It was all about the wind in stage 11 at the Tour de France Wednesday.
On paper, it was a traditional sprint stage, but the crosswinds turned the tables, creating echelons and leaving panicked riders behind. When the road turned, and the wind directions changed, calmness would return, but not for long.
Just as a group would catch back onto the peloton, the road curved, and all hell broke loose again. For the riders, it was stressful, dangerous, and extremely fatiguing.
Even though the classics specialists Fabian Cancellara, Jasper Stuyven, Markel Irizar and Gregory Rast were in their element - Bauke Mollema was in the best possible hands - it was not an easy work day. The team's big engines had to dig deep and use all their resources in keeping Mollema safe.
After a nerve-wracking 162.5 kilometers, Mollema crossed the line with the peloton to move into 5th overall.
"It was a hectic day, from kilometer one!" said Mollema. "I'm happy that I survived today, thanks to my teammates. At the end, I told Fabian and Rasty to pull and suddenly Sagan goes like a rocket! I didn't get into troubles today, but it was stressful."
The yellow and green jersey, each with a teammate, attacked off the front in the crosswind in the final 14 kilometers and held a slim advantage to the line to contest the stage. A tired peloton arrived seconds later and sprinted for the minor places.
Stuyven was at the front for most of the windy parcours, and in the sprint to the line had enough left in the tank to finish in 6th place (3rd from the bunch).
"I liked today!" laughed Jasper. "We were in the front taking care of Bauke, keeping him safe when the echelons were there, and we never had problems. I liked it; it was fun. The only problem was it was hard to stay hydrated since the care were behind and it was a pretty hot day. At the end, I needed some water.
"I thought the sprinters' teams would pull [Froome, Sagan] back because there were still there with a lot of guys, but it appeared to be a hard day for everyone. I made a good sprint at the end; we did not sprint for first, but it was nice to be up there again."
Edward Thuens, a victim of a crash in the early part of the race, missed out playing with the classics team in the action-packed stage. Theuns, another specialist in windy conditions, would have enjoyed being in the mix, but instead was nursing the after-effects of the crash.
Theuns: "I was good in the front until a corner that I missed a bit and found myself at the back where there was one crash after another. There was a crash, and everyone braked really hard. I also braked but could not stop fast enough and went into another rider.
"After that, I was hurting –my knee hurt a bit. I could stay in the first echelon for a long time, but the whole time I was sitting in the back. I was not so good anymore after the crash, so it was not a nice day."
After the race, the organization quickly announced the finish up Mount Ventoux in stage 12 would be shortened by six kilometers due to the dangerous winds that may exceed 100km/h (60mp/h), moving the finish line to Chalet Reynard.