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Stage 5: Limoges to Le Lioran, 216km

So…remember when I said Stage Three was the closest finish I’d ever seen? Yeah. That didn’t last long.

I’ve seen photo finishes before, obviously. And Three was pretty damned close. But Four? MILLIMETERS. It was literally TWENTY EIGHT MILLIMETERS. It came down to the fiercest of battles between Marcel Kittel and Bryan Coquard, and even as they collapsed to the ground after the explosive sprit, neither of them knew who had won. It actually took some time for the judges to figure it out, and then, finally, came the official word: Kittel. He’d thrown his bike just that slight bit further. Incredible.

Here we are, then, on Stage Five. Lots of climbs today— several Cat 2s and even a Cat 3. Utterly gorgeous scenery, too, of course. The Guardian tells me this is the first time in eleven years we’ve had all 198 riders still in the race by now. Poor Sam Bennet, though— he’s barely holding on, still suffering from injuries sustained the very first day.

As always, there’s an early breakaway, this time, from the 190km-to-go point and featuring nine riders. This time, though, some of them apparently felt they could do yet better, and now we have a breakaway from the breakaway— three riders— Greg Van Avermaet, Andre Grivko, and Thomas De Gendt, followed by six, followed by the peloton.

There’s a shot of Fabian Cancellara tooling along, and I am utterly delighted to see his white bike is emblazoned with his nickname: Spartacus. I adore this guy.

The scenery is gorgeous, as ever. I keep looking at these tiny hamlets and thinking, “See, this is what all those overpriced subdivisions want to grow up to be. Except: plywood. Poor babies.”

But man, the mountains. G-d. The Cat 3 this stage is almost as high as Alp d’Huez, Phil Liggett tells me, but it’s not a Hors Categorie simply because the climb is much more mild. I’m guessing it isn’t feeling very mild right now. All the people standing by the road? I have to salute them, too, cos there’s no parking up there. They walked their asses up the mountain. Yikes.

A mile yet to go up the Puy Marie, and Grivko has had it. Alas for him, De Gendt and Avermaet make their Belgian way on without him. Also: “Puy” means “extinct volcano.” Have fun with that at your next pub quiz.

Out of the woods and into the sun for the leaders, who are over eight minutes ahead of the peloton. The chase group is down to four, stuck in no man’s land. The two leaders are over the top, and De Gendt has officially taken the King of the Mountains from Jasper Stuyven, who’s back somewhere down the mountain. Also down the mountain, alas, Peter Sagan has cracked. He looks up at the camera on the motorcycle next to him, and offers up an insouciant shrug with his yellow-clad shoulders. He’s looking like he’s cycling through pancake batter. Oooh, so had Vincenzo Nibali, winner of the Giro d’Italia. We’ll see them again before Paris— many times, I’m sure— but not today.

Our four chasers are also over the top, and it’s time to see where the two leaders are. They’re…ugh. They’re doing that thing, there, where they fall down a mountain, and pedal to go faster. It’s dizzying to watch.

Holy wow, man. I would say that the peloton has made its way over the summit, but…it’s not really the peloton any more. It’s the bloody, shattered remains, led by stone-faced Movistar riders, setting a truly cruel pace. i don’t think anyone’s actually abandoned, but they’ll be dragging what’s left of their bodies up the far side of the mountain for a while yet.

Our Belgian duo has finished the descent, and starting another climb. Van Avermaet has decided to attack, and off he goes up the road ahead of his countryman. I’m wondering what De Gendt is thinking, and if any of it is printable.

Somehow, Van Avermaet is, on the next climb, seeming to go even faster. He’s over the top all by himself, and I don’t think anyone can possibly catch him. There’s De Gendt a bit behind him, and then another chase group which contains some of the best riders of the race, who have organized themselves very well.

Man, Van Avermaet is all alone. He’s at least six minutes up, so he’s got yellow. He knows. It’s just him and the race officials’ car with his team car behind that, and he’s on the last bend to the line, everyone screaming for him. He looks over his shoulder at the team car, and a huge grin splits his face. He sits up, points to the BMC logo of his team emblazoned across his chest, and shakes his fists in the air.

De Gendt is alone as he, exhausted, comes in second 2.34 later, but there’s a battle behind him— sprint points are on the line. They’re on a descent, and it could be tricky, here. On and on they go, and I can’t even tell who’s who, now. Into the final few meters. There’s a Tinkoff rider, Rafael Majka, coming in third, which is— DUDE BEHIND YOU! Jesus! Majka very nearly lost third because everyone and his brother came up on the other side of the road. Third isn’t bad, though— it’s a consolation for Tinkoff for having lost Sagan’s Yellow jersey today.

Gevalt. Well, mountains always do insane things to the Tour, and today was no exception. For once, a breakaway actually succeeded. A rider who was nowhere yesterday is in yellow today. Richie Porte, at whom everyone looked askance yesterday, is pretty much right in the middle of the best riders again. Tomorrow isn’t nearly as roller-coaster-y, so things will move around again, but likely not as much. We shall see.

Sleep well, Sam Bennett. We’re rooting for you!

Greg van Avermaet celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the fifth stage. Photograph: Peter Dejong/AP (via https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/06/tour-de-france-2016-stage-five-live)

If you’re not following along with The Guardian’s “as it happened” coverage, you haven’t heard Shakespeare in the original Klingon. The comments from readers are HYSTERICAL.



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