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Stage 2 commenced with the news that German Omega Pharma- Quick Step rider Tony Martin was determined to continue the tour even though he had broken his scaphoid bone in his wrist. The team had designed some sort of cast which would allow the time trial specialist to continue, presumably in some pain. The 207.0km course from Visé to Tournai would culminate in a meeting with Prince Albert II of Belgium. When racing began after the neutral zone was passed, the break was extremely slow in coming, with Frenchman Anthony Roux of FDJ-Bigmat finally attacking 22km after the start of the stage. With only one Cat.4 climb and a mostly pancake flat route, nobody expect a breakaway to gain any significant purchase and stay away, with a finish suited to the pure sprinters in the pack.
Never the less, Roux was soon joined by Michael Morkov (DEN, Saxobank) and Christophe Kern (FRA, Europcar), the Dane looking possibly to add an extra point to consolidate his lead in the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey classification. The leaders had opened up a reasonably hefty gap of 8 minutes a mere 50km after the start of the stage, boosted by not having to stop for a train at a level crossing as they were required to on Stage 1. The course may have been reasonably flat but there remained a couple of tricky pave (cobblestone) sections to navigate in the now glorious sunshine. With the only climb of the day looming, Morkov turned on the burners in what was his second breakaway in 2 days, picking up his 4th King of the Mountain point while increasing his lead in the category as a whole. However, with 6 climbs tomorrow the Dane will likely not be in a breakaway with more points on offer. That being said, Saxobank will undoubtedly be delighted will the sponsorship on display at the front for 2 days in a row.
With the climb out of the way, the gap was whittled away over the next 50km or so, Lotto-Belisol and Argos-Shimano doing much of the work on the front of the peloton while Team Sky and Rabobank (Mark Cavendish and Mark Renshaw’s teams respectively) remained relatively quiet. The intermediate sprint came with 50km to go, Kern taking 20 points with Roux 17 and Morkov 15. However, the main competition for points came behind, Matt Goss (AUS, Orica-Greenedge) once again taking the prize from his rivals, picking up 13pts from Renshaw (11) and Cavendish (10). With the pace injected on the front of the peloton, the gap had come down to a mere 2 minutes. With 28km left, Roux attacked and left his co-breakaway riders floundering, Kern and Morkov soon hovered up by the peloton. Roux gamely soldiered on but was caught 15km from home after a splendid solo effort.
The pace cranked up dramatically as lead-out trains jostled for position, Lotto-Belisol keeping 4 riders out front for the big German Andre Greipel while GreenEdge worked hard to keep Matthew Goss in decent position. As the line arrived, Greipel looked in the best position at the front, on the wheel of a teammate to be unleashed for an excellent run towards the line. However, the much smaller figure of Mark Cavendish, in world road race champion and Team Sky colours, latched on to the big guy’s wheel, Goss in close proximity. A drag race ensued; Greipel blasting for the line as Cavendish and Goss peeled out to overtake him. In the end it was Cavendish who had the run, the Manx Missile outlasting his opponents and overcoming Greipel by half a wheel to take his 21st Tour victory, moving in to 6th all time while proving that even though his lead-out train was lacking and his frame is lighter than before, he is still the world’s premier sprinter. Of Peter Sagan there was little sign, the Stage 1 victor suggesting that he may not be an all round sprint competitor like his rivals. For Team Sky sprinter Cavendish, the quest for the Green Jersey may be an intriguing one.
Stage 3 Preview
Stage 3 is a 197.0km ride from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer as the Tour finally moves out of Belgium and in to France in the Nord department of the country. Orchies is a place that will be very familiar to classics specialists although obviously the peloton will be departing from as opposed to finishing there. The region is of course synonymous with the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix earlier in the season and will not be suited to sprinters in the slightest. This is an extremely dangerous stage for GC contenders, and we may see carnage to the same extent of a couple of years back when Thor Hushovd led Geraint Thomas and a small bunch home as Frank Schleck broke his collarbone and Contador lost time. There are 6 climbs in total, 4 Cat.4 and 2 Cat.3, the first of the type on this year’s route. However, all of the climbs come from 132km onwards and the intermediate sprint point will likely be the only possible place for pure sprinters to pick up points. The sharp Cote du Mont Lambert just before the finish will prove intriguing and suggesting who will be there at the finish is horrendously difficult. The stage will undoubtedly suit the classics specialists and while Sagan will be there, both Chavanel and Cancellara will likely give it a go at some point. However, Philippe Gilbert is my tip for the day- the Belgian is back to reasonably form and will be eager to make an impression.