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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, July 4, 2016

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If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you. - Muhammad Ali

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Tour de France team news

We'll start with Tinkoff's update:

Buffeted by winds and lashed with rain, today’s stage saw typical Normandy weather. Not only was the terrain challenging, with four categorised climbs over its length, but the coastal route around the Cotentin peninsula made riding even more tough. This didn’t stop Peter Sagan in his campaign for stage wins however, as the Slovakian rider took the win with a sterling effort and powerful finish. The UCI World Champion will wear the yellow jersey with pride tomorrow for the first time in his career, the first yellow jersey of the team and team owner Oleg Tinkov too, adding to his impressive performances in the season so far.

The Tour de France’s second day brought with it its first uphill finish. While only a small third category kick at the end of the day, it had the potential to be just that little bit too difficult for the pure sprinters, giving the all-rounders a chance to go for the stage win. After an opening stage that proved Peter Sagan had the power and the hunger to get to the line first, stage 2 was to give the UCI World Champion the kind of terrain on which he excels. It was a double edged sword though as GC leader Alberto Contador lost ground on the final climb, conceding time to his rivals after hitting the deck again on today's stage.

At 183km the stage was long enough to be felt in the legs, but with three categorised climbs in the first 52km to contend with, it was going to be a tough day in the saddle – and the tough Normandy weather was only going to make the going more difficult. Skirting around the edge of the Cotentin peninsula, the peloton would be buffeted by wind and the occasional rain shower, with damp conditions early in the day. After getting through this, there was just the small matter of the third category Côte de La Glacerie to take the peloton to the finish.

This being the Tour de France, the attacks came from the moment the race left the neutralised zone. Four riders escaped up the road, and by the time the race had hit its second climb of the day, the fourth category Côte de Montabot, the breakaway had a lead of more than five minutes.

In spite of the break having a significant advantage, the peloton was in no rush to bring them back in, and as the day went on and the gap remained stable, there was every chance the break might be able to hold the chasing peloton at bay until the finish. With the first categorised climbs long behind them, it was sure to come down to the final climb to the finish and as the race entered its final 15km, the breakaway riders still had a gap of just under three minutes on the peloton.

While the break had their own ambitions, there were plenty in the peloton who wanted the stage win for themselves, and the pace crept up as the final 10km came. Peter Sagan in particular was keen to reel in the escapees and the peloton was happy to work with him. A tough climb shortly before the final climb took the wind out of the break’s remaining three riders, and while they began attacking each other to contest the win solo, the peloton was closing fast.

With the roads narrowing, the finishing 5km were treacherous as the pace rose ever higher and the chasers were jostling for position. With drops of rain falling on the course, the riders were throwing caution to the wind, racing full gas to pull in the last of the breakaway. With just under 4km to go, the gap was 1’20” and falling fast, but with the final climb still to come, with a section of 14% part of the way up, would the solo rider have the legs to finish ahead?

With Roman Kreuziger putting in a huge effort for the UCI World Champion, the break was in sight, the peloton massing for the finish. With it finally all back together, the race to the finish was on. Pushing hard for the win, Peter was passed just a few hundred metres from the line, but the Slovakian rider hadn’t started his sprint yet, and as he put the power in, he took the win and the yellow jersey on the line – the first time he has worn the famous Maillot Jaune in his career.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan wins stage 2

In typically understated fashion, Peter didn’t realise he had taken the win – or the yellow jersey – until after the stage. “I am very happy as I didn't know I won today. Thank you to all my team-mates, and especially to Roman Kreuziger. He did the last climb full gas and was pulling all the way. Then in the final I did my best for a third place but it was really for the win.”

It was something of a bittersweet day for the team however, as Alberto Contador was unlucky to be involved in a crash earlier in the day, as Sport Director, Steven De Jongh, explained. “After 55km Alberto had a bad crash again - a rider came down in front of him and he went over and hurt himself, it was just bad luck. That's the reason why in the final he couldn't stand up to climb and he blew his legs. That was the reason that he lost time.”

Peter, too, was quick to offer his support to the Spanish rider and was confident he would recover. “Alberto has had a bit of bad luck yesterday and today again. I was very close to him when he came down. It was bad luck and I hope for Alberto that he will heal fast - he will be strong for sure.”

After today’s successes however, the team would be celebrating Peter’s first day in the yellow jersey, as the new holder of the Maillot Jaune explained. “I'm really happy to have this jersey for the first time in my career. It's nice to win here again after no stage wins for the last two years. This year I'm having a really good season, from the classics to now, I'm very happy for this. Thanks again to Oleg Tinkov and Tinkoff Bank for their support and confidence, and I’d like to dedicate this victory also to Oleg for making this all possible with his support.”

De Jongh shared Peter’s enthusiasm, and was clearly proud of the team’s World Champion. “The win with Peter is really nice. With 15km to go we never thought that the breakaway was going to come back but he lost time and it was up to Peter to do his sprint. He rode a great finish - it was world class from the world champ, and I'm really happy for him. It's nice for him after a few years with no wins to not only get the stage but to also take the yellow jersey.”

Tomorrow the race hits its second-longest stage as we start to head south from Normandy to the Pays de la Loire. Covering 223.5km, the day starts with an undulating profile that includes a fourth category climb, before a further two steep uncategorised climbs. With the climbing over in the first 60km however, it’s a long and fairly flat ride to the finish in Angers. Regardless of the outcome, Peter will be working to do the yellow jersey justice. “We will see what we do for the yellow jersey - I will try every day, but if I lose it I have green, if I lose green I have my world champion stripes.”

De Jongh’s aim was to continue to support Alberto in his recovery in the days to come. “The next few days, firstly we will aim to recover - it's a long tour and with Alberto crashing again today we want to support him to let his body recover. We will talk this evening about the plan around defending Peter's yellow jersey.”

LottoNL-Jumbo's Tour news:

Wilco Kelderman sprinted to the sixth place in the second stage of the Tour de France in Cherbourg today. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s climber was able to keep himself in front during the specialists’ finish. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) won the stage and took the yellow jersey from Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data).

Kelderman already said after the first stage of the Tour de France that he wanted to go for his chances on Sunday and stay focussed the whole day. “I aimed for a top result and it went well,” he said. “It was very chaotic during the final 10 kilometres. There was a lot of twisting and turning. I was always among the first 30 riders and had a good position. I found my spot in the finale and got the space to sprint. This sixth place gives me a good feeling.”

It didn’t look like that the bunch sprint was going to be for the stage win, because the breakaway stayed quite long. Jasper Stuyven (Trek - Segafredo) was caught with only 500 metres to go. “I thought that they were going to make it,” Kelderman continued. “But at a certain moment, it went very fast in the peloton and the pace was high on the climbs, as well.”

Sports Director Merijn Zeeman added, “Before the race, no one gave the breakaway a chance because there were too much to aim for today. We really want to choose when to attack in this Tour de France so we can have a chance to make it when we do. The breakaway didn’t make it in the end and Wilco sprinted to sixth place. He did a terrific job. This was a finish for the specialists and it became a classic fight among the top favourites. Wilco was among them.”

Etixx-Quick Step looks like it has the man of the future. Here's their news:

Riding a Grand Tour for the first time in his career, 24-year-old Julian Alaphilippe came runner-up in the tough finish to Cherbourg.

Starting from Saint-Lô, where a grim sky and pouring rain greeted the riders, stage 2 of Tour de France followed the coastal road, tackling three categorized climbs (Côte de Tarigny-les-Villes, Côte de Montabot and Côte de Montpinchon), before the final hurdle of the day, Côte de la Glacerie, a 1.9-km long climb averaging 6.5%, but ramping up to 15%. Cherbourg, the finishing town, was hosting an arrival for the first time in three decades, and as it happened back then, also now it witnessed a bunch finish, albeit on a different terrain.

A break of four was formed soon after the start, Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18), Vegard Breen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) and Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18) getting green light from the peloton to stretch out their lead to a maximum of seven minutes. With 124 kilometers remaining, a pile-up saw many riders hit the ground, including Marcel Kittel, Tony Martin, Fabio Sabatini and former race winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff). None of the riders involved was seriously hit, so they came back to the bunch before the 100 km mark.

Following the intermediate sprint in Port-Bail, a small town where Julian Alaphilippe won a race as an amateur in 2011, the gap began to drop, but it was only inside the final 40 kilometers that the bunch began to pick up the pace and helped also by the crosswinds, to chew into the breakaway's advantage. In the last 10 kilometers, Stuyven attacked and distanced his fellow escapees, while the pack was pushing a hyperactive rhythm behind, which eventually led to the gap evaporating and the Belgian being caught under the flamme rouge.

Thanks to the work of his Etixx – Quick-Step teammates, Julian Alaphilippe was well-placed in these decisive part of the stage, the 700-m long ascent (with an average gradient of 5.7%), and hit the front with around 400 meters to go from a group which included many GC favourites and Classics specialists. Of these, only Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) managed to top the young Frenchman, passing him in the last 50 meters, thus claiming the honours and the yellow jersey. Alaphilippe concluded the day in second place, ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and teammate Daniel Martin.

Stage 2 sprint

As the sprint started to warm up, Alaphilippe can be see on the right, challenging Sagan

The team did a great job controlling the race and bringing me in a good position, despite the rain and the narrow roads. "I felt good and gave everything I had, but Sagan was better. In those last 500 meters I was thinking only of taking the victory, as I was feeling strong, but in the end I had to be content with second place. Maybe I started the sprint a bit too early, but to be honest I have no regrets, because I gave it my all and Sagan was simply better, he's the world champion for a reason", said 24-year-old Julian, who proved once again what a special talent he is.

As soon as he rolled over the line after what was a grueling finale, the Tour of California winner tried to shrug off the frustration of coming tantalizing close on his maiden World Tour victory, and although it wasn't easy, he eventually looked on the bright side of things, especially as he was among the few riders to climb on the podium in Cherbourg, where he donned the white jersey: "I was disappointed, but then I cooled down and realized that it's my first Grand Tour and I still have many things to learn. I also have plenty of reasons to be happy, as I'm now leading the U25 classification and I am in good form. It's a huge pride to wear the white jersey and I want to thank the entire team for the great help of today. We came second two stages in a row, but at the same time we showed how strong and united we are. Hopefully, we will get a good result in the next days."

One of the most consistent riders of the season in stage races, with two wins and several podiums to his name, Daniel Martin finished just outside the top three on Sunday afternoon, a result which he sees as promising for the ambitions of Etixx – Quick-Step over the next three weeks: "It was a hard finish and everyone was suffering. I watched the sprint of Julian and Peter from behind and it was like they were going in slow motion. Another second today for us, it's true, but this just shows the incredible depth of this team. It was once again close and this only gives us extra motivation. I'm sure better days will come for us."

And here's what Alejandro Valverde's Movistar team had to report:

He’s coming into the Tour de France after a brilliant podium in a demanding Giro d’Italia, and following a long recovery period in order to serve Nairo late into the Tour de France, also looking to peak at the Olympics road race. However, Alejandro Valverde’s (Movistar Team) consistence has always been in a league of his own. The Spanish superstar, always working hard taking wind out of Quintana’s face on stage two of the Tour de France -183km between Saint-Lô and Cherbourg-en-Cotentin-, brought his class to the fore in the demanding, closing stages, which featured the hills of Octeville and La Glacerie (Cat-3) plus a final kilometer uphill. ‘Bala’ finished in third spot, behind Julian Alaphilippe (EQS) and stage winner, new GC leader Peter Sagan (TNK).

The commitment from every single Movistar Team rider towards Nairo was the best possible yet again today. Erviti, Oliveira, Anacona, the Izagirre Brothers, Herrada and Moreno always kept full focus to take care of the Colombian’s chances, Quintana always at the front into the last two côtes before finishing the race in a respectable 17th place. The result leaves him in seventh overall (+14”) as the GC sees four pre-race contenders losing time: Pinot (FDJ) and Nibali (AST), eleven seconds each; Contador (TNK), more than a minute behind Sagan; and Porte (BMC), almost two minutes back.

The ‘Grande Boucle’ goes for the big plains of the Center on Monday as stage three covers 224km between Granville and Angers, where another slightly uphill bunch kick awaits.

REACTION:

Alejandro Valverde: “We couldn’t take so many risks before the closing climbs; it wasn’t worth for me since, while it’s obvious that I could chase the stage win, everyone in this team has come to this Tour to help Nairo out. He’s 100,000 times better positioned than me and with a better shot at the Tour that I’ll ever be. That said, into such a finish, with wide roads, it wasn’t difficult for me to get in a good place, and once there, you just don’t break - you’ve got to go for it.

“I was doing well before the last kilometer uphill, but I took the coice to following Matthews’ wheel into the final 500 meters, and I got a bit boxed in from the left-hand side as I sought for my sprinting distance. I thought Matthews would be stronger into such a kick, and once I got past his wheel, the rivals in front of me, super fast guys like Sagan and Alaphilippe, were impossible to overtake. [Asked by journalists about the GC] The dark horse? Seriously, I can’t be a dark horse after 14 years as a pro. And I don’t make any conclusions out of this third place. We’re all behind Nairo.”

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