ARENBERG PORTE DU HAINAUT, France
Australia’s Simon Clarke won a crash-damaged fifth stage of the Tour de France on Wednesday, while Wout van Aert clung to the leader’s yellow jersey despite falling off his bike.
The big winner, however, was Slovenian rider Tadej Pogačar, who started his bid to win a third consecutive Tour with a sensational ride over the cobbles to close the gap on Van Aert on a day that saw several of his rivals lose time. reduced to 19 seconds. Pogačar had a big smile as he crossed the line.
“It was a really tough day. Pretty stressful in the first part, and the second part was really hard. There was a lot of power on the pedals all day, the cobblestones were dusty and dangerous,” said Pogačar.
“I’m just happy that this day is over and I rode well. In the end it was a really good day for me and the team (UAE Team Emirates)…I followed Jasper Stuyven at the end. He nearly dropped me a couple of times, I struggled and held on to his bike. We came forward to stay a few seconds. I have to buy him a beer.”
It was a first singles win on the tour for Clarke, who burst into tears after crossing the finish line. Clarke had won a team time trial at the 2013 race and also two individual stages at the Spanish Vuelta.
35-year-old Clarke, who rides for Israel-Premier Tech, sprinted to victory from the remains of an early breakaway, edging out Taco van der Hoorn.
“After the winter I had when I didn’t have a team and then Israel calls me and says ‘We’re giving you this chance’ just gives you such a reality check to make the most of every opportunity. All year this season, I’ve come out of every race in a good mood,” Clarke said.
“I still can’t believe I put it on the grid there. Taco was well ahead of me with less than 50 yards to go. I had cramps in both my legs and just did the biggest throw I could throw and I just prayed it was enough. I have to watch the replay, I still can’t quite believe it.”
Edvald Boasson Hagen finished two seconds behind at the end of the 157-kilometer (97-mile) stage from Lille Métropole to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, which took in some of the dreaded cobblestones of the one-day classic Paris-Roubaix.
American cyclist Neilson Powless narrowly missed out on a podium finish but moved up to second place overall, 13 seconds behind Van Aert and just a second ahead of Boasson Hagen.
Several incidents occurred that day and Van Aert was one of the first to fall, but his fall came as the riders raced towards the first of the 11 cobblestone sections. He was able to climb back up and catch up with the peloton – although he almost went down again when he clipped the wing mirror of his own team car.
“In my opinion the roads were way too dangerous, everyone expected some stress because of the cobblestones, but then there were also a lot of bottlenecks and things on the road,” said Van Aert. “I didn’t want to take any risks and the moment I thought it was necessary to move forward, I fell immediately because of a narrowing.
“I hurt a little bit but I also lost a little bit of confidence to really go into a positional battle and it’s a shame because at that point I was letting the other guys down and also chasing at the back instead having a good position on the cobblestones. For me it was a struggle all day from then.”
Van Aert admitted he didn’t think he would still be in yellow.
“After crossing the finish line it was a big surprise for me because I was so far behind that I actually didn’t even think about the jersey anymore,” he said.
Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan have also been involved in incidents as nerves worked out. Ewan’s fall came when he hit a hay bale that had come loose from the barriers and so did Primož Roglič who was more than 2 minutes behind his Slovenian rival.
Thursday’s stage six is the longest of the race and is a hilly 220-kilometer route from Binche – in Van Aert’s native Belgium – to Longwy.
The race ends on July 24 in Paris.
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