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ZEELAND, The Netherlands (CT) – Andre Griepel drew first blood in the battle of the sprinters on day two of the Tour de France, coming off Mark Cavendish’s wheel after the Etixx – Quick-Step rider jumped with just over 200 metres to go.
Greipel – who was once a team-mate of Cavendish with the HTC Colombia setup, but who was denied participation in the Tour due to a rivalry of sorts between them – got the better in their duel, with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) second into Zeeland.
Cavendish eased back when he realised the victory was beyond him, but this decision saw him slip to fourth and cost his team dearly. Cancellara got past him for third, picking up a time bonus, and moved past Tony Martin in the general classification.
As the prologue winner and overnight leader Rohan Dennis had been delayed when the bunch split, race leadership was up for grabs. Cancellara duly took over at the top.
Apart from Dennis, defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and 2013 runner-up Nairo Quintana (Movistar) were also caught back in the Dennis group, suffering setbacks to their Tour campaigns before the opening weekend was over.
Cancellara was beaming after receiving the Maillot Jaune, realising the significance of the moment. “I took the chance, I decided to try in the sprint and getting third there against the best sprinters in the world is very good,” he said.
Equally happy was Greipel, who also got himself a new jersey with the result on the 166 kilometre stage. He ended the day in the green jersey of points leader, but was more pleased with the stage win.
“It was a pretty hectic day. Quickstep had most of the riders in the group there,” he stated afterwards. “I said to my team-mates that they had to keep me up the front for the sprint, and they did that. Tony Gallopin and Sieberg were very good in the sprint.”
He recognised that timing was everything in the finale. “Renshaw went a bit early so Cav had to go quite early too,” he acknowledged. “He is quite small so there was not so much slipstream behind him, but I waited and then I went. I am very happy with this victory.”
The race continues Monday with a stage finishing atop the Mur de Huy in Belgium. The steep climb is known as the finish of Flèche Wallonne and is best suited to the lighter riders, but Cancellara will do what he can to stay atop the general classification.
“I know tomorrow well,” he said, referring to the difficulties, “but to have the yellow jersey now is what counts. I will give my maximum on the Mur de Huy.”
How it played out:
The second stage of the Tour de France may have been utterly bereft of climbs but it still had the potential to be a very decisive one, with exposed roads along the coast and high winds almost guaranteed to cause echelons and to split the bunch.
Prologue winner Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team) knew it was likely to be a tough day but was determined to enjoy his time in yellow, sporting a helmed and riding a new bike matching in colour to his Maillot Jaune.
Time trial runner-up Tony Martin (Etixx – Quick-Step) started the stage in the green jersey while Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) was in the white jersey of best young rider.
Both of the latter competitions were led by Dennis but as he could only wear one jersey at a time, they passed down to the other two riders.
Almost immediately after the drop of the flag in Utrecht Perrig Quémeneur (Europcar), Jan Barta (Bora), Stef Clement (IAM) and Armindo Fonseca (Bretagne-Séché) clipped away and started building a solid gap. They had one minute 30 seconds over the Etixx – Quick-Step led bunch after five kilometres of racing and maintained the same buffer over the next ten kilometres.
From there it increased to two and a half minutes at kilometre 41, but the decision of Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team to put the hammer down and try to split the bunch saw this lead reduced. Under dampening conditions, it was whittled back to under a minute at kilometre 65; aside from bringing the bunch closer to the leaders, this ramping up of speed also had an effect on the back of the bunch, with riders such as Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) being jettisoned.
The peloton soon split as Tinkoff-Saxo, Lotto-Soudal and Sky turned the screw. With ten kilometres remaining before the intermediate sprint in Rotterdam (km. 80.5) the leaders were just 20 seconds clear; Barta attacked just over five kilometres later and took maximum points.
Clement, Fonseca and Quémeneur held on for second, third and fourth while John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) won the sprint from the bunch for fifth.
The hammer goes down
One kilometre after that sprint, Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) came down in a crash, but were able to get back up again quickly.
Barta continued alone for a while but by kilometre 92 he was rejoined by two of his three original breakaway companions, Clement and Fonseca. However the peloton was getting closer and finally, with 104 kilometres done and 62 kilometres left, the junction was made.
At the other end of the peloton a group of riders were 45 second down and chasing hard. This bunch included Europcar’s Pierre Rolland and Bryan Coquard, along with Kelderman and Laurens ten Dam (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Soon after a crash took down former Paris-Roubaix winner Johan Vansummeren (Ag2r la Mondiale), Trek’s Laurent Didier and Lotto-Soudal’s Adam Hansen, who is aiming to equal the all-time record of 12 consecutive Grand Tours.
Their chances of returning were adversely affected by an acceleration of pace, with this speed increase causing echelons. Those distanced included Sky trio Peter Kennaugh, Nicolas Roche and Wout Poels, Ivan Basso (Tinkoff-Saxo), Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) and 2014 runner-up Jean Christophe Péraud (Ag2r La Mondiale).
More significantly for the general classification, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde (both Movistar) and Bauke Mollema (Trek) were also distanced. Soon afterwards the pressure exerted at the front saw other big names go south, including defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), race leader Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing Team), last year’s third-placed rider Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and former world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida).
With 45 kilometres left the Nibali group was 20 seconds behind a front peloton including Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Chris Froome (Sky), Sagan, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team), Greipel, Cavendish, plus the Giant-Alpecin duo Warren Barguil and Tom Dumoulin.
Further time losses for key contenders
This second group continued to slip back and was caught by the Quintana bunch. With 31 kilometres to go the latter cluster was one minute and five seconds back from the 26 leaders. Things became even more stressful for Nibali when he suffered a front wheel puncture and had to stop for a change, although he was able to rejoin several kilometres later after slipstreaming cars in the cavalcade.
Sagan had his own front wheel puncture soon afterwards but he was able to get back to the front bunch with 12 kilometres left.
That group was still being driven along by the teams of the general classification riders plus the sprinters, and the net effect of this collaboration was an increase in time being gained over the Quintana/Dennis/Nibali group.
With 8.4 kilometres to go the latter was one minute 23 seconds back and this increased by a further five seconds between there and the line.
Etixx – Quick-Step was determined to try to put Cavendish back on the winner’s podium but ran out of men inside the final kilometre. Mark Renshaw had to peel off earlier than he hoped, leaving Cavendish to jump with just over 200 metres to go.
Greipel bided his time and then kicked hard, having the strength to sweep past his former team-mate and to hold off Sagan.
Cavendish was dejected at being beaten and eased off on the pedals. Unfortunately for the team this was all Cancellara needed to nip past, nabbing a time bonus for third place that carried him past Martin in the general classification and into yellow.
Tour de France (2.UWT) Utrecht → Neeltje Jans
BMC Racing Team