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Chavanel takes yellow jersey as GC contenders lick their wounds

Stage 2: Bruxelles > Spa (201 km)

Honestly, it’s not always like this. After the last two days, anyone new to the race might think the Tour de France is the two-wheeled equivalent of a demolition derby, with the winner being the last man standing. And while crashes, particularly in the first week of the Tour, are hardly an unusual occurrence, I am struggling to remember the last time the race featured so many crashes on consecutive days. And while yesterday’s accidents had no significant impact on the general classification, today’s resulted in the handover of the yellow jersey, as Quick Step‘s Sylvain Chavanel – a French rider on a Belgian team – produced a fine solo win on the last stage finish in Belgium, meaning he will wear the coveted maillot jaune across the border back into France tomorrow.

New yellow jersey Sylvain Chavanel

Chavanel claimed his second career Tour stage after leading an early break of eight riders, eventually outlasting them all to ride alone over the final ascent of the Col du Rosier and soloing down to the finish in the historic town of Spa. (His previous Tour win had come late in the 2008 race, also courtesy of a successful breakaway.) By finishing 3:56 ahead of the main field, Chavanel became the new race leader with an advantage of nearly three minutes, a lead he can reasonably expect to maintain through to the Alps at the weekend.

In steady rain up and down the narrow, winding Ardennes hills used in the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège spring classics, a treacherous surface claimed several casualties. An early crash forced Mickaël Delage of Omega Pharma-Lotto to abandon after a hefty impact with a roadside barrier.

But that was just a taste of what was to come. Francesco Gavazzi slid off the road on the descent from the penultimate climb of the day, the Col de Stockeu, and the following camera bike went down trying to avoid him. As the next group of riders arrived on the scene, around 30 crashed on what some speculated was an oily surface. Among the victims were most of the GC contenders including Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins and Andy Schleck, who rose gingerly clutching his left arm and waited for a team-mate to donate his bike, only to come down again almost immediately.

After the stage, Schleck at least saw the funny side of things:

There was something like oil was on the road. I crashed and I couldn’t find my bike, so I got Matti Breschel’s bike. I went 100 metres further and I crashed again. I had crashed on the right side so I thought I’ve got to get some scratches on the left too, otherwise I am going to look stupid.

At one point, the delay cost him four minutes, but the group ahead including teammate and yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara graciously slowed to allow everyone to catch up.

Sky‘s Simon Gerrans posted the following thoughts on the Stockeu crash on his blog:

On the descent of the Stockeu, there must have been some kind of fuel on the road because a third of the bunch fell, including myself. It was like riding on ice. A couple of guys went down right at the front so I just touched my brakes slightly to avoid them and the next thing I knew I was sliding down the road on my arse. By the time we got to the bottom of the climb the bunch was totally split.

It looked like we had been in for battle with blood, injuries and skin missing on most guys. I lost skin all up my right leg and butt so I’m going to be a little sore for the next couple of days but fortunately nothing was badly hurt. There will be a few guys who don’t take the start tomorrow with broken bones and serious injuries.

Lance Armstrong, after crashing on stage 2 (image courtesy of Team RadioShack)

And even Armstrong did not escape without some collateral damage, as he explained on Twitter (and as the accompanying photo demonstrates):

What a day. Crashes everywhere and I don’t use the term ‘everywhere’ lightly. Most of the GC guys hit the ground myself included. Got some good ‘road rash’ on the hip and elbow. Bike mangled, cleat on the shoe completely cracked in two. Hope it’s dry tomorrow.

Marshalled by Cancellara, the group decided to let Chavanel go and neutralise the sprint finish to avoid any further mishaps.

For Chavanel, victory compensated for a season disrupted by a fractured skull sustained when he was knocked over by a motorbike during Liège-Bastogne-Liège, a race which shares part of its route with today’s stage, in April:

The wheel is always turning. I have had so much bad luck, so many times. I’ve been caught a kilometre, two kilometres from the line. That’s life. I’ve learned from it. This is my most beautiful day on the bike.

20 km from the line, I knew that I had a great chance of winning the stage, but I wasn’t thinking of the yellow jersey. Now I want to keep it until Paris! No, I just want to keep it as long as possible. It’s something that I don’t want to let pass by. I have a reasonable chance [of keeping the jersey] as far as Rousses, why not?

The bulk of the field rolled slowly across the line in Spa four minutes later, presumably to the bemusement of the gathered fans. It was a spontaneous decision, fuelled by concerns over the safety of the peloton, many of whom are already sporting a variety of war wounds. Whether it was the right thing to have done with the benefit of hindsight is debatable, but it was certainly done with good intentions in mind. Among others, veteran sprinter Robbie McEwen and the Garmin-Transitions pair of Christian Vande Velde and Tyler Farrar all went to hospital after the stage, and many others were treated for a variety of scrapes and bruises. It remains to be see whether there will be further abandonments tomorrow morning.

Cadel Evans explained the decision to neutralise the final sprint on his website:

Today, because of the number of guys who went down, the group agreed not to sprint. Considering the number of guys injured [and] the danger of the last 10km, I’m sorry for the spectators but it was the right thing to do. Sorry, we are human as well. Don’t fear, for the masochists amongst you, there will be plenty of suffering/crashes/damage to come – probably most of it tomorrow.

But not everyone agreed with the decision, with sprinter Thor Hushovd particularly angry:

I’m very sorry for the riders who crashed. It was a big mess. But yet, this is still a bike race. Crashes happen all the time. It’s been a really big mistake to agree to neutralise the end of the stage. I’ve been riding all day for the stage win and the green jersey and I end up with nothing. Will the same thing happen tomorrow? If Alberto Contador or another big rider crashes tomorrow on the cobblestones, he’s entitled to ask for the race to be neutralised too. So when will we race, really?

Other than Chavanel’s leap to the top of both the yellow and green jersey standings, there were no major changes in the GC or the sprinters’ competition. The King of the Mountains competition has now begun, though, with Chavanel’s Quick Step teammate Jérôme Pineau earning the privilege of donning the polka dot jersey.

In other news, HTC-Columbia‘s Adam Hansen did not start this morning, a significant blow to the green jersey challenge of Mark Cavendish, for whom Hansen was one of his key lead-out men. The Australian suffered a broken rib and sternum, and fractured his collarbone, but nevertheless rode for nearly 175km after his crash to complete yesterday’s stage before having the full extent of his injuries confirmed. They are a tough breed, cyclists. It is difficult to imagine, say, Cristiano Ronaldo continuing to play with so much as a broken finger-nail.

The riders will rest and recover overnight, and many will no doubt be feeling stiff and sore in the morning. But there is no opportunity for respite, as tomorrow’s stage takes us over the Paris-Roubaix cobbles as the race passes back into France.

Technology permitting. I am intending to liveblog tomorrow’s stage. I will be here from around 2pm UK time. Hopefully see you then!

For full coverage of the Tour de France, I would recommend either the official website or alternatively steephill.tv as your one-stop shop for race reports, photos and videos.

For other well-informed views on the race, my blog of the day is Marc’s sports blog. Alternatively, for a good read check out any of the links under ‘Cycling’ in the sidebar on the right.

Stage 2 result:

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 4:40:48

123 riders + 3:56

General classification (yellow jersey):

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 10:01:25

2. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) +2:57

3. Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia) +3:07

4. David Millar (Garmin-Transitions) +3:17

5. Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) +3:19

6. Geraint Thomas (Sky) +3:20

7. Alberto Contador (Astana) +3:24

8. Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack) +3:25

9. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +3:29

10. Linus Gerdemann (Milram) +3:32

Selected others:

19. Cadel Evans (BMC) +3:36

53. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) +3:52

54. Denis Menchov (Rabobank) +3:53

57. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) +3:53

59. Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) +3:54

85. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) +4:06

Points classification (green jersey):

Note: Other than stage winner Chavanel (35 pts), no green jersey points were awarded at the finish. Points gained at the intermediate sprints still stand.

1. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 44 pts

2. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) 35

3. Jürgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 34

4. Mark Renshaw 30

5. Thor Hushovd 26

Climbers’ classification (polka dot jersey):

1. Jérôme Pineau (Quick Step) 13 pts

2. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) 8

3. Rin Taaramae (Cofidis) 8

4. Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia) 5

5. Matthew Lloyd (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4

Stage 3 preview:

Start & finish: Wanze > Arenberg Porte du Hainaut

Distance & type: 213 km, plain (includes seven sections of cobbles, totalling 13.15 km)

Prediction: Seven sections of cobbled roads, the last just 7 km from the end of the stage, will set up a tense finish as sprinters and GC contenders alike jostle at the front of the pack trying to stay away from trouble. Much has been made of Contador’s inexperience over this type of surface, so expect Astana to try and force their way to the head of the peloton to protect their leader and control the pace. Any crash is likely to decimate the field, and if any of the sprinters’ teams are involved this may open the door for a surprise winner to claim the stage win. If it is anything like as wet as it was today, there will be carnage – or, more likely, the GC riders may demand to neutralise the stage, to the chagrin of the sprinters.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

10 Responses to Chavanel takes yellow jersey as GC contenders lick their wounds

  1. Jillian says:

    Really enjoy your recap! thank you.

    About Andy Schleck. Didn’t sound like he was doing too well there for a while… I was worried. The quote you have is reassuring that he’s got his humor back. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      He was sounding pretty positive on Twitter too this evening. And Saxo Bank directuer sportif was pretty positive about both Andy and Frank, who was also pretty badly dinged (certainly bleeding).

      Be interesting to see if anyone else drops out tomorrow morning. Both Farrar and Vande Velde looked in pretty bad shape.

      • Jillian says:

        I’d read they’d been taken to the hospital. It’s hard for me to tell how bad things are since I mostly follow through print media. Vande Velde! he’s so unlucky. 😦

  2. Tim says:

    Now confirmed from several sources that Vande Velde has abandoned – two broken ribs and eye injuries. He is just the unluckiest cyclist around!

  3. txtmstrjoe says:

    Thanks for the brilliant recap.

    I’ve been enjoying my nephews’ company through the entire weekend; they are at my parents’ house on an extended visit from Canada, so of course I’ve spent most of my weekend being with them and enjoying their precociousness. If not for your excellent blog, I’d be deprived of good Tour coverage.

    Thanks again, and keep it up, my friend.

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