In yet another crash-marred finish, Andre Greipel of Germany led a frenzied bunch sprint to win the fifth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday for his second straight stage victory.
Fabian Cancellara retained the yellow jersey for a sixth day after the mostly flat 196.5km trek from Rouen to Saint-Quentin, France, which was almost tailor-made for the sprinters, except for a slight uphill near the end.
The Tour’s doping demons returned to cast a shadow, though, as a Dutch newspaper report said former teammates of Lance Armstrong — including five involved in the race — cut a deal with US anti-doping officials for their testimony in a case against the seven-time Tour champion.
As usual, the Tour riders tried to keep their focus on the race.
The barreling peloton overtook three breakaway riders with barely 100m left and Greipel wheeled out in front a split-second ahead of Matt Goss of Australia, who was second, while Juan Jose Haedo of Argentina took third. Mark Cavendish was fifth.
Like in Greipel’s sprint-finish victory a day before, a late crash tarnished the stage and he counted himself “lucky” to avoid a spill two days in a row.
“Somehow I stayed on my bike,” said Greipel, who turns 30 on July 16. “It was quite a tough finish there ... and it was also luck on our part to catch the breakaway.”
The top standings did not change — Bradley Wiggins, the leader of Cavendish’s Team Sky, was second overall, seven seconds behind the Swiss leader. Defending champion Cadel Evans was 17 seconds off the pace in seventh.
By holding the lead, Cancellara earned the right to wear the coveted yellow jersey for the 27th time in his career, a record for a rider who has never won the Tour.
“When you make history in this kind of way at the Tour, it’s more special,” said Cancellara, a time-trial specialist and the only man in yellow this year after winning Saturday’s prologue.
As sprinters jockeyed for position with little more than 3km left, Tyler Farrar of the US tumbled in the middle of the peloton, but his bike kept on going and brought down at least two other riders, including Peter Sagan of Slovakia, the winner of the first and third stages.
Farrar straggled across the line later alone, blood streaming down his right elbow and right knee. He then stormed into the bus of the Argos-Shimano team, looking for its sprinter Tom Veelers.
Farrar angrily shouted: “You don’t do that to someone.”
The stage start was overshadowed by a report in Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf saying five former teammates of Armstrong — all involved in this year’s race — had agreed to testify against him. Citing “well-informed sources,” the newspaper said the US Anti-Doping Agency has given six-month bans to the former Armstrong teammates Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, David Zabriskie and Christian Vande Velde.
Vaughters, a team director at the Garmin-Sharp team, called the report “completely untrue.”
The four riders all declined to comment, though Hincapie said his thoughts were with Armstrong.
“I’m sad he is going through this,” said Hincapie, the only rider to have been on all of Armstrong’s Tour-winning teams. “He’s done so many things for the sport. His accomplishments are incredible.”
Cancellara said the case was not discussed in the peloton.
“For cycling this is not good, that’s for sure,” he said. “That makes me sad, but on the other hand, we have to deal with that — and I hope it’s not something that is going to take three or four years like ... in other cases. That is my biggest concern — that this is going to shut down fast.”
The race got its first minor dose of rain on Thursday and another dropout — Germany’s Marcel Kittel, who had endured gastric troubles for the past few days, pulled out to reduce the field to 194 riders.
The sixth stage — a 207.5km jaunt from Epernay in Champagne country to Metz, France — offers the last leg in the northern flats this week that favor the sprinters, before a steep uphill finish today.