In what will surely prove to be one of the biggest stages of this year's Tour de France, Lars Boom won Stage 5 on Wednesday while Yellow Jersey wearer Vincenzo Nibali extended his lead over the top competitors.
Stage 5 promised to be full of carnage and did it ever deliver. The Hell in the North stage was appropriately named but the name had as much or more to do with the rain than the cobblestone roads.
Originally nine cobblestone road sections were supposed to be included in the race but because of the rain it was reduced to seven before the stage began. But the rain on the paved roads proved to be just as troublesome as it seemed that at every turn on the road there was another crash. That's what caught defending champ Chris Froome and forced him to abandon the race following what was his second crash of the day and third in the last two.
Of course the cobblestones weren't much easier to navigate.
Simply put it was pure carnage on the roads on Wednesday and just to get through without hitting terra firma had to be considered a success.
More important is what the rain and the cobblestones did to the general classification. As many riders were getting caught up in crashes early on the wet roads, Nibali was staying near the front and when the cobblestones hit in the latter half of the stage, Nibali broke free and started to put time over his pursuers, only extending it over each stretch on the road.
A group of 12 riders was whittled down to four when Nibali was joined by Boom and two of his Astana teammates as they just pulled away and pushed hard to the finish line, a very well-earned third-place finish on the day. It was a tremendous ride from Nibali in the Yellow, better than anybody could have expected, probably Nibali included. He didn't just hold his lead but kept pushing it out and thinning the chase field.
With Froome abandoning the race on Wednesday and Nibali building a substantial lead on Contador, it's fair to wonder if he isn't taking over the position of favorite. The mountains haven't arrived yet but Nibali has shown before he can climb. You can add ride the cobblestones to his repertoire.
American Andrew Talansky was in one of the chase groups and crossed the finish line about two minutes behind Nibali on the road. Meanwhile Alberto Contador dropped even more time, crossing two and a half minutes back of Nibali.
Here is the top 10 of the general classification after Stage 5.
1. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA)
2. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) +0:02
3. Peter Sagan (SVK) +0:44
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) +0:50
5. Fabian Cancellara (SUI) +1:17
6. Jurgen van den Broeck (BEL) +1:45
7. Tony Gallopin (FRA) +1:45
8. Richie Porte (AUS) +1:54
9. Andrew Talansky (USA) +2:05
10. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) +2:11
Photo of the day
Few images better capture just what exactly the riders were dealing with on Wednesday than this one. Cobbles, narrow roads and lots of rain. What a brutal day.
After Stage 5, Thursday's stage should be a very welcome change, especially if the sun actually comes out for the riders.
The 194 kilometer stage sets off in Arras in northern France and ends to the south in Reims. It's not a completely flat stage with a pair of Category 4 climbs but it mostly levels out over the final 30k of the stage, which could allow the peloton to regather if any gaps are created in the earlier climbs.