In one of the biggest surprises of this year’s Tour, a large breakaway filled with some very big names failed to stay away on a parcours perfectly suited for precisely that. Yet on a day that the sprinters had no right to even contemplate racing for victory, that is exactly what happened. How? It’s complicated but essentially, Rabobank, a big name team that has had a miserable Tour and had once again missed the break were told to get on the front and ride as if their contracts depended on it. This they did, ensuring that the lead of the breakaway never got much beyond 2:30. And with too many passengers in the leading group of 20, tempers flared, attacks ensued, blowing the group to bits and making them easy prey for the supremely motivated Rabobank led peloton.
At around the 10 km mark of the 178 km transitional Stage 19 from Bourgoin-Jallieu to Aubenas a large group went clear that included the likes of Cadel Evans, Yaroslav Popovych, David Millar, Kim Kirchen, Jose Luis Arrieta, David Arroyo, Luis-Leon Sanchez, Leonard Duque, and Carlos Barredo. Yet despite these old hands encouraging the group to work together, too many of the twenty strong group either wouldn’t or couldn’t. With the inevitable implosion of the larger group, only five riders remained clear: Popovych (Astana), Millar (Garmin-Slipstream), Arrieta (AG2R), Duque (Cofidis) and Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne). And although this group of five worked well together it was inevitable that they would eventually be devoured by the voracious orange, white and blue led peloton, who were now being helped out by Team Milram.
The work of Rabobank wasn’t solely about being punished by their boss back in the team car. With a difficult Category 2 climb to be tackled in the last 30 km, Rabobank were also motivated to work for their sprinter, Oscar Freire. The Rabos believed that Cavendish was unlikely to get over the final climb in touch with the leading group, despite the fact that Cavendish had managed to make it over the Poggio in his brilliant victory in Milan-San Remo earlier in the year. The climb was raced at speed but Team Columbia had a plan, drifting back to Cav and scooping him up in a giant set of yellow and white kid gloves.
Over the climb and the Team Columbia train worked its way forward and with 3 km left to race it was an all to familiar scene. Three Team Columbia riders leading out Cav with the green jersey of Hushovd fighting for his wheel. Ahead, World Champ Allesandro Ballan was fighting a losing battle trying to stay clear. Within site of the red kite, Ballan was gone and it was Martin at first wheel driving hard for Cavendish. Cav had to go early on the slight uphill finish and it looked like Hushovd might have his measure but Cavendish somehow managed to keep driving towards the line. A sprint well won. Hushovd second and only surrendering 5 points in the race for green.