Simon Clarke of Israel Premier Tech won stage five of the Tour de France on Wednesday in a photo finish after a 157km run from Lille to Arenberg featuring 20km of cobbled mining roads.
Belgium’s Wout van Aert of Jumbo retained his overall leader’s yellow jersey despite a nasty fall, but his teammate Primoz Roglic lost around two minutes to defending champion and fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.
The 35-year-old Australian Clarke used a bike throw on the line in a razor thin victory over Taco van der Hoorn after Native American Neilson Powless launched a sprint in a bid for the yellow jersey but fell just short.
“What a year,” said Clarke, who got a last-minute contract with the IPT team in December after leaving EF. “I’m ever the optimist.
“I just told myself not to panic even when the sprint started almost 1km out,” he said about the finale.
“I sat back in the slipstream, waited and waited and went for the line at the last second,” he said.
Van Aert fell early and hurt a shoulder and was almost run over by his own team car, but rallied to cling on to his overall lead by 13sec from Powless of EF.
The race goes to his native Belgium on Thursday where he can parade through 60km of roads there in the yellow jersey.
“That’s part of why I dug so deep,” he said. “But this wan’t what we had planned this morning.”
Pogacar likes the cobbles
Defending champion Pogacar did the best of the pretenders to the 2022 title when he finished seventh, 51sec off the lead, putting a little time into all his rivals after threatening to pulverise them before fading in the final kilometres.
“I like the cobbles,” smiled the 23-year-old UAE leader.
“I had no bad luck, felt good and played it intelligently at the end when I knew I wouldn’t catch the leaders,” he said.
Pogacar retains the best placed under-26’s white jersey.
Ineos trio Adam yates, Tom Pidcock and Geraint Thomas all hung in and trail Pogacar by 28, 29 and 30sec respectively.
The treacherous stage raced over cobbles was doubly dangerous due to dust billowing from the bone dry surface amongst the corn, wheat and potato fields making it tough to breath and easy to slip.
Eleven cobbled sections totalling almost 20km of bone shaking mining roads caused much of the chaos but not all of it.
Roglic, runner-up in 2020, was brought down after Caleb Ewan collided with a stray hay bale, the Jumbo man then hitting him and struggling thereafter.
He finished 44th on the day, 2min 36sec off the lead.
Embarking from the chic northern city of Lille, good humoured crowds along the roadside thickened as the race hit the cobbles in the finale.
But a grim-faced Mathieu van der Poel, a pre-race favourite, was dropped by the lead group 30km out.
Visible for his polka-dot jersey and handle-bar moustache, Magnus Cort-Nielsen was once again in the thick of the action finishing fifth and retaining the King of the Mountains shirt he took in his native Denmark on stage two.
Thursday’s sixth stage starts in the Belgian town of Binche and returns to France in the Ardennes forest for what should be a splintered finale with two short steep climbs.
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