Nibali excels as Boom wins
Vincenzo Nibali made huge gains on his Tour de France rivals on a remarkable cobbled fifth stage that saw Lars Boom ride to a solo victory and Chris Froome crash out of the race.
Froome abandoned after falling twice on roads soaked by heavy rain, but Nibali had no such problems as he produced a magnificent performance over 13km of cobbles to open up time gaps of more than two minutes on the likes of Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde.
Boom formed part of a select front group alongside Nibali and a clutch of Classics specialists on the first two of seven sectors of cobbles, before later forging clear on his own on the last sector and holding on to win by 19 seconds.
Impressively, and unexpectedly, Nibali also managed to ride away from the cobbles specialists to cross the line in third place, just behind his Astana team-mate Jakob Fuglsang, who had done a brilliant job of shepherding him through one of the most treacherous and crash-strewn Tour stages in recent memory.
The result means Nibai retains a two-second lead in the general classification, with Fuglsang second and Peter Sagan, who was fourth on the day, 44 seconds back in third.
Contador was dropped by Nibali in the opening exchanges on the cobbles and eventually crossed the line 2min 37sec after the Italian, whom he now trails by the same margin overall.
Nibali said: \"It's been an unbelievable day out there today. I took quite a lot of risks and there were at least three occasions when I very nearly fell off my bike.
\"But thanks to luck and some experience as well, being able to ride safe for the majority of it, taking the right corners, it has gone very well in the end."
Stage five, which took the riders from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, always had the potential to cause chaos and that danger was exacerbated when heavy rain began falling on the route, leading to two of the original nine cobbled sectors being removed due to standing water.
Even before the peloton hit the cobbles, riders were slipping off the road at almost every turn, with Tony Martin, Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel and Alexander Kristoff among the dozens who fell.
While most were able to continue, Froome was not so lucky and abandoned the race after crashing for the third time in 24 hours, just before the first cobbled sector.
If Contador momentarily celebrated the news, his jubilation did not last long because the peloton split into small groups almost as soon as it hit the first cobbled sector and the Spaniard quickly became distanced from the outstanding Nibali.
The Italian found himself in a group littered with cobbles experts, but rather than cling on to their coat-tails, he instead forced the pace and, with the help of team-mates Fuglsang and Lieuwe Westra, he was able to drop the like Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and the other hopefuls for the stage win on the penultimate sector of cobbles, about 12km from the finish.
Only Boom could follow, and when the Dutchman surged clear on his own with 6km to go, Nibali was happy to let him ride on to a maiden Tour stage win that will live long in the memory.
\"It's a dream to win a Tour de France stage, especially this stage on the cobbles and with this weather," Boom said.
Stage five result
1 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin, 3:18:352 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, +0:193 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, st4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, +1:015 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing, st6 Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge, st7 Michal Kwiatowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +1 :078 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana, +1:099 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +1:2110 Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, +1:45
1 Vincenzo Niabli (Ita) Astana, 20:26:462 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, +0:023 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, +0:444 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +0:505 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing, +1:176 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol, +1:457 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol, st8 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky, +1:549 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp, +2:0510 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +2:11