Vincenzo Nibali enjoys the terrain
The various jerseys of the Tour de France serve a valuable and underappreciated purpose. No-one can identify with a genre of cyclists, but give us an individual and we can empathise.
Take Marcel Kittel, for example. At the end of stage one, he proved himself to be the fastest cyclist in the biggest bike race on earth. Less than 24 hours later, there he was panting like an asthmatic dog in hot weather, losing touch with the peloton as the riders scaled the Cote de Holme Moss. He would eventually finish 20 minutes down.
Kittel represented the sprinters and in an instant we saw that there was more to cycling than giant thighs and extraordinary flat speed. Where would bike racing be without topography?
The Peak Distict
I live on the fringes of the Peak District and cycle there a lot. I’ve always wondered how the pros would cope with the shitty road surfaces and demented gradients. Turns out the answer was not all that well. The front group at the end of the stage was unusually small for the first week of the Tour de France and it’s all but unheard of for the main contenders to be fighting it out at this early juncture.
Believe it or not, there were a number of teams who didn’t do a recce of stage two before the race. They tend to focus on the big mountain stages instead. This seems bizarre to me, because mountain stages are inherently predictable. 10km at 6% is surely much the same no matter what the postcode. York to Sheffield was a different matter, with dozens of short climbs on narrow roads. Wouldn’t you want to know about any traps?
Bike racing’s always better when the peloton is chopped up into smaller groups. Small groups indicate that everyone’s tired. Those in the group behind reached their limit and couldn’t stay with the leaders, but there will also be riders in the front group who are only just clinging on. So why not attack? Who’s going to chase you?
More and more riders seemed keen to have a go the closer the race got to the finish and being as this was such a hard stage, these weren’t no-mark opportunists, they were major names. Just look at who won – Vincenzo Nibali.
Little Vince Nibbles clearly has a bit of form. A steadier hour-long effort in the Alps is a slightly different kind of fitness, but he was right up there at the pointy end of the race all day and his was the move that stuck. In contrast, it’s already time to wave bye bye to Joaquim Rodriguez’s chances. Apparently, Purito wasn’t bullshitting you. He finished 15 minutes back, but watch out for him in later stages. He’ll be allowed into breaks now and will probably get fitter as the race wears on.
All change. Nibbles is in yellow while French Rider, Cyril Lemoine, takes the polka dot mountains jersey after getting into the day’s break. It may have been swallowed up with about 50km to go, but there were so many climbs that he’d already racked up a load of points by the time that happened.
Peter Sagan moves into green and it’s worth pausing and considering how he’s managed this. On stage one, he finished second to Kittel, but while Kittel then finished 20 minutes down on stage two, Sagan came fourth (and should actually be quite disappointed with that). This is a cyclist who can be up there with the best sprinters and also the best general classification riders. He’s a big green freak.
Rather different terrain. There isn’t a single categorised climb today and a sprint finish is certain. It should be pretty grand though, what with the stage finishing on The Mall. Yes, apparently Le Tour de Yorkshire is venturing to London for a stage. Who knew?