The Spin: Stage 2

A fast sweep across Belgium. In recent years the near-certainty of victory by Mark Cavendish would make this kind of stage almost dull to watch, even if this is testimony to Cavendish’s peerless sprinting. This year however it’s different, a sprint is still likely, “Cav” could win but there are many more sprinters who can challenge.

  • Km 82.5 – Côte de la Citadelle de Namur2.1 kilometre-long climb at 4.5% – category 4

The route: it starts on the Dutch border and heads across Belgium to the finish in Tournai, a large town on the French border. The route is flat and suggests a sprint finish is likely. It won’t be on the TV but the passage through Namur is worth a mention for two reasons. First because of the climb because this makes it a tactical point. Even if Basque rider Pablo Urtasun makes it into the breakaway… and then wins then he still won’t take the jersey of Michael Mørkøv as the Dane leads him by a bigger margin.

The second reason is the scenery, the climb is a series of cobbled hairpins to the citadel perched high above the river – high for Belgium at least. The climb is not tough even if the cobbles shake and it’s a regular finish for other races. It’s just a feature along the road of this otherwise unremarkable stage. Otherwise the route is so unremarkable that only the small things stand out, like the village called Silly at 164km.

Back to the race and the intermediate is late in the stage, coming with 54.5km to go. Several traffic islands await in the approach as well as two sharp corners but the last 500m allow  for a straight sprint.

The finish: is flat or nearly, a mere 1% gradient in the final kilometre. The approach is reasonable, the race heads through Tournai passing the railway station with two kilometres to go before turning left over the Escaut river and a roundabout with one kilometre to go and then the road sweeps round to the finish along the leafy Boulevard Bara that is 7 metres wide, perhaps too narrow for the first sprint of the year.

The sprinters: plenty of talk has focussed on the overall classifications but the sprints should be excellent this year in their own right and we are likely to see a good battle for the green jersey too.

Mark Cavendish remains one of the fastest riders around but comes with less team support. He’s shown in the past he can cope solo but all the same, just having “Bernie” Eisel means things are marginally harder for him this year… all the more reason for him to win. As of this morning Peter Sagan tops the victory rankings of 2012 with 14 wins and André Greipel is next on 13. Next is Marcel Kittel, the new kid on the block, he turned pro last year and collected several wins including a stage win in the Vuelta, his first go at a grand tour but he first appeared on the block when he won four stages of the Four Days of Dunkirk, just over the border in France so he’s back on his top terrain.

Cavendish, Sagan Greipel, Kittel: these four are the obvious picks for the stage win but the open nature means several others will want a go. Matthew Goss comes with a very strong team then we have Mark Renshaw, Tyler Farrar, Kenny Van Hummel, Alessandro Petacchi, Oscar Freire, J-J Rojas, J-J Haedo and Yauhueni Hutarovich as challengers but there might even be others.

Tactics: the dynamics of sprinting will be interesting. In years past the HTC-Colombia team really took change of things but now things will be more open; we should be able to see this with the helicopter shots as the bunch is more grouped instead of lined out, although we should see Argos Oil-Shimano and Lotto-Belisol working hard. Also within the bunch Kittel and Greipel are hulk-like figures and there ideal wheels to sit on, more so since both favour a long sprint rather than a late burst with 100m to go; they also come with teams willing to work for them meaning they’re even better wheels to sit on for explosive riders like Cavendish and Haedo who can pop them at the very last moment.

For the green jersey the presence of Sagan seems to change everything as he is capable of winning points when others cannot. He won the stage yesterday in Seraing whilst the next pure sprinter finished 56th, Oscar Freire. Edvald Boasson-Hagen was third but we have yet to see what he does, will he support Cavendish and Wiggins at the same time? If the Norwegian was on another team he’d be a prime contender for green and multiple stage wins.

Local rider: a retro pick with Claude Criquelion. The last French-speaking Belgian rider to consistently win big races before Philippe Gilbert… he made his career in the 1980s meaning one very long way for Walloonians. “Criq” was a specialist in one day races but finished 5th in the 1986 Tour de France, the result was only equalled in 2010 thanks to Jurgen Van Den Broeck, although the VDB was upgraded following Contador’s exclusion.

TV: live images should start at 2.00pm Euro time with the finish expected after 5.00pm. You could watch it all but you can probably get something else done until the final 25km.

Weather: a mild day, temperatures of 20°C (68°F) and veiled skies with a wind that’ll be from the south-west making it almost a headwind for most of the stage but which could turn to a pesky crosswind towards the end, especially if it exceeds 30km/h.

Food: biscuits play a big role in the town’s economy with a large factory down the road and the surrounding fields are famous for their potatoes that keep Belgians and the north of France in frites. But if you are more adventurous try some rabbit cooked in a local Tournay beer. Once a year the town holds a festival the day after Epiphany on the Christian calendar, ie in early January and the phrase in Picard dialect goes “‘A Tournai, pou bin fair’ cell’ fiête, l’ceu qui n’a pos d’lapin n’a rien!” or in today’s English “you gotta get a rabbit to party in Tournai”.

Do: visit the town. A lot of the area has seen better days, even if the prosperity of the past rhymed with coal mining and grim times. But Tournai has its scenic parts including the tallest church tower in the area, an obvious landmark for such a flat place. Keen cyclists can ride over to the pavés of Paris-Roubaix, a cobblestone’s throw over the border in France.

Don’t: make a mistake. The first sprint finish of the race looks like a nailed-on certainty and riders will be reaching 70km/h as they head into town. The smallest mistake on a corner, too much or too little braking and you lose 20 places, worse you could lose control and crash out of the race.

22 thoughts on “The Spin: Stage 2”

  1. Griepel looked very strong yesterday on front of the train so I think he may be the man to beat. Can’t wait to see Goss, Griepel, Sagan and Cavendish battle it out.

  2. Very difficult to call this one, which is a refreshing change compared to recent years. Has Cavendish lost some top end with the weight loss? Can Sagan really mix it with Cavendish, Greipel and Kittel on a flat run in? Looking forward to finding out and fingers crossed there are no crashes to spoil it all.

      • Yes, I had quite forgotten about the intermediate sprint format – the one sprint, more places/points format certainly adds considerably to days like today where a bunch sprint is almost inevitable. Really enjoyed the change last year.

        On that note it was interesting to see Cavendish going for yesterdays inter – maybe it really is touch and go whether he decides to go to Paris, though of course he could just be looking for a run in green or some such.

    • Consider this: Sagan beat Tom Boonen in flat bunch-sprints in 3 stages in this year’s ToC in mid-to-late May. Peter won 5 of the 8 stages in the ToC! Stage 8 was Sagan and Boonen head-to-head in an all-out sprint and following Sagan’s explosive victory, Tommeke just shook his head with a look of utter disbelief. This wasn’t the only stage TB was absolutely dumbfounded.

      At only 22, Peter has the skill, tactical sense and mental toughness of a much more experienced rider/sprinter, obviously. Watch the video of Stage 8’s finish in downtown LA; slide the red icon to 7:45 (it’s a long 11:39 minute-video otherwise) and you’ll see the critical part of the stage, namely Sagan’s absolute raw power to out-sprint Boonen.

      To answer your question, “Can Sagan really mix it with Cavendish, Greipel and Kittel on a flat run in?” I’m driven to say that I really think he can mix it with most anyone. That being said, this is the TdF and tactics are everything with the best sprinters/teams/trains in the world present. Sagan and Cav know whose wheel to sit on and know when to strike.

      Being that today’s sprint finish is only 7 meters wide dictates precision by teams to set their sprinters up perfectly, and it’s often based on unforeseen variables. Sometimes pure luck.

      The big question that will be answered is: Can Sagan win against Greipel, Kittel and Cav in a long sprint. Cav has Eisel, but Lotto and Argos-Shimano have more support and good wheels to sit on.
      Cav and Sagan are quite adept at timing and positioning, choosing the best wheels to sit on and proving they can win with shrewd judgment.

      Positioning and lead-out on a narrow run-in. Greipel is on a roll with pure sprinters’ legs. Kittel is right there, too. A slimmed down Cav still has world-class fast-twitch fibers and wears the stripes, and Sagan has the challenge of his life.

      It doesn’t get any better than this!

    • Really difficult, but even though he’s not a given, I feel Cavendish is still the one to beat. Will today’s result will be a “Changing of the Guard?”

    • So top end still intact for Cavendish, jury out on Sagan who got a bit boxed but probably not quite there on the flat. Cavendish and Greipel still look like they are a notch above though it was a shame to see Kittel go out the back with stomach problems. AND no crashes 🙂

  3. It will be fascinating to see who wins today. The loss of the High Road team was a very sad loss for cycling, but the plus side is that the sprints will be much more of an uncertainty this year. As ever, the key to success will be positioning and a strong leadout team will be essential for this. I’ve been very impressed with Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol team in this respect, which for me just gives him the edge. Kittel, Cavendish and Goss will be close too. I still have my doubts about Renshaw at this very top level, and Sagan doesn’t quite have the out and out speed of his rivals on this type of finish. But as we saw in the Giro, the unpredictability of the sprint finish means that the stage could be won by any one of those you mention, given a huge slice of good fortune. Can’t wait!

  4. Funny to read everywhere the expression “THE breakaway”, as if there was a rule that there would be one on every stage, and only one. Given contemporary GPS-based race dynamics, I consider it unintelligent and unadmirable for riders to accept getting into “the breakaway” knowing fully well that there are no chances of success. I would consider it more intelligent and admirable if, once a breakaway is formed, more riders continue to leave the peloton, in order to increase its numbers, and reach a critical mass that can allow the breakaway to compete with the peloton.
    Cav is still the only favourite today. All other teams have better chances of winning by joining breakaways than in a sprint.
    Yet I am sure that the sprint will be allowed to happen, that’s why I will watch it only tonight on youtube, if there has been a surprise result.

    • The breakaway serves many purposes beyond a slim hope for victory for it’s members. It would take a primer by Inner Ring to explain all the benefits.

    • I think you under value the break aways .. Often the racing for the first hour is close to 50 kmh until the break away gets established.. Don’t know if you’ve done much in the way of racing yourself but to get away doing 50 for an hour from the get go and then to keep it up merits respect. For the Peter Sagan lovers , I still think Cav is the man to beat … Saw him at the tour in 2010 and the amount of distance he can put between him and second place really is daylight. The tv coverage doesn’t do him justice , I’m not a Cav fan boi by any stretch but when it is a flat run in , he will always be there.

      • This is a competition. I value breakaways when they make it to the finish line, or at least when there is some element of uncertainty, and so should the riders. In fact, I love it when they succeed. If “getting to the breakaway” was a respectable goal in itself, it would be complementary to the sprinters’ goal of winning the stage, and it would spoil the competition.

        • There are many other advantages to getting in a breakaway. A extremely simplified example; if Lotto had a man in and Argos-Oil did not then it would rest on Argos-Oil to drive the peleton, giving the Lotto train less work to do thus having more at the end.

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