LISIEUX, France — Alberto Contador knew it made little sense to take risks on a day when blinding, torrential rain lashed riders in the Tour de France.
The 227-kilometre course Thursday — the sixth and longest stage in the three-week race — made for a dangerous trip. And the field was fortunate to avoid a major crash, a day after riders went tumbling everywhere.
“It was another nervous stage and because of the rain I virtually couldn’t see anything,” said Contador, the defending champion and three-time Tour winner who crashed Wednesday. “At the end of the stage I was moving to the very front of the pack, simply to avoid accidents, and not because I wanted to attack.”
Contador and his Tour rivals, such as two-time runners-up Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck, played it safe as Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway led a sprint to capture his first stage on the Tour. He finished in five hours, 13 minutes, 37 seconds.
“I really surprised myself,” Hagen said. “Lots of people say that I’m a talented guy, so it’s nice to show it by winning a stage.”
Matt Goss of Australia was second and overall race leader Thor Hushovd was third, giving Norway the distinction of having the stage winner and yellow jersey holder on the same day.
Referring to his compatriot Hushovd, who has twice taken home the Tour’s green jersey awarded to the best sprinter, Hagen said: “I want to be as good as him — or better.”
Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, who won Saturday’s first stage, said “everyone was a bit out of breath” and that Hagen “devoured the last 150 metres — he’s impossible to catch when he’s like that.”
Hushovd was pleased with his country’s success on Thursday.
“Not bad, after all — it’s a good day for Norway,” said the Garmin-Cervelo veteran, who retained the yellow jersey for a fifth consecutive day. As for Hagen, he said: “Clearly he’s got a big future.”
Moving fairly close to the front meant relative safety for Contador, Schleck and Evans. They all were part of the first 50 of the 197 riders who completed the stage.
“Yesterday wind, today rain . . . Luckily, there seemed to be some kind of understanding within the peloton not to take too many risks today,” Schleck said. “As if all the teams had suffered enough crashes yesterday.”
Evans kept second overall. The Australian is one second behind Hushovd while Schleck is 12 seconds behind in 10th spot. Contador is 1:42 off the lead in 34th place.
A rider would have encountered untold trouble if caught behind the peloton in a dominolike crash on the treacherous, narrow roads snaking toward Normandy. Wind made things even more hazardous, as fans watched, soaked to the skin in kinship with the riders.
“In the last few kilometres I was thinking only about not falling because it was a dangerous course,” Contador said. “At the end of the stage I got to the front of the peloton not to lose time, to avoid problems.”
Victoria’s Ryder Hesjedal finished with the pack in 36th spot. He moved up to 30th place overall, one minute 22 seconds back of the leader.