Sunday, 30 June 2013

Tour de France Stage 2: Sprinters Dropped, Froome Attacks, Bakelants In Yellow

When the route for the Tour was originally made public much was made of placing this 'mountain' stage so early in the race but by the time the stage rolled around their was speculation that rather than being a true mountain stage the sprinters might be able to hang on over the numerous categorised climbs to form a bunch sprint in the final metres but it wasn't to be...

The bulk of the sprinters finished over twelve minutes back on the stage winner with Cavendish and yellow jersey holder Marcel Kittel rolling in over 17 minute behind - maybe on a cooler day with less action at the front the sprinters could have held on but as it happened those relatively 'small' mountains did provide quite a bit of excitement, even in the general classification.

The King of the mountains competition started to hot up too with Lars Boom contesting the early climbs in the breakaway before Europcars Pierre Rolland decided to make the Polka Dot jersey his and attacked to dispatch Kadri over the highest summit of the day and secure himself maximum points - but of course Pierre Rolland has been touted as a possible GC contender so any move from him quickly prompted a response from the main men behind and it was Sky who took up the chase and brought him back at the 45km to go mark.

Once the main bunch were one it was Cannondale who hit the front obviously with Peter Sagan in mind, with the rest of the sprinters ejected Sagan was looking for green jersey points but nobody was going to make it easy for him and there was still the matter of the short but steep final climb of Côte du Salario to contend with and though nobody considered this climb a decisive point in the race before the start of the stage it did have the GC guys and their teams jostling for position as the road headed upwards for what should have been an unremarkable climb.

Juan Antonio Flecha attacked from the front but with Richie Porte setting the pace behind he wasn't going anywhere fast but with Sky's pace setting came a more remarkable move - Chris Froome attacked causing panic amongst the GC field though Froome was more likely testing his legs than trying to make any big impression on the classification. Fortunately Cadel Evans led the chase and both Flecha and more importantly Froome were finally reeled in and it was business as usual once again - but an early warning from Froome, he's strong, and he is prepared to attack.

With the bunch back together Bakelants, Fuglsang, Izagirre, Mori, Chavanel and Flecha decided it was time to make their move and formed a group off the front and with Chavanel celebrating his 34th birthday today it looked likely that he would try to impress and probably take stage honours by way of celebration. Again though the script rarely runs smoothly and with Cannondale and Sagan desperately chasing behind the breakaway were at risk of being caught until out of the blue Radioshacks Jan Bakelants attack with a kilometre to go and in an audacious but astute move managed to hold off the peloton to take the stage victory and the yellow jersey by one second to Peter Sagan - it was a heart-stopping finish and all in all made for a very entertaining stage.

The win for Jan Bakelants marks his first victory since the 2008 Tour de l'Avenir but comes as a timely win for RadioShack who will be pleased to get a stage win under their belts rather than place all of their eggs in the Andy Schleck basket...

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