ARENBERG GATE OF HAINAUT, France
Australian rider Simon Clarke won a fifth stage of the Tour de France on Wednesday marred by an accident while Wout van Aert clung to the leader’s yellow jersey despite his descent from the bike.
The big winner, however, was Slovenian rider Tadej Pogačar, who kicked off his bid to win a third consecutive Tour with a sensational run over the cobbles to close the gap to Van Aert to 19 seconds on a day when several of his rivals lost. time. Pogačar grinned broadly as he crossed the line.
“It was a really tough day. Quite stressful in the first part, and the second part was really difficult. There was a lot of power on the pedals throughout the day, the cobbles were dusty and dangerous,” Pogačar said.
“I’m just happy that this day is over and I rode well. In the end, it was a very good day for me and the team (UAE Team Emirates)… I followed Jasper Stuyven at the end. He m almost gave up a few times, I struggled and clung to his steering wheel. We got to the front to take a few seconds. Gotta buy him a beer.”
It was a first individual Tour victory for Clarke, who was in tears after crossing the line. Clarke had won a team time trial in the race in 2013 and also two individual stages in the Spanish Vuelta.
Clarke, 35, who rides for Israel-Premier Tech, sprinted to victory from the remnants of an early breakaway, edging out Taco van der Hoorn.
“After the winter I had when I didn’t have a team, having Israel call me and say ‘we’ll give you that chance’ gives you such a reality to make the most of every opportunity. All year this season, I’ve come out in every race swinging,” Clarke said.
“I still can’t believe I got him on the line there. Taco was well ahead of me with less than 50 yards to go. I had cramps in both legs and just lined up the biggest pitch I could and just prayed it was enough. I have to watch the replay, I still don’t quite believe it.
Edvald Boasson Hagen finished two seconds behind, at the end of the 157-kilometre (97-mile) stage from Lille Métropole to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut which crossed some of the dreaded cobblestones that feature on the one-day classic Paris -Roubaix.
American cyclist Neilson Powless narrowly missed out on the podium but moved up to second overall, 13 seconds behind Van Aert and just one second ahead of Boasson Hagen.
The day saw several incidents and Van Aert was one of the first to crash, but his crash came as the riders raced towards the first of 11 cobbled sections. He was able to climb back up and catch up with the peloton – although he nearly fell back when cutting the rear-view mirror of his own team car.
“In my opinion, the roads were way too dangerous, everyone expected a bit of stress from the cobbles, but there were also a lot of narrowings and things in the road,” Van Aert said. “I didn’t want to take any risks and just when I thought I had to start moving forward, I immediately crashed due to a narrowing.
“I hurt myself a bit but also lost a bit of confidence to really fight for the position, and that’s a shame because at that point I let the other boys down, and I I was also in the back running instead of having a good position on the cobbles, so for me from then on it was a fight all day.
Van Aert admitted he didn’t think he would still be in yellow.
“It was a big surprise for me after the finish because I was so withdrawn that I didn’t really think about the jersey anymore,” he said.
Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan were also involved in incidents as jitters set in. Ewan’s accident happened when he hit a bale of hay which had come loose from the barriers and which also affected Primož Roglič, who fell more than 2 minutes behind his Slovenian rival.
Thursday’s sixth stage is the longest of the race and is a hilly 220 kilometer course from Binche – in Van Aert’s native Belgium – to Longwy.
The race ends on July 24 in Paris.
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