Jakob Fuglsang suffered fractures to his wrist and elbow on stage 11 of the Tour de France before Marcel Kittel claimed his fifth stage win of the 2017 race
While it was business as usual for Marcel Kittel, who took his fifth stage win of the Tour, this was a bitter day for Jakob Fuglsang, the Dane who lies fifth overall behind the leader Chris Froome. The winner of the Critrium du Dauphin crashed at the feeding station and was left with minor fractures to his left wrist and elbow. He will start Thursdays stage in the Pyrenees but his future in the race could well be compromised.
On Mondays rest day, the 32 -year-old had described how he hoped that together he and his team-mate Fabio Aru, who is second overall, might use their collective strength to set Froome on the ropes. On Wednesday evening, a statement from the Astana team said Fuglsang had sustained small fractures to his left scaphoid, which is located where the wrist and hand satisfy, and the head of the radius of his left elbow. Another Astana member, Dario Cataldo, quit the race after the same crash having also broken his left scaphoid.
A doctor of many years experience in professional cycling said Fuglsang would be unlikely to get much further in the race. An elbow injury of this type, he said, is usually treated in a sling and gently mobilised. The doctor added: There is a risk of complication if a scaphoid trauma is not treated correctly.
There have been an uncanny number of high-profile crash victims at the Tour de France this year, including favourites for the overall stands such as Richie Porte, who went home on Sunday with fractures to a collarbone and pelvis, and Spains Alejandro Valverde, who violated a kneecap on day one. The former yellow jersey holder Geraint Thomas and the starring sprinter Mark Cavendish have sustained a broken collarbone and shoulder bladerespectively. Another faller, albeit less seriously, was Alberto Contador, who fell twice on Sunday and was in the wars again on Wednesday.
As for Kittel, after winning half of the 10 road-race stages in the Tour since the race left Dsseldorf on 2 July, the German is rewriting the record books. To find another rider so dominant at this early phase in the race, it is necessary to go back to 1909 when five of the first six stages were won by the Luxembourgeois Franois Faber, the dominant figure of his generation, whose life and career objective on the western front in the first world war.
Like Cavendish in his pomp, Kittel is attaining history his own route. What constructed Cavendish unique was his ability to achieve a high rate of stage wins year in, year out, between 2008 and 2012. Kittels achievement in this Tour is one to compare with other great winning streaks of the past: Mario Cipollinis four Tour stages in a row in 1999, or Freddy Maertenss five road stages in both 1976 and 1981, although in 1976 Maertens added three period trials to that.
There have been six flat sprint finishes so far, and merely one has evaded Kittel. The other fastmen are appearing increasingly resigned, although the young Briton Dan McLay posted his best finish in so far with fifth place. Having led out the sprint in Bergerac, the Fortuneo-Oscaro rider opted to remain in the shelter this time but he was little nearer to Kittel, reflecting current realities that all the sprinters are scrabbling for whatever crumbs the German drops their way.
Here, the German Kittel could afford the luxury of being able to start his sprint from 10 th place, on paper style too far back. Sprinters at this level of superiority be it Cavendish, Cipollini or other names from the past such as Jean-Paul van Poppel seem to operate in a different plane of day and space, seemingly able to select which wheel to slot on to: Michael Matthews was Wednesdays victim. The Australian was following Edvard Boasson Hagen, who led the gallop out, only for Kittel to come sailing past like a clipper overhauling a dinghy, with the Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen coming up fast on his left.
As the peloton headed into Pau, the Pyrenees were hidden in fog rather than looming threateningly but the field know what awaits on Thursday, with the first heavy-duty summit finish of the race at the Peyragudes ski station on one of the Tours oldest climb, the Col de Peyresourde.
On Wednesday, Froome recalled the frustration he felt at being prevented from winning in 2012 because of squad orders but said he hoped his legs would feel as good. The stage, he said, has changed since then, with the addition of a finish on the ski stations altiport runway at a gradient of 20 %.
Its savage, if anyone blows in those few hundred metres there could be big time gaps. There are only two more uphill finishes left in the Tour de France, tomorrow is one so its a key stage.
The other issue is what openings Froomes challengers can find. The steep slopes will suit Aru and Daniel Martin, while Romain Bardets descending skills need little introduction. For Froomes team, the brief is likely to be obvious: control the race. The key thing for me is to keep an eye on Fabio Aru, hes merely 18 seconds behind and I want to keep him there until the time trial[ in Marseille] so I will stick to him like glue, Froome said. Our number one priority is not to allow anyone who has lost period already come back into the game.
In words of concentrated climbing, the final 40 km of the stage on Thursday are among the toughest of this years race, with the hors categorie Port de Bals 11.7 km at an average gradient of seven. 7% followed by a 16 km descent to the foot of the Peyresourde, merely under 10 km at a similar gradient. A 2km descent follows that before the final, steep 2.4 km ramp to the finish.
Asked what he thought of what is viewed as the queen of the Pyrenean stages, the Ltape Reine , Bardet bridled a little. We had une Ltape Reine on Sunday, weve got one in the Pyrenees , no doubt one in the Alps. Theres nothing but Ltapes Reine in this Tour. Severely though, its one of those marathon climbing stages that suits me. Ominously, however, it will also suit the race leader and his team-mates.
In 2012, the first time it was included in the Tour route, this finish ensure Froome demonstrate that he was a stronger climber than his nominal leader Bradley Wiggins, who went on to win that Tour. The Peyresourde, meanwhile, is where he attacked to take the psychological whip hand last year. Traditionally, in all his Tour wins, Froome has gained time in the Pyrenees a significant amount at uphill finishes in 2013 and 2015, somewhat less downhill into Luchon last year and if he fails to do so at Peyragudes, topics will begin to be asked.
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