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ZEELAND, The Netherlands (CT) – The 2015 Tour de France is only into its second stage but already there’s more than 90 seconds between four big favourites for the general classification – Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
On a stage that was dramatically affected by crosswinds and heavy rain, Etixx-QuickStep took advantage of the conditions in the last 50 kilometers and splintered the peloton with Froome and Contador making the split in the front group, each with a handful of teammates.
A pile-up by some riders from LottoNL-Jumbo as the peloton rode strung out with 50km remaining took Quintana out of position and forced the whole Movistar squad, with Malori, Dowsett, Gorka Izagirre, Erviti, Castroviejo and Anacona – who crashed twice and suffered bruises in his elbow, leg and nose plus a slight ankle sprain, to keep the gap at around one minute, until a second crash opened a further gap.
“All those crashes under the rain were a bit unlucky for us,” said Quintana to journalists next to the Movistar Team bus after the stage. “We lost a bit of time, but we hope to get it back, day by day. We managed to keep the squad together, also joined our forces with Astana’s and kept the gap closer than it could have been.”
Quintana was caught out in the split, as too was Vincenzo Nibali.
Nibali said, “It was a miracle that I didn’t fall myself, but the group broke up after that crash and we were caught behind,” Nibali said. “We were chasing all day, that’s it.”
Nibali had Jakob Fulsang, Michele Scarponi and Andriy Grivko to support him in the second group, but when disaster struck and he punctured with 25 kilometres to go, none of them waited.
“I was in front, I managed to stay upright but what more could I do. Then on top of that, I punctured,” Nibali said. “We’re racing our bikes, these things happen.”
“You just have to accept these things in cycling,” Nibali said calmly.
Froome explained that there had been a moment of chaos when the race split as everyone tried to work out where all the big GC contenders were.
“It was only a good few k’s after the split happened that we found out that it was a smaller group and that some of the GC guys had been distanced already,” Froome said. “It was chaos out there for a few minutes, with the storm and with the winds.”
Froome was surprised to learn that Quintana had been dropped:
“One second he was right next to me so I couldn’t actually believe it when I heard he was distanced,” Froome said. “That’s the nature of the racing up here in Holland for you.”
With Quintana and Nibali distanced, Froome and Contador mobilised their teammates to extend their advantage.
“We did talk out on the bike and he was saying ‘listen, we’ve got the gap. let’s commit to this move now – buy into this’,” Froome said. “We were also getting BMC to do the same – they had Tejay [van Garderen] up there. We were all aware of the situation.”
Froome praised the work of his teammates Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard who also made the crucial split and helped keep Froome out of trouble.
“Being in the split with G and Yogi – they did a great job keeping me up there,” Froome said. “This is their playground, these kinds of races. Classics-style crosswinds, rain … that was a big reason for having them in the team and they proved their worth today.”
BMC had been leading the race overall heading into the stage after Australia’s Rohan Dennis won yesterday’s stage 1 ITT. But Dennis was caught out in the split, and with Van Garderen in the lead group, BMC refocused their energy on protecting its overall leader, rather than supporting Dennis.
Tejay van Garderen is now the best-placed of the recognised GC riders, sitting in eighth place overall, 48 seconds behind new leader Fabian Cancellara (Trek). The Swiss time-trial specialist finished third on both of the first two stages, his four bonus seconds
Froome now sits 10th, 48 seconds off the overall lead, with Contador 12 seconds behind him. Nibali is 1:21 behind Froome while Quintana is another 18 seconds behind.
Tomorrow’s third stage sees the riders tackle the infamous Mur de Huy climb; a steep, 1.3km-long ramp that features at the end of La Fleche Wallonne. Further changes to the GC are almost certain on the tricky uphill finish. The cobblestone sector of the following stage are also likely to shake things up.
Chris Froome was elated about the how stage unfolded.
“This is a huge advantage for us now. Sitting in this position after one flat stage out on the road. That’s fantastic. But this is a three week race — as we’ve seen things do change on a daily basis.
“We’re ahead today but who knows what’s in store for the rest of the week.”
Click here to see the full results of Stage 2 from the 2015 Tour de France.