Cervelo TestTeam's Thor Hushovd managed to masterfully execute a sprint on the uphill finish in Barcelona. The finishing circuit proved too much for the Manx Express Mark Cavendish (Columbia), who is widely regarded as the top sprinter in the professional ranks.
Hushovd, though, showed that on stages like today that do not have a straight, flat run into the finish, a more powerful, complete rider like himself is likely to achieve a win.
Like during many of the flat stages this week, the peloton was very antsy at the start and speeds were high. Breakaways struggled to form and were kept on a short leash.
Four riders managed to make it clear after over 50 kilometers of racing. QuickStep leader Sylvain Chavanel, Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), the 2007 Tour's most combative rider Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and breakaway specialist David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) escaped the grasp of the raging peloton.
The fact that Millar made it into the breakaway was surprising given that he was a mere 1:07 behind race leader Fabian Cancellara (Saxobank) in the general classification. As such, the breakaway was never allowed more than a three-minute lead during the day, knowing that the peloton could reel them in quickly if needed.
As the riders advanced farther into Spain, the rain started to come down, and a flurry of crashes marred the final kilometers.
Thirty kilometers from the finish, Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo), Michael Rogers (Columbia), and Tyler Farrar (Garmin) hit the deck as they rounded a roundabout. Several others went down with them, but these three took the brunt of the fall. Farrar went over a road barrier as well.
Rogers finished the stage, but the GC contender lost 13 minutes after sustaining injuries. He may or may not even start tomorrow's stage.
Up ahead, with 29 kilometers remaining, David Millar made an attack on his breakaway companions in a last-ditch attempt to gain the yellow jersey because the peloton was steadily eating away their advantage on the road. He put in a very strong solo effort.
More crashes hit the main peloton on the narrow, wet roads. Tom Boonen (QuickStep), Japanese rider Yukiya Arashiro (Bouygues Telecom), and Denis Menchov's mountain lieutenant Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) crashed with about eight kilometers remaining. All remounted but limped home to the finish.
The peloton began chasing Millar hard, and caught the Scot 1.5 kilometers from the line.
The hard uphill stretch greeted riders as they made their way to the finish. Cavendish, known for his straight-line sprinting, was left wanting on today's more challenging sprint finish and did not feature in the bid for stage glory.
Thor Hushovd made his attack perfectly and beat Oscar Friere (Rabobank) and Jose Roaquin Rojas (Caisse d'Epargne) to the line.
The overall contenders stayed out of trouble today and finished in the front group. Fabian Cancellara maintained his lead over the Astana onslaught ahead of tomorrow's mountaintop finish in Andorra.
Hushovd's stage win today put him within one point of Cavendish's green jersey lead. Realistically, these are the only two riders who will be fighting for the green jersey from now until the finish in Paris. Most other riders are signficantly behind.