We had been eagerly awaiting the coverage of the latter part of this stage and the start of the next as we will be on holiday in this part of France later in the Summer. We certainly saw some places that would be worth a visit. Les Baux de Provence (pictured), its buildings perched on a high rock plateau dominating
the surrounding landscape, a little further on the Moulin d’Alphonse Daudet, the Abbaye de Montmajour, partly ruined and towering above the flat landscape and Arles on the River Rhone where we were shown wonderful aerial views of the enormous and well preserved Roman Ampitheatre. The riders crossed through the northern part of the Camargue, (see map) an area of flat land south of Arles around the mouth of the River Rhone famed for its white horses (being herded in a field at Cailar) and black bulls (both of which we saw) – sadly bullfighting is a local pastime – and flamingoes, a protected species, (the only ones in evidence today were some bright pink inflatable ones waved by the spectators). There are also salt pans further south towards the sea. The region is well known for the Mistral, a wind which blows incessantly and tossed the tree tops around as the Tour rode through. Other villages the riders passed through once they had entered the Languedoc region were Lansargues and Mauguio and there were also views of the Canal Philippe Lamour. At the end of the race the helcopter gave us views over the city of Montpellier with interesting aerial views of the the 18th Century St Clement Aquaduct.
There were several riders who attempted breakaways in the early part of the race, but who were all caught by the Peloton. Finally, at 85km, Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) escaped and was soon joined by Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux), Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole) and Xavier Florencio (Bouyges Telecom). Eventually, at Arles, they were caught by David Millar (Saunier Duval). These five were caught at just under 40km before the end, Team AG2R noticeably working together to build a very fast race speed. Within the final kilometre at Montpellier there was a tight curve on a roundabout that brought down a small group who could well have been in contention for the race, including Tom Boonen (Quickstep Innergetic) and the race was won on a sprint for the line by Robert Hunter (Barloworld), the first ever Tour de France win for a South African.
The Reuters News Agency team had a near escape when their car caught fire on this stage. More information in my later Tour de France post.
STAGE WINNER – Robert Hunter (Barloworld)
2nd Fabien Cancellara (CSC) – 3rd Murilo Fischer (Liquigas)
YELLOW (individual) – Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
POLKA DOT (climber) – Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank)
GREEN (points) – Tom Boonen (Quickstep Innergetic)
WHITE (under 25) – Alberto Contador (Discovery)
COMBATIVE – Benoît Vaugrenard (Française des Jeux)
LEADING TEAM – Team CSC