pascal pavani/AFP/Getty Images
Edvald Boasson Hagen, a sprint specialist, exults after winning the longest stage.
(Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Images)
LISIEUX, France - Alberto Contador knew it made little sense to take risks on a day when blinding, torrential rain lashed riders in the Tour de France.
The 141-mile course yesterday - the sixth and longest stage in the three-week race - made for a dangerous trip. And the field was fortunate to avoid a major crash, a day after riders went tumbling everywhere.
“It was another nervous stage and, because of the rain, I virtually couldn’t see anything,’’ said Contador, the defending champion and three-time Tour winner who crashed Wednesday. “At the end of the stage I was moving to the very front of the pack, simply to avoid accidents, and not because I wanted to attack.’’
Contador and his Tour rivals, like two-time runners-up Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck, played it safe as Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway led a sprint to capture his first stage on the Tour. He finished in 5 hours 13 minutes 37 seconds.
Matt Goss of Australia was second and overall race leader Thor Hushovd was third, giving Norway the distinction of having the stage winner and yellow jersey holder on the same day.
Moving fairly close to the front meant relative safety for Contador, Schleck, and Evans. They all were part of the first 50 of the 197 riders who completed the stage.
“Yesterday wind, today rain . . . Luckily, there seemed to be some kind of understanding within the peloton not to take too many risks today,’’ Schleck said. “As if all the teams had suffered enough crashes yesterday.’’
Evans kept second overall. The Australian is one second behind Hushovd, while Schleck is 12 seconds behind in 10th spot. Contador is 1:42 off the lead in 34th place.
A rider would have encountered untold trouble if caught behind the peloton in a domino-like crash on the treacherous, narrow roads snaking toward Normandy. Wind made things even more hazardous, as fans watched, soaked to the skin in kinship with the riders.
“In the last few kilometers I was thinking only about not falling because it was a dangerous course,’’ Contador said. “At the end of the stage I got to the front of the peloton not to lose time, to avoid problems.’’
Contador is no stranger to problems. The 28-year-old Spaniard tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol late in last year’s Tour and he could yet be stripped of all his titles back to last July if the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules against him next month.
Hagen, a sprint specialist with Sky, burst free with about 200 yards left and held on, jutting his arms in the air as he crossed the line with rain spurting off his wheel.
“I really surprised myself,’’ he said. “Lots of people say that I’m a talented guy, so it’s nice to show it by winning a stage.’’
Today’s seventh stage should favor sprinters. The 136-mile course from Le Mans to Chateauroux is the last flat stage before riders enter the Massif Central mountains.