Monday, July 05, 2010

TDF 2010: Stage 2: A Yellow Jersey Kissed Hello and Good-bye

Today's 201 km stage from Brussels to Spa took competitors over some major climbs with tricky, narrow descents that brought crashes and chaos to the field, delivered a protest by the peleton, and ended with a well-deserved win by QuickStep's Frenchman Sylvan Chavanel.

It was a remarkable run for the Frenchman who has won 6 stages of the Tour before, but never the Yellow Jersey, and he did so by staying out ahead of the peleton for more than 180 km.

Chevanel took off 10 km after the start of the race, and stayed in a 7-man break for the entirety of the stage, until again at about 10 km from the finish at the Col du Rosier, the Frenchman stepped up the pedal again, dropping his break and going solo to his win in Spa.

Coming into Spa with almost 4 minutes ahead of the peleton, Chevanel made a gesture to the sky, a huge smile on his face.

After the stage, he was jubilant: "When I think about it, I realize that this season started with a plague of problems, and yet I never gave up....I made a mark next to this stage in my mind a long time ago, and I succeeded...Now I have almost three minutes ahead overall! So I think I can go far," he said.

Indeed, Chevanel had achieved a lead over the prologue leader's Yellow Jersey then on the shoulders of Fabian Cancellara, by 2 minutes and 57 seconds--and a good part of that time was due to Cancellara's own fault when he slowed the peleton in consideration for fallen riders.

With some roads borrowed from the famous Liege-Baston-Liege race that Eddy Merckx has won five times, the peleton endured several crashes along slippery descents, resulting in delays for star riders, and splits in the peleton behind the breakaway.

Armstrong who was caught in the last crash, had leg and hip scrapes and an elbow ache when he returned from the stage, his team outfit torn, according to news reports.

"You had people everywhere. It was surreal. When I got back on my bike ... I saw crash, after crash, after crash," Armstrong said. "It was like war," he told ESPN.

It was estimated by some riders that 200 cyclists had fallen, with 23 injured. Among them Tyler Farrar of Garmin Transitions and Robbie McEwen of Australia who might have gone on to a sprint finish today, were taken to a hospital for their injuries.

After the crash, under the direction of Cancellara, the peleton slowed to a slower pace to allow the other riders to catch up--including SaxoBank teammate Andy Schleck who was second in last year's TDF, a move that allowed Chavanel to keep his time distance to the end--stealing the Yellow from Cancellara, and placing almost 3 minutes between them. It was not clear if Cancellara was aware of the time gap when he slowed the field, but as Yellow Jersey holder he is allowed to make decisions for the field. This was one considered good sportsmanship, according to other media reports.

On a crash descending the Col de Stockeu, Andy and Frank Schleck were taken down. The pile up also caused Contador and Armstrong to lose time. Rider Christian Vandevelde was a casualty, and never made it back into the field.

Breakway Near the Start

One hundred and ninety four riders started this stage, with Adam Hansen (THR) the only rider to abandon because of a fractured collarbone from a fall in stage one.

Ahead were three intermediate sprints – in Perwez (39.5km), Seny (112km) and Coo (177km) – and six climbs of various difficulty, three category 3's, three category 4's and two 5's.

The last two climbs promised to be the most difficult, with winding roads and tricky descents through forests. And difficult they were--but on the descent, not on the climbs.

Chavanel broke away at 10K from the start, and was soon caught by seven other riders, Matthew Lloyd and Jurgen Roelandts of Omega Pharma Lotto,  Marcus Burghardt  of BMC Racing Team, Jerome Pineau of QuickStep, Sebastien Turgot of BBox Bouygues Telecom, Taaramae of Team Cofidis and Francesco Gavazzi of Lampre.

The peleton did not chase, and allowed a gap of 6 minutes and 55 seconds to develop at 32 km. Once the lead group reached Provence de Liege, it began to rain. In the breakaway, Pineau attacked along with Taaramae and Lloyd on each of the first three climbs but Chavanel led over the line – taking three points each time. Those points resulted in a Green Jersey win for Chavanel at the end of the stage too.

Around 57km to the finish there was a crash in the peleton involving Julian Dean of Garmin Transitions, Vladimir Karpets of Katusha, Mickael Delage of Omega Pharma Lotto, and several others. The New Zealander and Russian continued but Delage was forced to abandon the stage after sustaining cuts to his face.

On Stockeu, the second to last Cat. 3 climb, there was an attack by Gavazzi, causing a split in the lead group. Turgot and Lloyd were the first to retreat to the peloton (with 40km to go). Pineau collected first place at the top of the Stockeu climb. Gavazzi was fourth over the summit and, but as he tried to catch the leaders on the descent, he crashed.

A motorcyclist carrying a cameraman following Gavazzi crashed into him, and chaos ensured: as the peloton arrived on the descent, several riders crashed while trying to avoid the bodies and bikes lying on the road. Those included Andy and Frank Schleck of SaxoBank, Alberto Contador of Astana, and Lance Armstrong of Team RadioShack. At one point it looked as if Andy Schleck had broken his collarbone, as he held his right arm and grimaced, but minutes later he borrowed a fellow Team Saxobanker's bike and took off.

The crash caused three splits in the peleton, one containing Fabian Cancellara and Cadel Evans in the front accompanied by 33 other riders, Amstrong and Contador among another group of similar size following, and the Schleck brothers in the third.

Still at the front of the race, Chavanel reached the last climb, the Col de Rosier alone, leading Monfort (THR) by 47”, Cancellara’s group by 1’40”, the Contador/Armstrong group by 2’35”; and the Schleck group by 3’40”.

According to media reports Cancellara slowed the peleton in consideration for the crashed riders. He moved to the front of the peloton and established a slower pace--an odd gesture considering later it would cost him the Yellow Jersey, but perhaps the only move that would save him face when he did. It lasted a couple of kilometers before Cervelo sent riders to the front of the yellow jersey’s group, and picked up the pace a little.

Between the Stockeu and Rosier climbs, the three pelotons eventually came together leaving Chavanel out in front who appeared to be the only rider interested in racing.

Chavanel won his second stage and took over the lead of the general classification. The rest of the peloton rolled across the line, 3’56” behind him.

Jerome Pineau, also of QuickStep who worked with Chavanel in the break was overjoyed for his teammate: “This could not be more beautiful. This morning we had planned, Sylvain and I – each, in turn, would attack. And we managed to find us both in the same breakaway, which is already great. Then, pretty soon, we’ve agreed to help me get some points for the climbing classification and I support him then on the final. But he did not even need me!"

In an interview with Versus, RadioShack teammate of Lance Armstrong said the scene was chaos, and blamed part of the mess up on the roads that were chosen. But he admitted that in the end it was "survival of the fittest," that made the win.

After today's nightmare stage, few riders were looking forward to tomorrow's stage which will include four sections of the one-day classic Paris-Roubaix, reknowned for its cobblestones, crashes, mud and mayhem. In all though there will be seven sections of pave road--sure to bring down even the steadiest of riders. These first two stages have been a wake up call for the normally quiescent Tour riders, and the third is poised to be an even ruder one.

General Classifcation Standing at End of Stage 2, Brussels to Spa

1.    CHAVANEL Sylvain    131    QUICK STEP    10h 01' 25"    
2.    CANCELLARA Fabian    13    TEAM SAXO BANK    10h 04' 22"    + 02' 57"
3.    MARTIN Tony    115    TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA    10h 04' 32"    + 03' 07"
4.    MILLAR David    57    GARMIN - TRANSITIONS    10h 04' 42"    + 03' 17"
5.    ARMSTRONG Lance    21    TEAM RADIOSHACK    10h 04' 44"    + 03' 19"
6.    THOMAS Geraint    39    SKY PRO CYCLING    10h 04' 45"    + 03' 20"
7.    CONTADOR Alberto    1    ASTANA    10h 04' 49"    + 03' 24"
8.    LEIPHEIMER Levi    25    TEAM RADIOSHACK    10h 04' 50"    + 03' 25"
9.    BOASSON HAGEN Edvald    36    SKY PRO CYCLING    10h 04' 54"    + 03' 29"
10.    GERDEMANN Linus    141    TEAM MILRAM    10h 04' 57"    + 03' 32"

Stage Standings at End of Stage 2, Brussels to Spa

1.    CHAVANEL Sylvain    131    QUICK STEP    4h 40' 48"   
2.    BOUET Maxime    82    AG2R LA MONDIALE    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"
3.    WEGMANN Fabian    149    TEAM MILRAM    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"
4.    MC EWEN Robbie    75    KATUSHA TEAM    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"
5.    KNEES Christian    145    TEAM MILRAM    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"
6.    ROELANDTS J├╝rgen    108    OMEGA PHARMA - LOTTO    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"
7.    HUSHOVD Thor    95    CERVELO TEST TEAM    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"
8.    GERDEMANN Linus    141    TEAM MILRAM    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"
9.    LADAGNOUS Matthieu    65    FDJ    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"
10.    EISEL Bernhard    112    TEAM HTC - COLUMBIA    4h 44' 44"    + 03' 56"

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