Rodriguez Wins on Mur de Huy; Froome Takes Yellow Jersey
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who knows the Mur de Huy, has won Stage 3 of the Tour de France on it. The Spaniard jumped into the lead on the climb and held off Chris Froome (Sky Pro Cycling) to win a crash-marred, hilly, 159.5-km ride from Antwerp to Huy in Belgium in 3:26:54. Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale) finished third at 0:04. Froome’s second place finish and bonus seconds have propelled him into the maillot jaune.
At the start, Bryan Nauleau (Europcar) jumped away from the peloton, and Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka), Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), and Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) joined him. The bunch kept the break on a short leash, and the escapees’ lead maxed out at 3:45. At 47.5 km, the riders went through Meensel-Kiezegem, Eddy Merckx’s hometown, where a statue was unveiled in his honor.
Trek led the pursuit on behalf of yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara. On the approach to the Category 4 Cote de Bohissau, the field was about to reel in the fugitives when disaster struck. William Bonnet (FDJ) touched wheels with another rider and went down. At least a dozen riders crashed around him. Medics rushed to the scene. Cancellara went down and reinjured the vertebrae that he injured in a crash this past spring; he abandoned when he reached the finish line. Bonnet suffered a fractured vertebrae. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) dislocated and fractured his shoulder. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) fractured his wrist, and his teammate Daryl Impey broke his collarbone; the former abandoned immediately, and the latter finished the stage before abandoning. Laurens Ten Dam (LottoNL-Jumbo) dislocated his shoulder but will remain in the race.
Two km up the road, another crash occurred. Johan Vansummeren (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Dmitrii Kozonchuk (Katusha) hit the deck. The former injured his back, while the latter fractured his scapula and collarbone. The race was neutralized to allow injured riders to get back on. It was resumed with 50 km to go.
With 41 km remaining, Sky accelerated. Tinkoff-Saxo Bank and Astana joined the British squad, and the peloton split. Initially, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) were caught out, but the trio made their way to the lead group. Angelo Tulik (Europcar) took a flyer on the Category 4 Cote d’Ereffe, but the Sky-led peloton rode him down. With 10 km left, Tinkoff-Saxo Bank took over at the front.
Luca Paolini (Katusha) led the field onto the Mur de Huy. Froome and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) went to the front, and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) was not far behind. With 400 m left, Rodriguez made his move. Gallopin attempted to take his wheel but fell off of the pace. Froome pursued but finished just behind the Katusha man.
Rodriguez, the winner of the 2012 Fleche Wallonne, which ends atop the Mur de Huy, knew the climb and how to gauge his effort. “The speed was really high headed in the direction of the Mur de Huy,” he said. “I even had to ask Giampaolo Caruso to slow down a bit. On the Mur everything went well. I attacked with 400 m to go. That is the perfect distance for me. I am explosive, and this Mur suits me so well. The last time I wanted to wait a little longer, and then I was closed in by others. I did not want to take that risk this time and I went full gas and it was perfect. I am so happy after the fabulous work of the team too.”
Froome was surprised to take the yellow jersey. "It’s an amazing feeling to be back in yellow,” the Briton said. “If you’d have told me this morning I’d be in the jersey, I wouldn't have believed you, but it’s amazing. Especially on a day like this which had a punchy climb in the final. That isn't normally my kind of thing – I'm better on longer climbs – so I was really surprised to see the gaps open up like they did. I knew there would be gaps, but I didn't expect them to be as significant as they were and allow me to get into yellow.”
In the overall, Froome leads Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) by 0:01 and Tejay van Garderen (BMC) by 0:03. Stage 4 will take the Tour into France. The rolling, 221.5-km run from Seraing, Belgium to Cambrai, France will feature seven sections of pave, totaling 13.3 km, at the end of the stage. Who will win? John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin)? Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank)? Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step)? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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