Lars Boom soloed to victory on an exhilarating, dramatic stage five over the cobbles at the Tour de France.
The former cyclo-cross world champion showed his formidable bike handling skills to blast to a hugely impressive victory on a day when the GC – with defending champion Chris Froome crashing out – was given a huge shake-up.
Boom was the stage winner, but it was yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who was the big winner of the day, sticking with the lead group and riding at ease over the cobbles – which had been expected to be his downfall.
Nibali hit the front on the very first secteur, after Froome had already abandoned the race following a heavy crash in the wet conditions, and the Shark stayed there from then on.
Boasting the support of team-mate Jakob Fuglsang, the two stuck with Boom until he accelerated on the final section of pave and soloed to victory.
But with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) more than two minutes behind, Nibali put big gaps into some of his rivals in the race for the yellow jersey.
Wet roads, lots of crashes
With the race rolling out of the Ypres War Cemetery, the Tour’s tribute 100 years on from the start of World War I, wind and rain battered the bunch.
A strong group wasted little time to attack, however, with several strong riders forming a formidable-looking group at the head of the race.
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Marcus Burghardt (BMC Racing) and Lieuwe Westra (Astana) were all up the road, as were Orica-GreenEDGE duo Simon Clarke and Mat Hayman.
Rein Taaramae (Cofids), Sam Dumoulin (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) and Janier Acevedo (Garmin-Sharp) rounded off the group who were given license to go clear by the bunch.
Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche Environnement) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) made attempts to bridge across, as the leaders set a good speed of 47km/h on the slick tarmac, but the pre-stage favourites such as Cancellara and Sagan were content to stay in the bunch.
The short-lived counter-attack did not stick however, and with road conditions treacherous it made for a very nervous bunch – and with good reason as crashes became a regular occurrence.
Froome was, once again, among the highest-profile casualties as he fell in the wet requiring a bike change though he was far from the only one in trouble.
Martin, Acevedo and Dumoulin, in the break, also took a tumble – the latter also suffering a puncture as the front group splintered and their advantage slipped.
Burghardt sat up and returned to the bunch, while Acevedo’s crash also saw him caught with Astana on the front of the bunch keeping them within a safe distance.
The seven remaining riders up the road were allowed some freedom, however, with Astana and Cannondale sharing duties on the front of the bunch to set a big pace.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) and triple stage winner Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) were also among the riders to slide out even before the cobbles came into play.
With splits also forming at the back of the bunch, before they hit the first secteur of pave, the pace ramped up spectacularly with Sky looking to bring riders forward.
The move, however, saw Froome fall heavily again, and after consultation with the team doctor the visibly upset Team Sky man clambered into the team car and left the race.
With the defending champion out, the action on the road heated up as the first cobbled section shredded the peloton.
Yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali looked comfortable on the cobbles, while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte (Team Sky), Sagan and Cancellara remained in the peloton.
Nibali splits the peloton
Nibali soon pressed home an advantage, however, taking a group including Porte, Sagan, Cancellara and Vanmarcke up the road on the second secteur at Pont-Thibault.
Contador missed the split, however, as did Thomas as echelons formed rapidly – not even Nibali having to unclip when a team-mate fell in front of him cutting the lead.
With the main contenders for the stage all in Nibali’s group, Vanmarcke and team-mate Lars Boom attacked off the front – the Belkin duo earning a small advantage.
Vanmarcke, a perennial bridesmaid at the cobbled Classics, was desperate to steal a march on his traditional rivals Cancellara and Sagan but disaster struck as he suffered a very ill-timed puncture.
Boom consulted his team radio, but was ordered to stay in the front group – which by now had all been brought together – with Vanmarcke’s hopes of a cobbled win evaporating.
Omega Pharma-Quickstep, through Martin, Matteo Trentin, Michal Kwiatkowski and Mark Renshaw had numbers in the front group, as did Nibali who was joined by Jakob Fuglsang and Westra.
Sagan, Cancellara and Boom also remained in the front group – all briefly showing themselves but being happy to stay in the wheels as Astana looked to press home Nibali’s advantage.
Contador’s group, which also contained Porte, Thomas and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), pushed hard to close the gap but the gap had stretched to two minutes as the front group reached the penultimate secteur.
Westra led the way, causing more splits in the leading group as the trio of Astana riders built up a few lengths’ advantage on the rest of the leading group.
The Team Sky duo, meanwhile, attacked off the front of the Contador group in a bid to put some seconds into their remaining GC rivals, and cut Nibali’s advantage.
Back at the front, Boom hit the front again as the leaders hit the final section of pave, with only Nibali and Fuglsang on his wheel – the Dutchman bursting clear on the cobbles.
With the Astana duo happy to protect their overall lead, Boom accelerated off the front turning a few bike lengths into a sizable lead on the pave.
And with Boom earning room for manoeuvre at the front, the Dutchman punched the air in delight as he took a famous Tour stage victory.
Nibali and Fuglsang were next to cross, as all eyes then turned to the clock and Contador – who had been dropped on the final secteur.
Michal Kwiatkowski was the next big GC man to finish, less than a minute behind Nibali, but as riders crossed in groups it was nearly two-and-a-half minutes before Contador finally crossed.
It leaves Nibali with a two-second lead over team-mate Fuglsang overall, with Kwiatkowski the only main GC threat within a minute overall at 50 seconds back.
Tour de France 2014: stage five – result
1) Lars Boom (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling – 3.18.35hrs
2) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +19”
3) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – ST
4) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale +1.01
5) Fabian Cancellara (SUI) – Trek Factory Racing – ST
6) Jens Keukeleire (GER) – Orica-GreenEDGE
7) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1.07
8) Lieuwe Westra (NED) – Astana +1.09
9) Matteo Trentin (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1.21
10) Cyril Lemoine (FRA) – Cofidis +1.45
General classification (provisional)
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 20.26.46hrs
2) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +2”
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale +44”
4) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +50”
5) Fabian Cancellara (SUI) – Trek Factory Racing +1.17
6) Jurgen van den Broeck (BEL) – Lotto-Belisol +1.45
7) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol +1.45
8) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +1.54
9) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +2.05
10) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +2.11