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
“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.
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.
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.