Stage 5. Boeschepe to Cassel. 188.4 km
This is the queen stage in the 4 Jours de Dunkerque. Boeschepe is a tiny village located on the border of Belgium and France. There many people in the cafes speaking Flemish and French. Today’s stage involves a lot of climbing, not because we are going to go up any big mountains, but the fact that we are going to traverse a small climb called Mont des Cats 3 times and another small climb of paves in Cassel 10 times. This amount to about 2000 meters of climbing or about 7500 feet. Whoever can win this stage usually wins. Riders like Thomas Voeckler, Bryan Coquard, Arnaud Demare and many others have won and lost the Maillot Rose on this stage.
Mont Des Cats is interesting because it is a small French village that is known for its monastery and its beer. The monks have made beer in this village for hundreds of years and is a huge business. Much like every village in Bordeaux makes its own wine, every village in the North of France and Belgium makes its own beer. The beer is made without preservatives and is always fresh.
Maillot rose – Sylvain Chavanel is 38 years old and still handing it to the young guys. He is an example of a cyclist with a huge engine that can roll with the best of them. He is certainly capable of holding onto the Maillot Rose, but it will depend on his team and the fact that he has put in two huge days on the bike. On the arrival to Amiens, he took a huge pull allowing Thomas to win the sprint. He was wasted after that stage. And certainly, after the arrival into Calais where he took the solo win, he put in another huge effort.
The Organization of the 4 Jours likes this type of stage because it is a circuit race. Cycling fans can come out and watch the race unfold and see several moments of the race. There are food stands, the cafes are busy, and indeed, there were thousands of people lined up on the roads to see the race. Cassel is very popular as a cycling area because the Tour of Flanders come here.
Chavanel is the race leader and he seems a shoe in to win. But the Ag2r Belgium rider Naesen is right there. There are a couple of other riders who could do something as well.
An update on Stijn Vandenburg – I spoke with Naesen right before the race. He is about the same build as Peter Sagan, very strong rider who did very well in the classics this year and was in that mishap in Paris Roubaix with Peter Sagan. He informed me that Stijn Vandenburg is really doing well and will leave the hospital. He has made a huge recovery and everybody is really happy about that.
The race started out hot, immediately letting a 13-man break go up the road. We got a flat tire in one of the small intersections in a village. Luckily the organization has a truck for tire repair in the caravan. The repair truck came and within 15 minutes we were back in the game. We even had a motorcycle police escort back to the race. I will be posting some videos of us catching back up to the race. One does not get to experience speeds like this on small French roads too often.
The other teams set up Chavanel and left the responsibility to Direct Energie. About midway, they lost just about everyone and Chavanel had to fend for himself. Cassel is a race of attrition and the race just came down to about 20 riders. With 3 tours to go it was down to a very select bunch. Chavanel seemed good for holding on to the maillot rose. Others in the group such as Naesen, Riblon and others would be playing a game of hard chess. Bahrain Merida’s Heinrich Haussler continued to impress in his first race back. He was in the first group and then out of no where he fought back and made it back to the group. Hopefully he will do great things in the Tour de France.
Then on the last climb to the finish, about 5 km to go, the attacks started. Chavanel was there, and then, he came off. Ag2r’s Riblon drilled it and about 4 others followed. Seeing this type of cycling unfold before your eyes really gives you a clue to just how strong these guys really are. Seeing Chavanel come unglued was a quite a sight. The suffering you witness confirms just how hard the sport of cycling really is. As Chavanel tried to hold on to whatever he could, FDJ’s Ignatas Konovalovas (Lithuania) soloed in for the victory and Oliver Naesen was 3rd. Cofidis rider Clement Venturini would take over the Maglia Rosa.
Tomorrow will be quite exciting as it is a flat stage, but the first 3 riders are separated by 3 and 5 seconds respectively. The time bonuses will be hotly contested.