Saturday, 29 June 2013

Tour de France 2013 : Stage Two Preview

I WAS going to start this piece with the following sentence: "IF stage one was fairly easy to predict then stage two is anything but."

However stage one was as unpredictable and crazy as they come!

Orica Green Edge stamped their mark on the Tour early but not in the way they would have wanted as they jammed their bus under the finish gantry.

This caused the finish line to be moved to the 3km point as the riders hit the 10km to go mark.

As they wound up for the new sprint the inevitable crash happened, claiming Peter Sagan and Alberto Contador as it's highest profile victims. Mark Cavendish managed to avoid it and stay upright but couldn't help but get caught up behind it.

Then the bus was moved and the finish line reinstated to it's original position.

Andre Greipel never made it as a mechanical issue put pay to his chances but his fellow countryman Marcel Kittel was the big winner, picking his way through the carnage to beat Alexander Kristoff.

The ramifications will go on all night but as far as times go everybody has been awarded the same time as Kittel, which is absolutely the right thing to do. Green Edge will face some sanctions as well as a lot of animosity from the rest of the peloton and watching public.

So after that absolutely bizarre day stage two might not be as unpredictable as we first thought.

It will be though!

The profile suggests that the pure sprinters won't be around come the finish. Two cat 2 climbs and two cat 3 should thin out the field enough to see off the likes of yellow jersey Kittel, Griepel and Nacer Bouhanni.

However that's where the certainty ends.

The last climb is the Cat 3 Cote du Salario, the summit of which comes 12 km from the finish. It is only 1 km in length but has an average gradient of 8.9%.

It is the type of climb which could provide a springboard for anyone with a stage victory in mind. And with time gaps from today being none existent a stage victory should bring with it the next yellow jersey.

It is a finish which seems a little similar to Milan San-Remo which means it could be a day for the puncheurs. Slyvain Chavanel, Thomas Voeckler, Fabian Cancellara, Phillipe Gilbert are just some of the names that could be in the mix come the finish.
Pure sprinters should be jettisoned before the finish but don't rule out Mark Cavendish though. He is a previous winner in San Remo and is in good form. Stage one will have been a bitter disappointment and I can imagine a fired up Manxman.
If he can get to the top of the final climb in contact he will be a big favourite.

For an outsider Johnny Hoogerland may be the one for you, that is if riding into a barrier on stage one hasn't affected him much! But he is no stranger to adversity, who can forget his coming together with barbed wire two years ago, and in February this year he was involved in a car accident while out training which left him with five broken ribs, a bruised liver and bone fractures to his spine.
But to everybody's surprise he returned to action in May (some footballers should take note) and just last weekend he shocked everybody by winning the Dutch national championship.

He will want to show off that jersey and before tiredness creeps in later in the Tour expect him on the attack at some point this week.

My big favourite was Sagan but a lot will depend on his condition in the morning. Stage one wasn't ideal for him, even before his tumble, but stage two could be. He has the ability to handle the climb, can descend well and we all know about his sprinting qualities.

So he is my favourite....if things go as planned.... which they probably won't!

All of the above could be blown out of the water if one of the favourites decides to take the bull by the horns and attack.

Joaquin Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde are two that love this type of parcours. They might also think they can gain some time over the likes of Froome and Contador.

It is more likely they will keep their powder dry though. It's a long way to Paris and it's a big ask to take the jersey so early and hold it all the way.

But don't quote me on that!

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