AMIENS, France (AP) — With crashes taking down riders on rain-drenched roads, keeping team leaders safe was the order of the day on Wednesday’s fifth stage of the Tour de France.
By the time Andre Greipel attacked in the last 100 meters to win his second stage of the Tour, and a third in five days for German riders, the last of the day’s seven crashes had taken down 30 riders.
There had been a big spill in stage three, too, involving some 20 riders. But once again, Chris Froome and the other Tour contenders avoided them.
“There was absolutely everything out there today. It rained, which made the roads slippery, and it was also windy,” said Ian Stannard, Froome’s Team Sky teammate. “That made for a stressful day.”
Peter Sagan, a Slovak rider seeking to win the green jersey as the Tour’s best sprinter for a fourth straight year, had even more reason to feel tired.
He spent most of the day protecting his Tinkoff-Saxo teammate Alberto Contador, and then contested the stage sprint, zooming ahead of British rider Mark Cavendish to take second place behind Greipel.
“It was also very crazy today with rain, wind and a lot of crashes and I’m happy with how we finished,” Sagan said. Three of his teammates were involved in crashes, but not Contador.
“Everybody wants to be at the front on a day like this to protect the team leaders and that creates tension,” Sagan said. “I want to help and protect Alberto.”
The yellow jersey group rolled over the line with no change to the leading positions.
German rider Tony Martin, the winner on stage 4, still leads Froome by 12 seconds and Tejay Van Garderen, a promising American rider with strong climbing skills, by 25.
“Everyone thought today was going to be the relaxed day of the tour. But the wind and the rain made it anything but,” Van Garderen said. “Luckily, I have one of the strongest teams here.”
Among the main contenders, Froome leads two-time Tour champion Contador by 36 seconds; defending champion Vincenzo Nibali by 1:38 and Colombian rider Nairo Quintana, the 2013 runner-up, by 1:56.
The stage took the weary peloton over 189.5 kilometers (117.5 miles) from Arras to Amiens in northern France, passing some of the battlefields of World War One.
The rain, which largely stayed away the day before, thundered down and turned the roads into something of an ice rink.
Clinching the eighth stage win of his Tour career on damp tarmac, Greipel punched the air in delight.
German public broadcaster ARD restarted its live coverage of the race this year following a 3-year hiatus due to the doping scandals in recent years, which included Lance Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour titles (1999-2005).
“I’m happy that we can bring the Tour de France back to Germany,” said Greipel, adding that it’s because of “mother nature” that German riders seem so strong in sprints.
“I have to thank my mother as I have some fast-twitching muscles,” he said.
Crash No. 7 happened at the back of the peloton with 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) to go. Three riders went off the road to the right, tumbling into crash barriers. Behind, others fell in a domino effect. Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, third on last year’s Tour, had his second crash of the day.
Because speeds were not high, most riders were more groggy than hurt as they looked to see where exactly their bike was amid a myriad of spinning pedals and jutting-out handlebars.
The day’s first crash took had taken down Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni, who injured his hips, ribs and a wrist but did not break any bones.
With only 80 kilometers (50 miles) raced, it was already crash No. 5 — with Bryan Coquard falling for a second time. American Tyler Farrar, Pinot and Portuguese rider Tiago Machado also fell.
Wednesday was also a day for remembrance for soldiers who died in World War One .
Before the stage, Froome and Sky teammate Peter Kennaugh laid a wreath on the Commonwealth Memorial at the Franco-British cemetery in Arras. Australian riders from the Orica-Greenedge team joined the tribute, wearing black armbands.
Stage 6 is another mostly flat stage for sprinters, taking the pack over 191.5 kilometers (119 miles) from Abbeville to Le Havre, France’s biggest commercial port.