reason behind Matthews’ withdrawal.

At the drop of the flag Dion Smith was immediately active, trying to get into the break of the day.  But the intensity was on for a few kilometres before a move finally managed to go up the road; and sadly for Smith when the group that former the break finally did go up the road it was sans the Kiwi.  The Tour de France would have a new king of the mountains by the end of the day.

The break was comprised of an interesting array of teams with the expected squads of Direct Energie, Cofidis and Fortuneo-Samsic being joined by a couple of World Tour outfits.  Sylvain Chavanel was back to his breakaway tricks, alongside teammate Lilian Calmejane, with Cofidis’ Nicolas Edet, Dimension Data’s Julien Vermote, Lotto Soudal’s Jasper De Buyst, Trek-Segafredo’s Toms Skujins and Fortuneo-Samsic’s Elie Gesbert.

The king of the mountains lead passed from Dion Smith to his former teammate Toms Skujins, photo Sirotti

Bevin leads the pack as Gaviria continues sprint challenge

 

As the break quickly built its lead to upwards of 2.45mins in the first 20km, the figure of Patrick Bevin of BMC Racing could be seen heading up the red train that assumed responsibility for marshalling the pack.  The break were able to build a lead of about 3 minutes in the early stages, but it was interesting to note BMC Racing’s reluctance to let the break have more of an advantage; perhaps due to the fact that the parcours really did suggest that the break had an opportunity to stay clear today.

Steadily the seven leaders managed to creep out to a 4 minute lead; and start thinking about the upcoming intermediate sprint and KOM climbs.  The first intermediate sprint arrived at 92.5km into the stage, while the climbs began at just after halfway, with the first category 4 climb a 106km.  As the sprint neared the break edged towards a 5 minute lead, but it was interesting to see the time gap continue to yoyo between the 4 minute and 5 minute margin.  

At the intermediate sprint Sylvain Chavanel led the break across with a lead of just over 4.10mins.  Behind the break the bunch were still being led by BMC Racing, with Astana paying close quarter; but inevitably the sprint teams made their way forward.  BORA-Hansgrohe took control of the lead out for the green jersey of Peter Sagan, while Alexander Kristoff, Fernando Gaviria, Andre Greipel and Arnaud Demare all contested the points.  Gaviria took the 8 points for 7th place across the line, with Sagan and Kristoff just behind.

 

Chavanel vs Skujins for polka dot jersey, Smith crashes

 

With 100km left on the stage Sylvain Chavanel launched an attack on the lower slopes of the first climb of the day.  It was interesting to note the complete lack of response from the break, allowing Chavanel to not just open up a rapid 26 second advantage and take the first KOM point of the day, but he was also faced with the opportunity to do as he’d done in stage 2 and go solo.  Chavanel seemed happy to do just that and he proceeded to notch up the next KOM point and maximum points on the race’s first category 3 climb at 140.5km with 64km left to race.

Behind Chavanel the break was beginning to fragment with Edet, Skujins and Calmejane looking capable of keeping pace.  Chavanel’s maximum points at the Côte de la Roche du Feu meant that he had 4 points in the battle for the king of the mountains classification, but with two more climbs there was still time for another KOM challenger to rise up.  

The four remaining leaders hit 60km to go with a lead of around 2.20mins.  BORA-Hansgrohe had the lead of the peloton and they were launching a proper injection of pace when a crash close to the front of the peloton brought down Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert and his teammate Yoann Offredo, along with Mitchelton-Scott’s Mikel Nieve.  While Smith was able to just readjust his handlebars and continue on alongside Lawson Craddock who’d dropped off the pace, Offredo was in a bit of pain and vocalised his frustrations to the cars passing him.

 

Skujins takes over KOM lead

 

Smith would drop Craddock pretty quickly and face a reasonably intense chase back; getting on board with just over 47km to go.  Up ahead the breakaway were beginning to play tactical games.  Edet was appearing to force Direct Energie to do the brunt of the work, with Chavanel and Calmejane having the numerical advantage.  But on the next climb Chavanel was dropped, following an acceleration from Skujins.  Edet was also slightly behind, while Skujins was visibly strongest, attacking Calmejane to cross the penultimate climb solo before sitting up to wait for his two companions.

The final climb came at 23.5km to go, but there was clear dissension in the break with Edet still unwilling to really pull his weight in the break.  Eventually they seemed to gather themselves and establish some sort of order again.  The gap to the peloton was dropping though, with the peloton just 1.36mins behind at 30km to go.  As the break climbed the last categorised rise for the day the gap dropped still further to 42 seconds with 24km to go; and Edet also dropped off the pace.

Skuins and Calmejane sprinted it out for the points with Skujins taking the accolades and ensuring that he would wear the polka dot jersey at the end of the day.  Calmejane rejoined the Latvian after the climb and the pair tried to hold off the peloton for as long as possible.  At 21km to go the gap was sitting at 1 minute and dropping as behind them the likes of BMC Racing got ready for the bonus sprint.

The catch was made right at the sprint, with Greg van Avermaet and Julian Alaphilippe contesting the bonus seconds with Calmejane just ahead of the rest.  Alaphilippe took the 3 second bonus ahead of van Averamet and Calmejane, as the race came back together with 12km remaining.  Attacks weren’t done though, and next up it was Rein Taaramäe of Direct Energie to go up the road.  Behind him BORA-Hansgrohe and Astana led the way but the Estonian had timed his effort well and quickly built a lead that went over 15 seconds.

Chris Froome was in the mix in the final uphill sprint to the line, losing no time to his fellow GC contenders, photo Sirotti

Sagan a class above in uphill sprint

 

Finally though, with Team Sky on the offensive in the bunch that attack would be put to rest with 5.5km to go and it was Sky on the front leading the charge before the uphill sprint to the line.  A number of GC riders paid close attention to the front of the race, while Wanty-Groupe Gobert also paid attention to the front of the peloton.  BORA-Hansgrohe were well placed to pounce, and it looked like Sagan was the favourite for the stage honours as a number of pure sprinters had suffered today including Gaviria, Kittel, Greipel and Cavendish.

At 2km to go Team Sky remained in control of the race with Wanty-Groupe Gobert right there.  Peter Sagan was perfectly positioned for his finishing kick.  Dion Smith was also well placed to position his teammates for the sprint as Yoann Offredo attacked with 1.5km to go.

The sprint for the line was furious though, with Philippe Gilbert an Greg van Avermaet going for the long-range effort.  Sagan jumped across to the two riders along with Julian Alaphilippe and Sonny Colbrelli as the maillot jaune led the sprint out with 250m to go after the final corner.  Sagan and Colbrelli were the strongest though and they went head-to-head once again.  Sagan had just enough to push forward and claim his second win of the Tour this year ahead of Colbrelli and Gilbert.

Dion Smith was the first Kiwi across the line 17 seconds behind the Sagan group with Jack Bauer, Patrick Bevin and Tom Scully emerging behind them out of a field that was split up across several minutes.

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