In what was another flat, windy stage in this Tour de France, Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) was the lone survivor of a breakaway that formed only a few kilometers into the nearly 200-kilometer run into the city of Perpignan.
Right from the start, a group of six riders escaped, featuring Voeckler, Mikhael Ignatiev (Katusha), Anthony Geslin and Yauheni Hutarovich (Francaise des Jeux), Albert Timmer (Skil-Shimano), and Marcin Sapa (Lampre).
As on stage three, high winds played a big role in the racing. The breakaway had gained a maximum advantage of 10 minutes, but when the peloton started to up the pace and reel them in, the breakaway's advantage started to dwindle rapidly.
Team Saxobank, containing race leader Fabian Cancellara, did quite a bit of the pacemaking, including Cancellara himself, which, around 50 kilometers to go, split the peloton into four groups in the crosswinds. It looked to be a repeat of stage three as riders were caught behind the split in the group.
However, after around 10 kilometers, most of the peloton had regained contact with the front bunch.
One unfortunate victim of this was Dutch climber Robert Gesink (Rabobank). Gesink had crashed and broken his wrist just before the peloton started flying down the road, but once Saxobank took a firm hold of the race, he could not rejoin the group. He finished the stage, but had to abandon the race afterwards. He will no longer be able to help his leader Denis Menchov in the key mountain stages.
The peloton had been chasing so hard that with fewer than 30 kilometers remaining, the breakaway only had a miniscule 40-second advantage, which on a normal day would have meant certain doom.
The race was not going by the books today.
Normally, the sprinters' teams join in the chasing to set their men up for the finish. However, there has been a lot of tension among the sprinters' teams. Mark Cavendish's Team Columbia has been upset that other teams have not aided in the chasing, saying that if they want a chance at victory, they have to put in the work to chase the breakaway. The other teams, though, such as Thor Hushovd's Cervelo TestTeam or Tom Boonen's QuickStep, say that why should they work if Cavendish is going to win the sprint anyways?
Those tensions hit the race hard. Once Saxobank brought the peloton within striking distance of the breakaway, and thus preserving Cancellara's yellow jersey, none of the sprinters' teams became organized. The breakaway's advantage started to actually increase in the last 15 kilometers rather than get demolished.
The breakaway riders could start to hope that they could win.
With five kilometers remaining, Voeckler put in a huge surge, left his breakaway companions for dead, and soloed to the win, only seven seconds ahead of the chasing peloton.
Ignatev barely made it over the line in second place before Cavendish sprinted for third place to gather points for his green jersey.
Five years to the day since Voeckler snatched the yellow jersey from Lance Armstrong in the 2004 edition, the French rider known for his breakaway attempts earned his first Tour stage win.
Cancellara keeps his yellow jersey tonight, ahead of the Astana armada of Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador, Andreas Kloden, and Levi Leipheimer.
Tomorrow's stage six into Barcelona, Spain, may see a sprint finish, but with many hills along the way, including one right at the finish line, a rider who can climb and deliver a powerful sprint, such as Oscar Friere (Rabobank) or Kim Kirchen (Columbia), could deliver the win rather than a pure sprinter like Cavendish, assuming a breakaway does not survive.