|Alessandro Petacchi wouldn’t be the first name you’d pick as a winner at the end of a stage featuring six climbs, but such is the Italian’s current form that he stuck with the lead group and easily won the sprint into Cannes this afternoon ahead of Angel Vicioso.
And it was a bit of a strange day like that. Axel Merckx (Domo) and Kim Kirchen (Fassa Bortolo) were out on their own for most of it. Both have famous forebears – Axel’s needs no introduction, while Kirchen’s grandfather finished 5th in the 1948 and 1950 Tours.
Their lead was a little more than 90 seconds when they reached the final climb, the 2nd-category Tanneron. The Belgian, who’d been racing for the KoM points all day and ended up leading that competition, broke away early on the climb soon after Domo directeur sportif Hendrik Redant had bellowed instructions to him.
Behind the front two a number of riders had attacked out of the bunch. Peter Luttenberger (Tacconi) you’d expect to see in this kind of hilly terrain, but the strongest attack came from another Belgian with famous relatives, sprinter Jo Planckaert who’s already worn the KoM jersey in this race. Suddenly Jo seems to have developed a taste for the hills.
It must have been as much of a shock to Merckx as the rest of us that Planckaert it was who first got across to him, and then launched an attack of his own near the summit of the Tanneron, which came with 15km remaining.
At the summit he was only 15 seconds or so clear of the main pack, where Laurent Jalabert was trying to pressurise race leader Alexandre Vinokourov. Planckaert looked uncertain and on occasions almost out of control on the descent into Cannes, but his unique style paid off as he went into the last 4km with a lead of 24 seconds.
Not a great advantage, but the bunch was no more than 50-strong by this point and it wasn’t until Fassa Bortolo went to the front in the last 3km that the chase became organised. However, when he should perhaps have just got his head down and given all he could, Planckaert kept looking back almost as if caught between this option and waiting for the bunch to come across and then taking his chances in the final sprint.
Planckaert’s indecision meant his advantage went just inside the 2km banner. He stuck near the front of the bunch but his chance had surely gone with all the effort he’d expended on the Tanneron.
His Cofidis team-mates led into the last kilometre, where the first rider to emerge from the pack was, surprisingly again, Cadel Evans. The Aussie has had a good race this week, but this wasn’t his territory and as the pack swung into the final straight with 350 metres left Kelme’s Angel Vicioso flew away on the other side of the road.
The little Spaniard caught everyone by surprise, except for the eagle-eyed Petacchi, who jumped straight on his wheel and got the lead-out he was looking for. The Italian came by the visibly upset Vicioso in the last 50 metres for his second win of the race, with Planckaert no doubt ruing his indecisiveness by finishing fifth.
There was no change overall, although Jalabert picked up a bonus second at a sprint to cut Vinokourov’s lead to just 5 seconds. With eight climbs ahead tomorrow this is virtually no advantage at all.
Stage 5, Toulon-Cannes
1. Alessandro Petacchi (Italy) Fassa Bortolo 188.km in 4-40-41
2. Angel Vicioso (Kelme)
3. Nico Mattan (Cofidis)
4. Francois Simon (Bonjour)
5. Jo Planckaert (Cofidis)
6. Jens Voigt (Credit Agricole)
7. Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel)
8. Laurent Jalabert (CSC)
9. Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom)
1 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) Telekom 22-14-04
2 Jalabert at 5
3 Didier Rous (Bonjour) at 49
4 Sandy Casar (FDJ) at 54
5 Voigt at 56
6 Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis) at 58
7 Mario Aerts (Lotto) at 1-01
8 Aitor Garmendia (Team Coast) at 1-22
9 Stephane Heulot (BigMat) at 1-29
10 Javier Pascual Rodriguez (ibanesto.com) at 1-32
KoM: Axel Merckx (Domo)
Young rider: Casar