The first five stages of the Tour were lumpy, making it ideal for breakaways but not so great for sprinters, as their teams found it difficult (or, in the case of SD Workx, unimportant) to organize finish-line bunch sprints. On the other hand, the first half of the race was ideal for a superb Classics rider like Kopecky, who won the first stage in a devastating solo breakaway and now holds both the yellow jersey and the Škoda Green Jersey. Her lead in the points classification is large enough that it seems unlikely, with only one flat stage left, that she will not be wearing green when the race ends Sunday in Pau – even if she doesn’t get a little strategic help from her team.
After stage 5, Kopecky led the points classification with 166 points, but she could have had more, and another stage victory, if her team had chosen to chase down the impressive stage 5 winner, 23-year-old Ricarda Bauernfeind (Canyon–SRAM Racing), who was riding in her first-ever Grand Tour. The young German rider was part of yet another breakaway when she took off on her own with 36.5km to go and held on to win by 22 seconds over Marlen Reusser (SD Worx) and stage 2 winner Liane Lippert (Movistar).
Reusser is one of the strongest time trial riders in the world and had been pulling the peloton’s chase singlehandedly, when she and Lippert left the bunch, and teammate Kopecky, behind. Kopecky finished fourth, another 10 seconds adrift, but she had taken 20 points in an intermediate sprint, so the stage was not a washout for her. However, judging from her expression as she crossed the finish line, she might have felt – as many observers did – that her SD Worx team could have done more to catch Bauernfeind and help her to another stage win and more points.
But the 27-year-old multi-discipline rider was philosophical about the result, saying after the stage: “I think I was the reason why nobody wanted to chase. It’s a missed opportunity but I can’t ask Demi [Vollering] to start pulling the bunch. In the end, the general classification is the most important thing; we don’t want to waste energy we will need later on. And it’s also nice that the women who attack also get a reward.”
Until Wiebes’s illness, Kopecky had been doing double duty for the team, riding in front on some climbs and in the flat as well as helping Wiebes to her stage 3 sprint victory. “Lotte did such a good job in the leadout,” Wiebes told Eurosport after the stage. “She brought me perfectly.”
Kopecky now leads the Škoda Green Jersey race with 166 points, followed by Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (AG Insurance – Soudal Quick-Step), at 119, and Bauernfeind, with 75. That lead should be sufficient to see her through, especially if she picks up more points on Friday’s stage 6. The 122.1km course from Albi to Blagnac is the flattest stage of the entire race, with only four Category 4 climbs en route and should end in a bunch sprint. But this has been such a turbulent and surprising race that anything could happen.
Kopecky may decide to take matters into her own hands, as she did on stage 1, or teams still looking for a win and daunted by Saturday’s queen stage – which includes the Category 1 Col d’Aspin (12km @ 6.5%) and finishes on the dreaded Tourmalet (17.1km @ 7.5%) – could decide that this is their last chance for Tour glory and the stage will be yet another breakaway fiesta.