Belgian Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma) won stage 6 of the Critérium du Dauphiné Friday, taking a two-man sprint from a breakaway ahead of Dutch rider Lieuwe Westra (Astana).
Race leader Chris Froome (Sky) crashed with about 8km remaining, but was quickly back on his bike, and crossed the line with the main peloton, bruised and bloodied, with rips to his yellow jersey and bib shorts.
In the final sprint, Westra looked poised to win as the two men came around a right-hand turn and Westra pinched Bakelants into the barriers. However Westra left open a slight gap on the inside of the turn, allowing Bakelants to just slip past for the stage win. Westra was visibly angry after watching what looked to be a stage win slip away.
“Westra closed the door on me, and I actually thought I might fall for a second,” said Bakelants, a Tour de France yellow jersey holder for two stages last year.
Bakelants’ teammate Zdenek Stybar took the group sprint for third, 24 seconds later.
Over three minutes later, Richie Porte led Sky across the finish line with the main bunch, with Froome looking a bit worse for the wear. There was no major change on the general classification.
“There was a bit of a crash in the final there,” Froome said. “It’s quite painful, but I was okay to finish the stage, I’m just a little bit grazed for tomorrow. [Injuries are to] the hip, elbow, shoulder… I just want to thank the other riders for neutralizing the race. It was big of them, and showed good sportsmanship.”
A large breakaway of 16 riders slipped away early on the 178.5km ride from Grenoble to Poisy, opening up a maximum advantage of six minutes. The group was so large that only six teams missed the moved. Bakelants was the highest placed rider in the escape.
In the final hour, Bakelants, Westra, and Ligthart (Lotto-Belisol) escaped from the break, opening a slight gap, however Ligthart could not maintain the pace.
Westra attacked, with Bakelants following, at 8.4km to go. The two then were able to stay away until the line. Westra tried attacking several times, including on a steep gradient of about 15 percent with 2km to go on the stage. Bakelants stayed with every move. Westra tried launching first on the downhill in the approach to the finish line, but Bakelants took an inside line in the final turn and outsprinted Westra for the victory.
“In the final meters we launched the sprint and I passed on the right side between him and the fences,” Bakelants said. “I had good speed and I was able to pass him. When I crossed the line I was really over the moon. I have to say that my legs today were really good. Every day here at Dauphiné, I’m improving. It’s a good sign the condition is definitely there.”
With 8km to go, Froome went down on a descent, taking Astana rider Alessandro Vanotti with him.
“I’m not too sure what happened. It was on a descent, there was a bit of a hole in road,” Froome said. “I hit the hole, and lost my front wheel.”
Froome lost over a minute on the peloton after the crash, but sportsmanship prevailed as main rival Alberto Contador and the rest of the pack waited for the race leader to catch back on.
With Saturday’s decisive mountain stage on the penultimate day of the eight-stage race, Froome is certain to be attacked by Contador, who lies 12 seconds back.
“It’s painful, but nothing is broken,” Froome said. “I need a few bandages. But this is very minor. I was in a difficult situation but the peloton slowed down. I’m thankful to my rivals. The teams of Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana were first to ask everyone to wait for me. They’ve showed a lot of respect for me, and great sportsmanship. I’ll see tomorrow how I feel in the morning but we have a difficult stage ahead. It’s not a climb that I know. But I know that anyone with good legs in the finale will try to attack. Anyway, it’s not up to me to attack tomorrow.”
Also tied for second is Belkin’s young star Wilco Kelderman, who closed the gap on Contador during Thursday’s fifth stage.