The second stage of the Tour is already in progress. Today's 187 km course, approximately 116 miles started at 12:15 Monaco time.
Pictured: Nice, France
Aside from all the teams, the leaders, the sprinters, potential getaways, this is the south of France. Across the Mediterranean to the south lies North Africa.
This should give you an idea of the conditions of this stage, and the stages to come over the next three days: hot, windy, and with start times in the middle of the day, the riders are sure to be parched by their estimated end time at 5 pm.
Pictured: Area near Grasse, France.
The course will take the peleton first through the southern most roads that border the sea, a lovely place to ride, but mostly flat early on, which be ample opportunity for sprinters like Mike Cavendish (Columbia Highroad) the 24 year old sensation who was plucked from his meat and potatoes existence in Ireland to become a rising star of cycling. He won four stages at the 2008 Tour, with more wins at the Tour of California, Milan-San Remo, and the Giro d'Italia to name a few.
Other sprinters we might see coming through the packs at the end are Daniele Bennati of Liquigas, who won points jerseys at the Giro and the Vuelta de Espana, and two stage wins at the TDF in 2007; Oscar Freire (Rabobank) who has four previous stage wins at the TDF and is a three time world champion, and seven time Vuelta stage winner.
Pictured: Stephane Auge, instigator of the early getaway.
Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) has had either stage wins or points jersey wins at the TDF from 2001, to 2008--seven straight years in a row, and in 2009 he won the Amgen Tour of California.
Others favored to win this stage--and other sprinter stages, include Gert Steegmans of Katusha, who has previously won two TDF stages, and one at the Vuetla a Andalucia.
Two others are possibilities, Robbie McEwen who is riding for Katusha this year, and Tyler Farrar of Garmin Slipstream.
Pictured: Cyril Dessel
But in between Monaco and Brignoles, a small town just east of Marseille, are several climbs, the first to La Turbie. That will favor small breakaways by good climbers, which we have just learned did so, and Tony Martin (Columbia Highroad) who did so well in the time trial yesterday has already won six points in the climbing classification on the top of the Turbie.
Breakaways and group splits will be common today adding some unpredictability to the outcome--which will be magnified by the rolling hills of Roquefort les Pins, and Grasse, followed by Fayence, Col de l'Ange, and Lorgues, all of these cat. 4 and 5 climbs.
At the intermediate sprint 27 km from the start in Nice--a gorgeous old resort city facing the Mediterranean, the peloton which includes Rabobank, Fabian Cancellara's defending team, were 1 minute 25 seconds behind a getaway group.
Pictured: Jussi Veikkanen
And at 29.5 km, between Nice and Saint Laurent de Var, the 4-man lead group of Stef Clement (Rabobank), Cyril Dessel (AgR2-La Mondiale), Jussi Veikkanen (Francais les Jeux) and Stephane Auge,(Cofidis) is 2 minutes 5 seconds ahead of the peloton. Apparently Auge is the one who took off first, and the others followed.
Saxobank will try to defend Fabian Cancellara's time by bringing back the peloton, but small getaways that they think will slow on the climbs won't be worth chasing. At 30 km now, the lead has widened to 3 minutes.
incidentally none of these riders except Dessel have previously won stages in the TDF.
And at 13:56 Stef Clement, previous winner of a stage in the Dauphine Libere, is now in the lead, and the group is 4 min. ahead of the pack, at the 50 km mark. With 137 km to go, it's anyone's guess whether the peloton will take the lead group seriously and try to catch up, but they do have plenty of time.
Pictured: Stef Clement, Rabobank