Stage 5 - Wednesday, July 8 2009: Le Cap d'Agde - Perpignan 196.5 km | Results
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The Breakaway Succeeds
Stage 5 of the Tour de France saw another predominantly flat stage which should have suited the sprinters and their teams. However, these stages always attract the interest of the breakaway specialists. And for the first time this Tour, one of these brave individuals managed to pull off a stage win.
Six riders broke clear early in the stage and although their lead was never huge, they stuck to their task manfully. With their lead under two minutes some 55km out from the finish they looked doomed. But, with cross-winds again causing the field to split, as it had on stage 3, the chasing riders had plenty on their minds.
The main field split into several large groups and it gradually emerged that all the top contenders were safely in the first bunch. Whilst this was going on, the six-rider breakaway enjoyed a valuable period when they were not on the radar and they managed to hold on to their advantage.
Suddenly it became clear that the main field - which had by now re-grouped - was struggling to catch the break. Pre-occupied with all the nervousness caused by the cross-winds, they left the inevitable acceleration, driven by the sprinters' teams, just a bit too late.
Ahead of them the six man break indulged in a brief period of attacking each other. This should have given the main field a chance to catch them, but Thomas Voeckler rapidly emerged from the scrapping with a brave solo move which he carried through to the finish.
The runner up was Team Katusha's Mikhail Ignatiev who was almost swamped by the main bunch as they roared into the finish only 7 seconds behind Voeckler. Mark Cavendish led in the main field, extending his lead in the battle for the Green Jersey in the process.
Fabian Cancellara remains in yellow, whilst the simmering battle within the Astana team remains the main topic of conversation on the Tour. Whilst Lance Armstrong continues to give lengthy interviews in which he underlines his desire to win the race his team-mate and rival Alberto Contador is less forthcoming, hinting only that he believes all will be sorted out once the race enters the mountain is two days time. He's probably right.
A quick guide to breakaway success
So what sort of riders attempt to breakaway in the Tour and why?
On the face of it, it looks like a lot of hard work for very little reward. However, there are some compensation for the riders involved:
Publicity - get into a small breakaway and you and your sponsors are guaranteed a lot of TV air time and dozens of name checks, even if you don't win the stage.
Glory - for riders who can't sprint particularly well or climb brilliantly, a lone or small-group breakaway is actually the only chance they have of a stage win. Coming into the finish with a handful of other riders to beat is a lot better odds than coming in with the full field of 180.
Consolation - some teams are decimated by the mountain stages. If you're down to two or three fit riders going into the closing week of the event, you have no chance to dictate terms within the main field. A popular source of a consolation win is the breakaway and team managers will often order riders to go on the hunt for publicity and the outside chance of a win.
When is a good time to look for a breakaway win?
There are a number of factors which can help the chances of success of a breakaway. The main field is often keen to take things easy on the day before a high mountain stage and indeed on the day after. A break can build up a big time advantage over the main field in these circumstances. But history has shown that successful breakaways can come at any time in the road stages and some of the most spectacular and brave have come in the high mountains.