Vincenzo Nibali wins in Sheffield and takes Tour lead overall

by Matt de Neef

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has won stage 2 of the Tour de France, crossing the line in Sheffield solo after putting in a trademark late attack with just 1.9km left to race. The newly crowned Italian national champion was part of an elite lead group of roughly 20 riders that crested the day’s final climb with 5km to go before launching an attack that no-one was able to bring back.

The 201km stage started in front of huge crowds in York as the riders embarked on a counter-clockwise arc through West Yorkshire towards the stage finish in Sheffield. With nine categorised climbs on the day, plus a handful of uncategorised climbs as well, the stage had been billed as a mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The day’s main breakaway of seven riders was formed after 11km when Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Belisol) made it across to six other riders that had escaped from the gun: Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Perrig Quemener (Europcar), David De la Cruz (NetApp-Endura), Armindo Fonsesca (Bretagne-Seche Environment) and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis).

Meanwhile Giant-Shimano took the lead in a relaxed-looking peloton with stage 1 winner Marcel Kittel sitting comfortably near the front, resplendent in the yellow jersey of the race leader.

On the first of the day’s nine climbs, the “Cote de Blubberhouses”, Cyril Lemoine took the solitary KOM point on offer, the breakaway reaching the summit with a gap of 3:15 over the peloton with 154km left to race.

A series of small crashes soon occurred in the peloton with the likes of Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) and Bauke Mollema (Belkin) just some of the big-name riders momentarily from the main field.

When the day’s intermediate sprint arrived in Keighley, with 132km left in the stage, Blel Kadri led the breakaway through uncontested. In the peloton, however, things were far less relaxed. Bryan Coquard (Europcar), in the green jersey of the points classification leader*, sprinted to eighth place ahead of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

The second of the day’s climbs, the “Cote d’Oxenhope Moor” saw Perrig Quemener attack his breakaway companions 1km from the summit, taking the maximum two points in the KOM classification while Lemoine took the remaining point. Meanwhile, back in the peloton, Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez was yo-yoing off the back of the peloton, seemingly still struggling for form after his crash at the Giro d’Italia.

On the Cote de Ripponden, the third climb of the day, it was Lemoine that took the two KOM points on offer while David De la Cruz took one. The peloton would crest the climb 2:05 later, the escapee’s lead slowly being eroded.

The third category Cote de Greetland topped out with 82km to go with, once again, Lemoine taking the two KOM points and De la Cruz one.

With 73km to go in the race, the gap from the seven leaders back to the peloton was down to 45 seconds. And 8km later, with the biggest climb of the day — the “Cote de Holme Moss” — approaching, a small crash in the peloton saw a couple of key lieutenants caught out: Richie Porte (Team Sky) and Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo).

Roche was back on his bike quickly, but Porte, requiring a bike change, was slow to get going and was soon distanced by the peloton. But with the help of Danny Pate and later Bernie Eisel, Porte was able to catch back on to the peloton as the riders hit the Cote de Holme Moss.

On the slopes of that climb Blel Kadri upped the tempo in the breakaway, dropping his companions one by one until he was climbing away solo. Fan favourite Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) attacked on the lower slopes of the climb as yellow-jersey leader Marcel Kittel was dropped from the peloton. A short time later Richie Porte made contact with the peloton again and started making his way, slowly, to the front.

Surrounded by thick crowds on the slopes of the climb, Voeckler joined Kadri at the head of the race but less than a kilometre later he fell of the pace before joining a chase group of four other riders: Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Marcus Berghardt (BMC), Cyril Gautier (Europcar), and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).

In the 20km between the top of Holme Moss and the start of the sixth climb, the “Cote de Midhopestones”, the pace in the peloton started to increase, with Orica-GreenEdge and Omega Pharma-QuickStep working hard on the front. The five-rider chase group was caught on the slopes of the climb with Kadri also caught a short time later.

It was Garmin-Sharp driving the pace on the upper slopes of the climb, with Tom-Jelte Slagter taking two KOM points and Criterium du Dauphine winner Andrew Talansky taking one.

The fierce pace being set by Garmin-Sharp force a significant thinning of the peloton, with the lead group reduced to only about 30 riders with 30km remaining.

The fourth-category “Cote de Bradfield” climb saw Sky come to the front of the reduced peloton with Geraint Thomas leading the way. And at the top of the climb it was Andriy Grivko (Astana) that took the solitary KOM point available. Meanwhile the lead group appeared to have swollen slightly, to roughly 40 riders.

On the “Cote d’Oughtibridge climb”, with 20km to go, Sky and Cannondale were controlling the pace. But as the top of the climb approached, Cyril Gautier (Europcar) delivered Pierre Rolland to the front of the race, with the latter attacking over the top to take two KOM points. He was followed over the top by Jean Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and together the two Frenchmen tried to create a small advantage.

The pair had 15 seconds over the peloton with 14km to go before, a few hundred metres later on an non-classified climb, Pierre Rolland attacked solo. The Frenchman was caught with 8.1km to go as Orica-GreenEdge and Team Sky continued to work hard at the front for their respective leaders.

As the leaders hit the final climb, the “Cote de Jenkin Road” with roughly 6km to go, it was the contenders in the general classification that came to the fore. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Froome (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali were all there, as too was Peter Sagan and Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Albasini.

Defending champion Chris Froome attacked 200m from the summit, taking the one KOM point on offer, and leading a group of roughly 20 riders into the fast descent.

With just a handful of kilometres remaining in the stage there was a barrage of attacks from the lead group. No-one was able to gain a meaningful advantage, until Vincenzo Nibali attacked with 1.9km to go and quickly opened up a considerable lead.

A lack of organisation in the chase group saw Nibali maintain his lead all the way to the line, winning the race by two seconds ahead of the chase group, which was led home by Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). A jubilant Nibali pointed to the Italian flag on his Astana jersey as he crossed the line, only a week after earning that particular modification to his team kit.

The win, Nibali’s first at the Tour de France, ensures the Sicilian will take the lead in the general classification. Peter Sagan’s fourth place on the stage will see him take the lead in the points classification, to go along with his lead in the best young rider classification. Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) will wear the polka dot jersey as KOM classification leader after his day in the breakaway.

The Tour de France continues tomorrow with a 155km stage from Cambridge to London.

Previous stage reports

– Stage 1: Marcel Kittel takes Tour opener as Cavendish and Gerrans crash

Stage results

[rrresults format=’full’ id=’124209′]

* Coquard wasn’t leading the points classification. He was third, but the leader of that classification, Marcel Kittel, was in the yellow jersey, and second-placed Peter Sagan was in the white jersey of the best young rider.

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