Blazin' Saddles

Tour de Farce: Grinning Greipel, riding rats, huge pile-ups and crashes

Blazin' Saddles

What seemed like a routine day in the saddle became pretty traumatic either side of the intermediate sprint, where crosswinds, a fast pace and wet roads contributed to numerous falls and pile-ups.

You can see a couple of the incidents in this video - and look out for Garmin's Jack Bauer trying knock his handlebars back in line. Not something he ever did in the series 24...

The crashes saw three riders withdraw from the race: Spaniards Xabier Zandio (Sky) and Jesus Hernandez (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Russian Egor Silin (Katusha).

You can see poor Zandio sitting on the road with his suspected broken collarbone in this tweet from the Tour's official account.

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Meanwhile, the odds of a German sprinter winning in Reims were pretty short given Marcel Kittel's form in the opening week of the Tour - but it was his compatriot Andre Greipel who had the last laugh.

As Kittel faltered in the last kilometre - not, as first thought, because of a puncture; simply through exhaustion from the buffeting crosswinds - Greipel powered through on the closing straight to win stage six and secure his sixth Tour win of his career.

Even if you watched the action live it's worth watching this short clip again to the very end - just to see Lotto Belisol Greipel's frenzied reaction on crossing the line in first place. His powerful thighs often get a mention for being colossal but Greipel's mouth is in a different league - particularly when bellowing out a teutonic victory cry.

After the chaos of the cobbles on Wednesday, the largely flat ride from Arras to Reims was meant to usher in a lull in proceedings before the expected bunch sprint in the city of Champagne. As expected, a break went clear and was allowed to build up a lead of around four minutes while many of us fans were still digesting all the comedy memes doing the rounds following Vincenzo 'The Shark' Nibali's emphatic display on the pavé of northern France.

The break of the day included serial escapee Luis Maté of Spain and Frenchman Jérôme Pineau - and it's fair to say the two did not end the day best friends. Maté took the points over both climbs to protect the polka dots of his Cofidis team-mate Cyril Lemoine, but his work ethic was criticised by Pineau after the pair bitterly battled for the day's combativity prize.

It's interesting Pineau called Maté a rat - for that is certainly the impression you get while riding behind the Spaniard and looking at his very euro hairdo. Apparently Maté is a big fan of Star Wars and his rat's tail is in fact a Padawan braid as sported by the very best of Jedi warriors. May the force be with him when he bumps into Darth Pineau outside Sky's Death Star...

With leader Chris Froome crashing out before the cobbles in stage five and the team now reduced to just seven riders before a week's worth of racing, many critics couldn't resist having a little jibe at Sky's expense. Although having watched Bradley Wiggins trying to cope in wet weather on last year's Giro it's hard to imagine him being less of a confused fluffy duck had he been selected.

Funnily enough, the splits in the peloton coincided with the arrival on the race of French President Francois Holland - a man renowned to causing splits wherever he goes. 'Flanby' - called so after a sweet, wobbly but unsatisfying French desert - joined the race convoy at Chemin des Dames, although he apparently refused to later mount the podium at Reims on fears that the crowds would boo.

Approaching the finish and it was the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team of the sadly departed Mark Cavendish who looked to crack the whip on those struggling to hold on at the back. Polish youngster Michal Kwiatkowski was so eager for his team to press on that he flicked the elbow, looked around and then urged big Tony Martin to come through for a pull.

Martin, not one to shirk his duties, simply shook his head, shouted 'no' and then gasped in pain. That he did - just moments later - come through for a turn on the front just underlines his tough-man status.

Kwiaktowski almost repaid his debt to Martin with an audacious move as the pack zipped under the flamme rouge. The Pole powered clear and looked to have secured an unlikely solo win before his gap was eaten up by none other than Europcar's Kevin Reza - a man who two days previously lashed out with fists during the build up to a bunch sprint.

Reza did all the dog work for the spunky debutant Bryan Coquard - only to find out that it wasn't Coquard who he was leading out, but Alexander Kristoff of Katusha. The least Kristoff could do was then go on and win - but the Norwegian was unable to keep up with Greipel as he danced clear, leaving Reza thumping his handlebars in frustration. Dinner chez Europcar will be an interesting one tonight...

And to finish, a little glance at the list of injuries on the race doctor's medical report. It makes for nasty reading - particularly those multiple traumatisms, contusions and erosions - and to think there wasn't even space for John Degenkolb's existing 'ruptured gluteus maximus' (which, frankly, sounds ghastly).

Felix Lowe / (on Twitter: @Saddleblaze)

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