Just after passing under the flamme rouge, Jasper Stuyven surged to the front with EdwardTheuns, the two young Belgians fighting their way to the top two positions in the furious bunch sprint of stage six Thursday. With 800 meters to go, their positioning was seamless. But this is the Tour. A stage win is coveted like none other; every bunch sprint a war.
Theuns went shoulder to shoulder against a rider from Katusha in a heated fight for Stuyven's wheel, his perfect placing and textbook lead-out lost in battle. Pushed into the wind, Theuns' advantage melted, and he faded to 8th place over the line.
"I am disappointed because Greggy (Rast) and Jasper did a great job," said Theuns. "One guy from Katusha starts to push where he doesn't have to push – the old guys always talk about respect, but respect is from both sides. I am very disappointed because I had to use too much power there, I was in half in the wind with 600 meters to go, and then the last corner the rest came with speed, and I have to pull up. Then I cannot do anything.
"Jasper did a perfect job, he was really strong and swung off just after the last corner. Normally, I have the right to be in his wheel, that's an unwritten rule if a teammate is with you, you don't push him out."
Normally, I have the right to be in his wheel, that's an unwritten rule if a teammate is with you, you don't push him out.
How it unfolded
Two men formed the day's breakaway in the opening kilometers and they forged ahead of the peloton for most of the 190 kilometers. It was a long, lonely and futile journey.
After 165 kilometers out front, the inevitable catch to the pair was made 23 kilometers from home, and the fierce fight for the front positions began as the sprinters readied for another showdown.
Gregory Rast and Jasper Stuyven guided Edward Theuns with proficiency in the final kilometers, thick in the hellish turmoil that is a Tour de France bunch sprint. After Rast had employed every last watt of his power, Stuyven took over with three kilometers remaining.
"It was very nervous when we hit the small roads with 11 kilometers to go," said Stuyven, explaining the final moments of stage six. "Gregy kept us really well in front until 3kms from the finish, and then I went with Edward to the front, and I think we went at the perfect moment, right before the left-right corners. I was really hoping through these corners that it would stretch out with Edward on my wheel, but he was pushed out by a Katusha rider, and he had to ride in the wind. It's a pity, but I think we did a good job, and we showed again that the young Belgians can be up there."
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) won the frenzied sprint, and the overall classification remained unchanged. Bauke Mollema finished safely in the peloton to maintain his place in the GC.
With more sprint stages to come, Theuns will have more chances, and the young sprinter is ready to do more than finish in the top ten:
"Yeah you can say it's a learning process, but I am already three times top ten, and then you want more. I am very ambitious, so I am riding to win. It's frustrating if things go wrong in the sprint, and it is not your fault."