On today's twelfth stage of the Tour, the course looked nearly identical to yesterday's: Including rolling hills, manageable winds, and suited to a bunch sprint.
The only real difference was the short, steep pitch right at the finish line which many thought would suit the powerful Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) over sprinting ace Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) in the battle for the green sprinters' jersey.
This race however, did not go by the books today.
The peloton was ravenous as it left the gates in Tonnerre, heading out for a 211-kilometer race. The riders averaged nearly 50-kph for the first hour of racing, and many breakaways tried to escape.
One interesting escape included pre-race favourite Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), who was once again trying to do anything to erase his three-minute overall deficit. Other overall contenders Andy Schleck (Saxobank) and Levi Leipheimer (Astana) followed suit.
The trio was quickly swallowed by the peloton as their dangerous GC positions could not possibly allow them the opportunity to escape.
It took a full 80 kilometers of racing before the breakaway of the day was established.
Laurent Lefevre, Bouygues Telecom, Sylvain Calzati (Agritrubel) Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Markus Fothen (Team Milram) mountain-points leader Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis) and Nikki Sörensen (Saxobank) made it clear and started to build up an advantage.
This powerhouse breakaway soon built up a lead of almost five minutes. Sorensen, roughly ten minutes down on the overall GC, could think about moving up in the overall, but not by much.
Race leader Rinaldo Nocentini's AG2R team kept the breakaway at a four-to-five minute advantage to keep Nocentini's yellow jersey safe.
So far, with the exception of the extremely fast first hour of racing, the race was mostly going by the books.
However, with 60 kilometers remaining, the time when sprint teams like Columbia-HTC, Rabobank, or Cervelo, start driving the pace to reel in the breakaway, nothing happened.
Columbia-HTC may have been very exhausted from their high effort to deliver Cavendish to back-to-back wins on stages ten and eleven. The other teams were waiting for Columbia to take on the responsibility, and the chase never formed.
Up ahead, Sorensen, hoping to stay away for good, attacked his breakaway companions with 25 kilometers to go. Calzati followed suit and the pair started pulling away from the breakaway.
Then, with five kilometers to go, and with Sorensen's and Calzati's breakaway working up to that point, Sorensen delivered the final blow.
He launched a devastating attack and left Calzati for dead. The chasing breakaway riders mopped up Calzati but Sorensen was powering ahead.
Riding an immense solo effort, Sorensen took the stage win, coming in a full forty eight-seconds ahead of the breakaway. Lefevre and Pellizotti sprinted for second and third.
Behind, the peloton paid the price for its unresponsiveness. They came in six minutes behind the breakaway. Cavendish sprinted for eighth place ahead of Hushovd to gather more points for his green jersey.
The overall classification once again stayed the same today. Nocentini maintained his lead over the Astana contingent of Contador, Armstrong, and Leipheimer.
Cavendish increased his lead in the two-horse green jersey race to 200 points over Hushovd's 190. As many have noted, if one day a sprint finish is too tough for Cavendish, Hushovd may take extra points and get the green jersey back.
That won't happen tomorrow, though. The riders face a big 13th stage with three fairly big mountains to climb. The sprinters may get over them in the front group, but maybe not. A breakaway of strong climbers will be looking to survive the day for the stage win. The overall classification could shake up if one of the GC riders gets isolated at any point.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!