Jul. 4th, 2016

ysobelle: (Kayli)
Stage 2 Saint-Lô to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin, 183km

Four riders in today’s breakaway: Jasper Stuyven, Veygard Breen, Cesare Benedetti, Paul Voss, almost right from the line. None of them are GC contenders, so the peloton has been mostly complacent. Most of the riders in yesterday’s crashes seem to have rejoined us today, which is good. There have, apparently, been a few crashes so far again today, but nothing terribly serious. Alberto Contador went down again, though, and after his injuries yesterday, I’m really, really trying hard not to think about his pain levels.

There’s a good wind today, and some rain, though it’s spotty, and in some places, it’s even sunny. But it’s also windy in spots, and just all-around unpredictable.

94km to go until the finish line in Cherbourg. And decreasing at a good clip. The riders are taking rain gear off, putting it back on. It’s a compartively calm day so far. With the four riders out in front, there won’t be a competition at the sprint point until the peloton comes up on it. These first four aren’t sprinters, and they don’t care about points. But the rest? Kittel? Cavendish? Oh, they want those points. Movistar is setting up, I see Cofidis— no, that’s Katusha. Greipel is pushing, trying for it with Kittel— and oh, man, they’ve boxed Cav out. Looks like it’s Greipel, Kittel, and maybe Sagan. But Cav is high enough in the standings that he’ll keep the Green Jersey.

There’s a climb to the finish, later on. It’s gonna be crunchy up there. A steep climb, slight, short dip, then a A 14% incline to the line. So the task for the domestiques today is to keep their guys hydrated and fed and fresh, so they can get to that final challenge with as much left in the tank as possible. And the weather sucks. So, you know, lots of fun. Today is a grind. They’re not even trying to catch the breakaway, which is still at about six minutes ahead.

On and on we go, and I suppose I should mention that Cav’s team— his new team— is Dimension Data, whom we saw last year as Qhubeka, in their first-ever Tour de France as a wildcard. Their Daniel Teklehaimanot was the very first black African rider ever to compete, and he won King of the Mountains in Stage 6. And Steve Cummings won a stage, as well— on Mandela Day, no less! They’ve changed their name, but they’re still pushing for charity, as ever, This year, their aim is to bring 5,000 bikes to kids in Africa who sometimes have no other way to get to school.

We’re in the Limoges region of France, btw. And holy cow, is it beautiful. One day, one day, I would love to see it on person. But not from a bike. The helicopters are spoiling me, but in reality, they’d likely just make me sick.

75km to the finish. The peloton is picking up the pace a bit, but the four leaders still have a greater than five minute gap, and there’s a chance, now they won’t be caught. The big teams are lining up at the front, but they’re still eyeing each other more than trying to mount an attack.

As they come closer to the towns, there’s more of what they call “road furniture.” Traffic islands, roundabouts, that sort of thing. The peloton hops like rabbits over the low curbs, and there’s no incident, thankfully.

Oh. Speaking of which, ouch. Sam Bennett, involved in a crash yesterday, tweeted about how horrible his injuries were. Something about bone, and having to be put out to get stitched up. Surely, I thought, he’s tweeting from the hospital. Enjoy your beer, sir— you’ve earned it. And then a shot of him at the back of the peloton, holding on for dear life, but upright and pedaling. You frighten me, man. All of you. Even with all the typical first-week crashes, no one’s out yet. We’re still at full strength. Seriously.

Gap’s down to 4-something. Geraint Thomas of Sky’s had a flat— front flat, so a quick change. Watching the Sky car make its way through the caravan in the narrow streets of a small French town is terrifying. I’ve been driving for decades now, and I wouldn’t even want to do it on a non-race day. I wouldn’t want to do it if zombies had attacked and the town were completely empty.

Hm. Looks like the front group’s lost Benedetti. Yup. They’ve definitely lost him— he’s in the vast abyss between them and the peloton. With no one to help him aerodynamically, there’s pretty much no way he can regain this group. 3.17 on the pack, with 14 miles/22km to go.

BMC, at the front of the peloton, has said they have no intention of chasing down the leading three. Yet they’re not exactly sitting up. They want Tejay Vangarderen and Richie Porte to get home safe. It’s just gotten through to me that Paul Voss is wearing the King of the Mountains Polk-Dot jersey. So this breakaway is important to him.

Aw, there’s the catch. Poor Benedetti. Nothing to show for the day except, okay, well, he got his sponsor’s jersey in front of the cameras for several hours today (Bora, if you’re curious), and that’s what sponsors pay for. So that ain’t nothing.

BMC’s dropped back a bit. Sky’s moved up, and Dimension Data. It’s raining again. Cameras are fogged and spotted, the road is slick. I don’t like this part. 7km to the start of the climb. The first three are under the 10km-to-the-line arch. They’re not GC men, but one of them, if they’re not all caught, will get the Maillot Jaune today, since yesterday’s win was so slim.

Riders are starting to come off the back of the peloton now. Teklehaimanot is one of them, alas. but he’s still strong. He’ll be in it again tomorrow.

The front three have hit the climb, and they are grinding up this incline. And Oh! Stuyven looks over his shoulder and boom! He takes off, leaving the other two behind. Could he take the stage? Well, who knew he still had so much left at this point?

Back of the race is just gruesome. All the guys who’ve been keeping up all day, but the climb is murderous. They’re scattered now like a broken necklace, but they’re still going.

Stuyven is still alone up front, and it’s looking like he’s a definite contender. He’s hit the dip before the second, final climb, and he’s in that terrifying tuck position, forward of his seat, down behind his bars, making everything he can of his own aerodynamics.

Oh, Christ! Richie Porte has a flat, and his car can’t get to him. The neutral Mavic car is there, but this could be a disaster for him. BMC comes off the front of the peloton, because they have to go back for him. He’s their GC guy. Or he was. They can’t drop back entirely, though, cos they still have to safeguard and shepherd Tejay.

The road narrows dramatically, and Stuyven is still alone, powering through Cherbourg, approaching the climb to Cote de la Glacerie.

3km to go, 2km to the summit. The roads are looking grim, now— too narrow for all these men. They don’t care. Tinkoff is in front, Cannondale, it’s all a battle now. Paul Voss has exploded on the road; they’re passing him like he’s sitting still. Cav has come unhitched, falling back through the mass of riders. This was expected— even by him. He’s probably got more stage wins in him, but not today: he’s not a climber. He used to drop out of the Tour entirely, years ago, after the first week, when the mountains arrived. He’s grown so much as a rider.

Huge roundabout, and a shot of Richie Porte trying to get back into the game. Tinkoff at the front, Peter Sagan pushing. Oh, Christ, it’s so close to the finish— are they going to catch Stuyven on the damned line? That would be heartbreaking! He’s trying so, so hard, but they’re right behind him! He’s over the top— he’s got King of the Mountains— but they’re pulling the motorcycles from the gap between him and the chasers, and— ONE KM left! Can he do it?! I am screaming!

Ahhh, fuck! No, he’s caught!

Peter Sagan is pushing, Valverde is there, who’s up? Is it Sagan?? There’s a screaming fight and— YES! Peter Sagan played his cards exactly right at the line, using Julian Alaphilippe as a launchpad, and damn. Jesus, he doesn’t even know he’s won!


Incredible finish, and my neighbours hate me now, but dammit. Poor Jasper Stuyven. Almost 200km out in front, only to lose it in the last few meters. Such is the Tour.

The rest of the field comes staggering in. There are gaps aplenty, here, but good riders in the front. Chris Froome is there— you didn’t forget him, right? Valverde, Gallopin, Barguil.

Man. I’m still wounded for Stuyven, though much of the talk now is about Peter Sagan, who’s not only World Champion, but now our Maillot Jaune, an honour he, like Cav, has never before secured. Still, Stuyven has made some important progress today. He’s got the King of the Mountains Jersey, and Most Aggressive Rider, and he’s also lost any hope of anonymity, ever again. No one will ever underestimate this kid from Belgium again.

The other story, of course, is poor Richie Porte, who’s earned himself the King of Bad Timing Jersey. That flat, coming where it did, could be catastrophic. He’s an amazing rider, and co-leader of BMC with TeJay Vangarderen, but he’s now almost two minutes down. Can he make it up? Maybe. He’s not co-leader for nothing, and it’s only Day Two. And honestly, making hard and fast predictions before the mountains is laughable.

So on we go, and we’ll see where we are tomorrow.

From: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/live/2016/jul/03/tour-de-france-2016-stage-two-live
Peter Sagan crosses the line ahead of Julian Alaphilippe – the Slovakian didn’t know he’d won until after the race. Photograph: Sebastien Nogier/EPA

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