There were two sprints on Sunday’s opening road stage of the Tour de France that gave us a few insights into how the upcoming days will pan out—especially stage 2 on Monday. The first was the intermediate sprint at Érezée, eighty-some kilometers from the end of stage 1. The second sprint came at the finish itself, not the one that gave Peter Sagan his maiden Tour stage victory over Fabian Cancellara, but the one behind them for fourth place. But, first, let’s look at that intermediate sprint….
The first surprising thing about this sprint was the speed with which the Lotto-Belisol team of André Greipel began the wind-up from more than a kilometer out. On a slight uphill, three of the Belgian team’s workers raced out of the saddle as if they were already contesting the sprint itself; and, remember, this was a sprint for only seventh place, with only a handful of green-jersey points at stake, a couple of minutes behind the day’s six-man breakaway.
Their sharp acceleration extracted a dozen riders clear of the peloton, but it didn’t do much to help Greipel, who was left without a lead-out man when the sprint was finally taken up by Matt Goss of Orica-GreenEdge, pursued by world champ Mark Cavendish of Team Sky and Mark Renshaw of Rabobank. Those three crossed the sprint line in that order, with Greipel trailing them home in fourth after vainly trying to catch them.
All those names are familiar of course because the German Greipel and the two Aussies, Goss and Renshaw, were all lead-out men for Cavendish at various times at the former High Road team of Bob Stapleton. Now that they’re on separate teams, they are all getting a chance to show their true worth, and their expected battle in the flatter stages of this Tour should be one of its highlights.
Now for that other sprint, the one at the finish of stage 1 in Seraing.
First, it’s worth noting that another ex-High Road rider, Eddy Boasson Hagen, was a major player in the finale. The Norwegian national champion just missed getting on to the break by Cancellara and Sagan, and he had to chase for more than a kilometer of uphill racing on his own before connecting with them. So it was no surprise that he had no juice left to contest the sprint for first place.
Behind those three, when the gap was still a good 20 meters, the sprint from the chase group was opened up by BMC Racing’s Philippe Gilbert. Some 200 uphill meters still remained, but in roughly 12 seconds of sprinting, the hometown hero almost closed on the three leaders—and easily held off the 20-or-so GC contenders who followed him to the line. Gilbert later said he simply wasn’t able to follow Cancellara and Sagan when they attacked 1500 meters from the finish, but it was evident that the former Belgian champion is still making positive strides in his form.
Gilbert’s next chance to win a stage will come on Tuesday in the uphill finish at Boulogne-sur-Mer that’s preceded by four short, stiff climbs in the last 30 kilometers. But first comes Monday’s stage to the Belgian city of Tournai. This stage 2 is completely flat—except for a photogenic excursion up the cobbled climb to the Citadel in Namur halfway through the day—and so we can expect a full-speed field sprint of the kind that Cavendish normally rules.
Sky’s world champ said he had good legs on Sunday before sitting up when the gradient steepened on the Seraing finish, and he will almost certainly have a good lead-out train that will be set in motion by his teammates Mick Rogers, Richie Porte and Chris Froome and completed by fast men Boasson Hagen, Christian Knees and Bernhard Eisel. But with his former sprint-train members Greipel, Renshaw and Goss now looking for glory in their own right, it’s going to be a fascinating gallop to watch.
John will be commenting Monday on the outcome of stage 2