Tour de France Stage 2 Preview

Sunday, 30 June 2013

A mountain stage for the second day of the Tour? There are three mountain passes and the race climbs from sea level to 1163 metres above sea level.

But what if the descents were more important than the climbs? The twisting roads have been a worry for some time given the pressures of the Tour de France where riders state there’s less room than any other race.

Stage 1 Wrap
Chris Froome fell before the race started. The most inauspicious start possible or did he use up his bad luck in one go? One for the superstitious perhaps but nothing compared to the Corsican carnage to come later.

The early break went without any resistance and sprinter Juan-José Lobato won the sole mountain point. The race then started playing the accordion, the five men sat up but the bunch refused to catch them. The lead went up. Plot the breakaway’s lead on a chart and it would look like the stage profile below. As predicted 90% of the stage was siesta material, a coastal procession as the bunch sailed up the east coast.

The finish was always going to be nervous and the bunch looked like sardines pressed into the road. But ahead, a Deus Ex Macchina with the Orica-Greenedge team bus wedged underneath the finish line gantry like a limbo contest gone wrong. It was an amusing misfortune but quickly turned serious. The race was told the finish would be moved to the 3km point. In the chaos some teams didn’t know, radios crackle, signal reception can vary and the team car becomes a noisy place. But some squads started using their riders up, like a space rocket uses boosters, only for the finish to be switched back. Suddenly teams hoping to place riders in orbit found they lacked the thrust. Meanwhile a giant crash took down many riders.

Fortunately Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won. A top pick for the day, if someone else had won the day would have had a more chaotic feel and illegitimate feel. The German rider did the quadruple, taking yellow jersey, the green jersey and the white jersey as well as the stage. But don’t worry, he won’t overheat as the explanation of the rules behind who gets to wear what was set out on Thursday.

Stage 2 Preview

  • Km 70.0 – Col de Bellagranajo 6.6km at 4.6% – category 3
  • Km 85.0 – Col de la Serra 5.2km at 6.9% – category 3
  • Km 95.5 – Col de Vizzavona 4.6km at 6.5% – category 2
  • Km 144.0 – Côte du Salario 1km at 8.9% – category 3

The Route
“Not a metre of flat” says the Tour website. It’s tempting to look at the profile and assume this is a mountain stage but note the categories, all third category except for the Col de Vizzavona. Now these labels can arbitrary and reflect the importance ASO wants to give to the climb rather than strict technical criteria but it’s clear from the stats that these climbs are hard but far from what’s coming in the Pyrenees and Alps. In short a sprinter can get over these climbs if they’re in shape, paced by their team and there’s a chance to drop off the main group. But note these three conditions.

The road is another major transport axes across the island but because of the terrain it twists and turns. If Stage 1 was monotonous, this is the kind of road beloved by German motorcyclists exploring Korsika and where frustrated hot-blooded local drivers get annoyed as camper vans block the way, the bends in the road make overtaking awkward. FDJ’s Jérémy Roy used the word schuss to describe the descent, a ski run.

If you’ve watched Paris-Nice then the stage is similar to one of the final days when the race crosses the last hills before dropping down onto the Côte d’Azur. In this earlier season race the snaking roads are often perilous, especially for those without local knowledge. Crashes happen despite coming towards the end of the race when some order has been imposed on the GC. Today sees riders with no local knowledge and everything to play for and therefore the risk rare soars.

The Finish
Listed as Ajaccio, the finish far outside the town on a coastal road leading to a scenic cape. Continuing the theme of beauty and violence, it’s on the Route des Sanguinaires, the “Bloodthirsty Road” and only four weeks ago storms threatened to wash the road away. But it’s not as bad as this suggests. The road has gentle curves and the risk comes from the riders rather than the route.

Instead it’s the passage through Ajaccio that is very tricky. The race will go through the city centre and then take a sharp left to start the Côte du Salario. Listed as 1km at 8.9%, it’s 300m at 6% and then flattens for a roundabout and then a nasty wall awaits. Any surviving sprinters can go backwards quickly here but worse the whole race will fear this climb and could crowd the approach to the climb, increasing the chance of a crash. The climb has a short flat portion and is then followed by almost Poggio-style descent – the road is wider – to the coast where order can resume.

The Scenario
A break will go first because of the mountain points on offer today. Score big today and you could keep the jersey for days. As for the finish, sprint or breakaway? It’s not so binary. Here are three scenarios:

  • a bunch sprint where the main sprinters survive the climbs. We’ll see Marcel Kittel, André Greipel and Mark Cavendish  and yesterday’s other picks in a sprint
  • The halfway position is a sprint but from a reduced bunch and playing the numbers, a sprint win for Cannondale’s Peter Sagan after his team have driven the pace to eliminate the sprinters… although his squad are not the strongest to do this. Plus the Slovak got scraped in a crash so he could be sore. Other challengers in the same mould include Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Team Sky) and on a secondary level, J-J Rojas (Movistar), Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Tony Gallopin (Radioshack-Leopard)
  • A breakaway perhaps where a small group where riders like Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), Sylvain Chavanel (OPQS) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-Greenedge) get away. I see this as the least likely scenario as the final road offers a long chase and many teams want to set up a sprint

When the route was announced many said this was a mountain stage but talk has since swung towards a sprint finish after the riders have visited the roads. Given this I think Mark Cavendish could cope with the climbs even if he says he’s fat – his own words – and avenge the bad luck. André Greipel is also a better climber than many imagine, he was once German national hill climb champion as a junior in the Bavarian Alps and if he’s no Steinbock today, the anecdote is always worth serving up as a reminder that he can get over a hill or two.

Weather: a pleasant day with sunshine and a temperature at the finish of 25ºC (77ºF) and inland a couple of degrees cooler with cloud. A breeze at the finish, 20km/h headwind.

TV: live coverage for the whole stage again. The race starts at 1.30pm and the Col de la Serra and Col de Vizzavona will be crossed around 3.30pm-4.00pm with the finish expected between 5.10pm-5.30pm.

It’s worth watching for the mountain action as opposed to yesterday’s long siesta between the KoM point and the pace picking up with 40km to go. If you can’t get it on TV then you’ll find a corsaire feed from cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv.

The 10 second spin: can the sprinters hang on? Tune in for the scenery and much of the TV suspense will be at the back of the peloton to watch who gets dropped but there’s time to get back for many of the dropped riders. There’s a high chance of a bunch sprint where Cavendish is the prime pick.

Word of the Day
Vendetta. An Italian word used in English it also belongs to Corsican. “Belong” doesn’t convey the right impression, after all words like “cardboard” or “trolley” belong to the English language. Vendetta has been part of Corsican culture, a shared element across other Mediterranean islands and beyond. Writers like Guy de Maupassant, Proper Mérimée and Honoré de Balzac were fascinated by the idea and it was a real phenomenon with a claimed 4,300 murders between 1821-1852. And if you think tales of murderous family feuds belong to some nineteenth century writers, think again.

Still this is only a bike race. After yesterday’s chaos many riders will have more gentle ideas of revenge and justice, to defy yesterday’s misfortune. Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and André Greipel were all taken out by the crashes and will want to make amends.

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{ 26 comments }

Mendip 5000 June 30, 2013 at 7:55 am

I’m not so sure that Kittel winning made the events feel any less of sham. I’m also wondering if Matt Goss “fell” to save any sense of embarrassment.

You tweeted that the driver was fined, but others said that the Tour officials directed him to the finish line. Any update on “bus-gate” would be much appreciated!

The Inner Ring June 30, 2013 at 9:03 am

The team DS Matt White was fined 2000 Swiss Francs (why Swiss? Because the UCI is based in Switzerland) because the bus was late to the finish area. Remember it crossed the line when the bunch was 13km from the finish. Normally all the buses are at the finish earlier.

ben June 30, 2013 at 9:49 am

I think the team were fined for simply being late to bring the bus to the finish. That was the reason behind it being sent down the finishing straight to get to its parking space rather than a more lengthy route that there wasn’t time for.

Tour DeUtah June 30, 2013 at 8:07 am

Strange events indeed. ASO fining the bus driver solidifies in my mind, that it is easier to blame and convict the innocent, than to clean your own house.

As for stage 2, I am guessing a reduced bunch sprint about 30 riders. Guys like Gerrans and Sagan are natural choices. All I know is that there will be a whole lot of attacking and chaos on the final climb. This resembles more an Ardennes finish. It will be crowded at the base of the final climb and lots of argey-bargey for position.

Tour DeUtah June 30, 2013 at 8:11 am

BTW, with a 45k run from the cat 2 to the last climb, many sprinters teams will be back in the hunt at the base of the climb. I know the TdF hoped it would create a selection, but, it is just to far out.

Hopefully all riders and race officials can stat safe in the finale.

The Inner Ring June 30, 2013 at 9:04 am

Note ASO doesn’t fine the bus, it’s the UCI’s Jury of Commissaires. In all races from the Tour de France down the commissaires should be independent of the race organizers otherwise imagine the bias and conflict of interest.

TourDeUtah June 30, 2013 at 9:34 am

Apparently UCI cannot/will not fine ASO for the screw up. So, the bus driver takes it in the shorts.

Larry T. June 30, 2013 at 8:47 am

ANY driver of a bus (or van with expensive bikes on the roof) should be the person to determine whether the vehicle they’re driving can fit under anything, whether it’s a highway overpass or something like the Tour’s finish gantry – so he or she is ultimately at fault for the cock up. I thought interesting the comments from various earpiece advocates on how they are essential in cases like this, while the stage winner seemed to have NO idea about any of the chaos until informed about it AFTER the stage finish. Neutralizing the stage seemed fair based on the screwups by the organizers and some of the contestants. Vive LeTour!

Boris June 30, 2013 at 11:25 am

I had gathered from Tour coverage that the banners are lowered to look proportional to the riders and raised to allow team busses to access and depart. In this case, probably owing to the nearing conclusion of the stage, the banner had already been lowered. If those statements aren’t entirely apocryphal, the driver can maybe be cut a little bit of slack.

B Mused June 30, 2013 at 8:52 am

Great round-up. So, let the inquest begin … are flat finishes risk assessed? If so, do they risk assess an alternative finish? It doesn’t seem so, given that it didn’t seem certain for a while that the 3-km pinch point was the back-up.

Surely it’s not acceptable to reply on race radio to change a finish (even once), at such short notice? I mean Chris Froome showed how unreliable it is. As Cillian Kelly noted, the way a number of riders didn’t get the message kind of undermined the argument that race radio is vital for safety, though clearly it’s at least some help.

Given the peloton was together, it seems as if a slowdown and restart back up the road would have been fairer and safer, though again some teams would have been compromised. TBF, the organisers had very little time to make a decision.

The Inner Ring June 30, 2013 at 9:05 am

The 3km point was chosen because it’s visible but crucially equipped with a timing point for transponders and photofinish cams to check rider positions for the 3km rule so technically this made sense. But there was a narrow bridge and a roundabout so in theory it did not make sense.

Anonymous June 30, 2013 at 11:37 am

Yep, the 3-km point was logical, but unsafe, particularly as teams would not have had the chance to evaluate it as a finish.

Bit of a triple whammy for Cav (and a double for the Gorilla), as apparently he came in slightly heavy (even more so than normal!) to make sure he could power into yellow. Now he’ll struggle today more than necessary, and has already lost points he might have expected from yesterday. At least there’s a chance Tony Martin can get through Stage 2. Not much than can/should be done about it, of course, but the usual flat-stage mayhem, illustrates why they are given more points than other stages.

Bundle June 30, 2013 at 9:07 am

Yesterday was outrageous. It got me really angry. The organisers showed very little professionality. A number of the crashes would have been avoided if advertising had been better placed. But the mess with the bus, and with the unbearable “nobody loses time” decision should lead to:
- Reconsideration of race radios. Away with them. They’ve become a tool to reinvent the race as it goes.
- Away with the 3km rule, which is being abused all the time, making a joke of many flat finishes. If the main problem of stage races is that very few stages are GC-relevant, all the incidents that serve to shake the standings should be welcome not superseded.
- Bring back TT prologues. They are far more interesting and safe.
- This bunch is too big: more than 140 riders is too much.

Anonymous June 30, 2013 at 11:41 am

I was similarly furious, though wouldn’t have liked to see yesterday have GC implications (hopefully Contador is unaffected). It feels like the organisers put the riders at risk to ensure the finish took place in front of the VIPs and didn’t look so farcical to casual observers.

I loves me a TT too, but as INRNG has frequently pointed out, the TV coverage of them does like to engage most people.

Zac July 1, 2013 at 3:21 am

I’m sorry, but getting rid of the 3 KM rule would be absolutely stupid and nearly suicidal. Every single rider wanting to sprint and with GC ambitions would be fighting for the front to make sure they don’t lose even 1 second which would cause even more chaos and crashes. The 3 KM rule is a necessity simply to keep the race safer (relatively speaking of course).
Prologue TT’s are definitely safer, but definitely NOT far more interesting in any way, shape, or form. Had the confusion with the finish line not happened, the crash likely wouldn’t have happened and a sprint finish and a chance at yellow is extremely exciting to watch.
The bunch is too big, you are right. The tour should reduce the number of riders per team down to 7 or 8, this would not only make the roads less congested but also keep the chances of 1 team dominating (Sky last year) lower.

Spoke Doke June 30, 2013 at 9:24 am

We watched Cav putting the hurt on the break of Millar, Kennaugh & Stannard on the short climbs in Glasgow, it indicates he’s going very well. In previous British Championships he’d been struggling on the hills. But I expect Garmin to go for the yellow jersey, the final climb could be a good launchpad for a Millar attack, he’s going very well by the looks of it. Vaughters wants chaos, can’t see them missing this opportunity, he just has to get into a move that takes a few seconds to get the lead for a few days.

Anonymous June 30, 2013 at 9:30 am

Anything that goes wrong in this Tour from now on, blame the bus driver.

Spoke Doke June 30, 2013 at 9:32 am

Has Lance got a bus drivers licence?

Anonymous June 30, 2013 at 9:59 am

I thought I recognised that driver, just couldn’t place him.

Ablindeye June 30, 2013 at 10:37 am

I’m going to go for a reduced bunch but the quietly flying Kristoff to beat Sagan.

Amir June 30, 2013 at 11:28 am

If anything, I’ve got a horrible feeling that there’ll be an even worse crash today, down to the fact that many riders will be nervy and overly cautious.

Whilst Garmin might want to make a statement and get the likes of David Millar into the yellow jersey, I can’t help but feel that Team Sky might want to impose themselves early on, making their stamp on this race before it’s even got going. For that reason I feel we might see the likes of EBH going for stage victory, and thus putting Team Sky in some control…

Spoke Doke June 30, 2013 at 12:18 pm

I think Stannard & Kiryienka would be dreading getting yellow early on, they’d be dragging the bunch for at least 2000km of those left around France.

hoh June 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Get the impression that Sky’s plan was to get into yellow on the TTT.

They’ve got too much to loose and not a lot to gain on today’s stage though.

hoh June 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm

What happened to Tony Martin’s Collar bone I wonder? Looks like he’s starting anyway.

Martijn June 30, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I think it’s really time for the UCI to make stricter rules for races that potentially could end in a bunch sprint, both about the parcours and about things like barriers and banners (both from advertisers and the audience). It seems like it’s getting worse every year. Of course there are big commercial interests – ASO gets a lot of money from towns for stage finishes and the towns in return want the peloton to ride through the more scenic parts of the city – but this cannot go on much longer.

The Inner Ring June 30, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I agree but this is the Tour and the riders just pack the road, there’s less space available than any other race. Even if they ran the race on an airport runway there would still be crashes.

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