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MARSEILLE, France (AFP) — The Tour de France fortunes of two of Australia’s leading cyclists were conspicuously contrasting on Wednesday: Orica-GreenEdge defended Simon Gerrans’ yellow jersey while former champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) saw several key teammates crash.
Gerrans started the fifth stage as the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey since Evans’s historic victory on the race in 2011.
Although he has virtually no chance of sealing it in Paris, Gerrans wore the race’s fabled shirt with pride and efficiency as Orica led the chase of a six-man breakaway that, as early as 37 kilometers into the 228.5km race from Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille, had built a lead of nearly 13 minutes.
In the end, the frontrunners were reeled in with 4km to go and Britain’s Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) dominated a reduced group sprint at the finish to claim his 24th win of the race over six editions.
Orica’s Matt Goss, heralded as one of the few men able to challenge Cavendish, did not even contend the finale after he was left trailing on the small Gineste climb, whose summit was 12km from the finish.
Gerrans, who took the race lead for the first time in his career after Orica’s team time trial triumph on Tuesday, having also won the third stage on Monday, will start Thursday’s sixth stage wearing yellow.
“Today we had two objectives,” Gerrans said. “To try and win the stage and keep the yellow jersey within the team.
“Matt Goss got distanced on the final climb but I still have the yellow jersey on my shoulders and I managed to stay up the front and stay out of trouble.”
How long Gerrans can hold on to the yellow jersey remains to be seen.
Realistically, given the profiles of the coming stages, he could hold it until at least Saturday when the race heads into the Pyrenees for two days.
That is where Evans will be on his guard for the first moves from rivals like two-time winner Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and this year’s favorite, Chris Froome (Sky), if they indeed intend on starting the overall battle for race supremacy so early on given that key mountain battles in the Alps dominate the final stages of the 100th edition.
Evans, meanwhile, suffered his second consecutive setback on Wednesday.
A day after losing time to Froome and Contador in the fourth stage team time trial, the 36-year-old saw several key teammates hit the tarmac.
A pileup in the final 250 meters took down Michael Schaer, while Brent Bookwalter and Tejay van Garderen were caught up in a spill on the Gineste climb.
Schaer saw the first part of the crash unfold and both he and Evans managed to avoid it: “But then, from the back, some guys didn’t see it and one slammed into me at 50 kilometers an hour,” the Swiss national road champion said as he nursed bruises to his elbow and back.
Bookwalter was taking a drink when the rider in front of him suddenly swerved: “I only had one hand on the handlebars at the time so I couldn’t react like normal.
“I have a little bit of soreness and lost a little bit of skin but I’m OK.”
Van Garderen, who won last year’s white jersey for the best-placed rider aged 25 and under, said his spill was all his own doing.
“I was grabbing a bottle from Steve Morabito and then we hit this left corner and people hit the brakes pretty hard,” he said.
“I had one hand on the bars and lost control. It was completely my fault. Just a lack of focus.”
Ahead of Thursday’s sixth stage, a mainly flat ride over 176.5km from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier, Evans is 26 seconds behind Gerrans, 23 behind Froome and 17 adrift of Contador.