Tour de France Stage 2 Preview

It doesn’t stand out on on the profile thanks to the modest y-axis but today’s two climbs of the San Luca climb are hard and the final hour should be lively.

De l’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours de l’audace: “focussing on certain stages… … I hope to profit more from the fervour of the Tour” wrote Romain Bardet in his column for Saturday’s L’Equipe, the idea being he’d pick some stages instead of going for the yellow jersey. This prophecy looked ambitious when he tried to get in the day’s breakaway but didn’t make it.

Instead his team mate Frank van den Broek launched a very solid breakaway. Uno-X missed the move and fired off riders in pursuit, it looked forlorn until Jonas Abrahamsen bridged across and he’d sprint to enough hilltops to take the mountains jersey, a deserved reward.

With 52km to go Romain Bardet shot out of the what was left of the peloton in an unplanned move on the San Leo climb, although he’d asked Warren Barguil to fetch him some ice and a bidon so he could go equipped.

He quickly bridged across to what was left of the breakaway with the help of Van Den Broek who was able to help as a precious relay. The pace was too much for Abrahamsen and then Madouas who paid for their earlier uphill sprints to leave the DSM tandem in the lead with Ben Healy stuck en chasse patate.

Two minutes lead looked promising on the road to Rimini but the gap was melting like mozzarella dropped on the tarmac as several teams joined in the chase. With 5km to go the gap was below 30 seconds, 3km it was 20 seconds with the pair now in sight of the peloton and the hope that Bardet could get a well0deserved win was fading fast. Yet the hardest part of closing a gap is the last part and the chasing teams were running out of riders, all while some seemed to be holding back in order to lead out their sprinters. 2km and 14 seconds as Matteo Jorgenson took a big turn in the streets of Rimini. 1km and 10 seconds…

Bardet took the stage and the yellow jersey while Franck Van Den Broek didn’t finish the day empty handed with the combativity prize, the green jersey, the white jersey and hopefully a free drink any time he walks into a bar in France. It was close but the pair had just enough time to sit up and share the moment.

Bardet’s best win? Le Bettex in 2016 was a coup, attacking down the Domancy descent to win the day and hoist himself onto the podium, his goal at the time but a source of stress too, a deliverance, this was joy. He’s a different rider now, no duty to ride for GC and now with irony is he’s got the yellow jersey. Long an exemplary rider whose strived to make the most of his talent, he was going on personal altitude training camps armed with a sheaf of academic literature on the subject; later dragging the Ag2r team towards his meticulous ambitions where staff nicknamed him “toujours plus” (always more) for his demands.

Elsewhere, after a hard day’s racing in broiling heat a few bids for the top-10 were over before they started with Alexey Lutsenko losing 24 minutes and Groupama-FDJ pair David Gaudu and Lenny Martinez losing even more, Gaudu saying he’s still recovering from Covid. Mark Cavendish and Fabio Jakobsen had it rougher, the Manxman was dropped early and had most of his team around him including Michele Gazzoli who didn’t finish the stage even if Cavendish and Jakobsen eventually did.

The Route: 199km and 1850m of vertical gain. A start in Cesenatico to exhume the memories of Pantani once more before heading into the hills of Emilia-Romagna where the clay soils have had their role in cycling, because transformed into tiling by the likes of Ariostea and Panaria they’ve funded eponymous cycling teams and because these tiles need to be stuck to walls and floors and the gaps in between filled in, sparked the need for products from Mapei which also had its team.

More recently the Gallisterna name might be familiar if you remember the 2020 World Championships. These climbs are small but help spice up what can otherwise be a flat stage, the Giro often sticks to the Via Emilia and the plains, eg Stage 13 this year.

The Finish: a ride into Bologna to ride around the old city walls on a boulevard to cross the finish line then with two times up the glorious but fearsome climb to the Basilica San Luca.

Used every year in the late season Giro dell’Emilia and in the Giro at times too this is a hard with double-digit gradients right from the start. 1.9km at 10% doesn’t sound like much but it’s got a hard start to rob momentum and acceleration after is expensive.

An urban climb it is lined by a brick-built portico all the way up so people can walk to the hilltop basilica in the shade. The road itself though is exposed and with long ramps. The 19% on the profile above is the inside line around the “orphan’s curve” where it’s more like 16% here. The second time up offers a time bonus if 8-5-2 seconds for the first three.

It’s the same descent as Emilia too which helps but the pressure of the Tour is different of course and the race then takes the big boulevard around the old city walls, no obvious difficulties but stressful as riders will jostle for position going into the climb knowing it takes a big effort to make up just a few metres on a climb like this.

Then it’s off the climb again and a flat run around town to finish with a 900m long flat section.

The Contenders: DSM are likely to chase any early breakaway and we should see the GC teams take over later as they’ll want to pace their leaders into place for the foot of the climb. Each time too, meaning anyone launching the first time up the San Luca might take 10-15 seconds over the top but good luck holding this on the streets of Bologna, let alone preserving this the next time up.

An uphill kick? Primož Roglič (Redbull-Bora-Hansgrohe) is the obvious pick but as he gets older has he still got the same searing jump? He has just won two stages of the Dauphiné with his modus operandi. His team are strong too to help get him in place.

And yet competition is going to be fierce today with Tadej Pogačar (UAE) the other obvious choice to clean up in town after, a beefier sprint as we saw in Rimini yesterday. There’s a theory that today’s stage gives Pogačar a bigger advantage over Vingegaard than the Galibier as the Dane just doesn’t do one day races and is more at ease on a long climb. So twice up the San Luca plays into Pogačar’s comparative advantage and UAE should lean into this but comparative because maybe Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-LAB) can put on a show too while team mate Wout Van Aert has a chance but could be on team duties today which makes him a harder pick.

Longer shots already include Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny), Tom Pidcock (Ineos) and Oscar Onley (DSM).

Roglič, Pogačar
Van Gils, Ciccone, Pidcock, Bilbao, Onley, WvA

Weather: warm and sunny, 33°C at the finish Bologna. A WSW wind will blow at 15km/h and could gust to 25km/h which is borderline crosswind weather again for the sections where the race uses the long and exposed Via Emilia sections.

TV: KM0 is at 12.35pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm CEST. Tune in for the final hour to see the race reach Bologna, the two climbs of the San Luca and the edge-of sofa descents.

Postcard from Brisighella
Brisighella is 70km into today’s stage. Today every parameter going in cycling seems to be measured. L’Equipe has had a good series this week on the modernisation of cycling in recent years, one piece asked if riders are becoming lab rats. For years power and heart rate have been measured in training and racing and lactate levels logged during training camps. Now teams are trying to explore all sorts of measures. UAE coach Iñigo San Milan told the newspaper (translated):

With two drops of blood we can see between a thousand and two thousand parameters, the metabolic responses, the recovery capacity, all the glycolic path or the mitochondria“.

Now two thousand signals sounds like be noise are instructive but teams trying to find the signals. In recent years blood glycogen and body temperature sensors have appeared as commercial products and so they’ve been in the limelight. Hydration monitors are probably next. But monitoring blood levels is private and discreet among each team, it’s not a commercial thing and there’s probably a weariness to talk about haematology given the sport’s past. Perhaps one day all sorts of haematological, endocrinal values will be logged live during a race, even on display on a bike computer. We’re not there yet.

What’s this all got to do with Brisighella? Well just as the race leaves Faenza to ride to Brisighella so did Davide Cassani many times. He was a pro from 1982 to 1996, and recently the Italian national team selector and now again a pundit on RAI, Italian state TV and he also came up with the route today. This was his warm-up along the straight road that gradually climbs up the Lamone valley. Then turn at Brisighella for the SP23 to Riolo Terme. Here the road kicks up with some hairpin bends. It’s just a two kilometre climb but Monticino was considered enough for Cassani to test his form: if he felt good on the climb then he knew he’d be alright in a race. During his time he probably had a stop watch and later a heart rate monitor but feeling was his guide. Indeed it still counts for plenty and a rider who feels they’re floating up the climb out of Brisighella might fancy their chances later on the San Luca, no matter what their bike computer says.

63 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 2 Preview”

  1. Thanks again for the previews!
    Last year in the Emilia UAE went full train in the climb and lost to Roglic. This time I expect UAE (with a differnet team setup) to try maybe to go early with Ayuso (if he’s fit), Almeida or Yates to test out the others. Remco will probably struggle although he’ll likely be glad the finish is not at the summit.
    Visma and Bora will probably be happy with everyone coming home together.

  2. A great stage, result and already a good Tour for DSM. FDJ must be glum and with no sprinter to compensate. Why did they take Gaudu if they half expected yesterday’s result? It was a double risk with Martinez too.

    A few years ago S Yates would have had a chainring for today.

    • FDJ are struggling this season and Gaudu can still do things later on if his health perks up, Bardet could be an inspiration of not trying to go for GC but instead racing for thrills and wins. Easier said than done, GC contenders are paid millionaire salaries so you can see where the incentives are.

      Simon Yates is a crafty rider for a sprint in a small group… but Pogačar and Roglič just seem that better at cleaning up.

  3. Will be interesting to see how Bardet attempts to defend yellow.
    As for the GC race, it felt like continuing from last year: Pogacar tries for bonuses, Van Aert scoops them up instead, while Vingegaard does yoga at the back and waits.

  4. Steve Cummings, sitting in the McLaren/Britannia suite at Silverstone, must be satisfied. All their hopefuls finished well without breaking sweat. Who needs a van when you have a/c? Today’s climb is only a bit longer than an XCO effort.

  5. Ridiculously hard for an opening stage, I can see the riders having a “day off” even before the weeks out. What’s with putting on your own jersey backstage? can’t they organise the podium properly without Bernard.

    • Helluva lot safer and simpler than a GC train/sprint train 5km to go/finish line roundabouts/road furniture/90 degree turns shambles across the border.

      The racers make the race, and 46 of them managed to finish in the same time as van Aert at 5 seconds. Those that didn’t seemed to be sick or off form rather than crash damaged or delayed.

      Easily net positive I reckon.

      • I don’t think the riders made it hard.

        Apart from Cavendish and Jakobsen, the riders losing time mostly looked to be just taking it easy and conceding time on a day with generous time cur coefficients and no need to work for a bunch sprint. They are now marked as non-GC riders who can make moves without causing concern for the contenders.

      • “Ridiculously hard for an opening stage”, no I don’t think so. If it was n’t 35C then it would have been easier, but it at least spared us the normal panic in the peloton to avoid crashing with a big bunch sprint. Thanks to a 5 hour long stage and 200 km in the legs, things should be calmer and guys wanting to go for stage wins and not GC can do.

  6. Is the stage too difficult for Van Aert? He coped well with the Imola climbs at the WC a few years ago, and did similarly ok in the Basque stages last year. And he seems to be in decent form here, surprising himself yesterday with his performance. The descent and flat finish could help him recover and get back to the front if dropped on the steep gradients?

    That said, I expect both Pogacar and Roglic will be hunting bonus seconds today, which could blow up the front group.

  7. Yesterday worked out better than I feared (though Tadej Pogacer still came in fourth in what was a bunch sprint!). Chapeau to Romain Bardet, hopefully he can keep the jersey until at least Tuesday.

  8. Well, as for years I have watched the races also for ‘touristic aesthetics’, I have to admit that, so far, the Tour looks like a Giro shifted in the calendar to a summer spot. Viva Il Giro and Le Tour!

    • … and long live The Inner Ring, obviously. Chapeau for providing us with intetesting content, which lets me enjoy my morning coffe a bit more.

  9. Saying hello as a very appreciative longtime reader visiting the race in Bologna to point out that the race doesn’t finish at the top of San Luca as per Giro del’Emilia but in downtown Bologna near the station after the second ascent. Makes it harder for Roglic to win and a bit more open in general? Should be a really exciting finish as a consequence.

  10. Pédants corner here: the full and proper name of the Basilica is The Madonna Di San Luca, because the object of the pilgrimage up to the top of the mountain is to see a miraculous Ikon of the Madonna, reputedly painted from life by Saint Luke.

    Ive walked the covered way in both directions, and for those who are not peloton fit ( like most pilgrims) it’s almost as hard coming down and going up- especially in a thunderstorm when the rainwater cascades down the gutter! Always muggy In Bologna, I hope the weather stays fine!

    This seems like it would have been a better final stage than the planned Nice yawn fest, shorn of the opportunity for triumphal stunts.

  11. What a thrilling finale to the opening stage of this year’s Tour. It was beautiful to see Romain Bardet in the Yellow Jersey.

    It was an amazing victory – I thought he had no chance when he attacked – but Romain knew better and took a legendary win. Franck VDB was outstanding – a new definitive of “emptying yourself for your team leader” – a la Van Den Broek

    • It was a tremendous effort….. But both could only achieve that result while helped by the motorbike of the tv. I guess the jury didn’t intervene again while it was a frenchman who could win the stage and take yellow. But I am happy for Bardet that he finally conquers the yellow jersey at the end of his career.

  12. “What the… EF?”

    (Has somebody any clue about EF’s movistarry tactics yesterday?)

    Ineos were confusing (or confused), too.

    I’d be curious to know why didn’t more riders/teams tried a move along the lines of Bardet’s (which would have also raised the chances of any similar attack through numbers).
    Bahrain? Pidcock? Other Uno-Xs (a huge lot of them on the front)?

    (The rest are more or less justified, too few men and/or a valid sprint/GC bid to take care of).

    UAE didn’t make much use of their potential, either. Just a minimal test on Vingo up Barbotto.
    All eggs in today’s basket? Pogi not feeling great due to Covid or heat? The co-leaders not willing to risk their own GC chances for teamwork’s sake? A desire to keep Ayuso still there in GC (he was struggling)?
    We’ll soon know more, for sure their keeping a low profile… for a stage, at least. And in this context Pogi’s sprint felt out of place to me.

  13. ” melting like mozzarella dropped on the tarmac”
    Come for the in-depth analysis, stay for the poetic turn of phrase!

  14. Is Davide Cassani the man most famous internationally for dropping ‘The Chicken’ into the soup?
    Meanwhile, a little, hopeful mention for MvdP for today. Maybe enough similarities to the Mur de Bretagne stage a couple of years ago.

      • Thank you for the Davide Cassani story.
        It was on an earlier stint with RAI that he accidentally outed Rasmussen: having seen him on a training ride he was commenting on his dedication. Just that it turned out Rasmussen was somewhere his ‘passport’ said he shouldn’t be.
        Cassani was subsequently in tears apologising for the consequences (OK, doping needs to be outed, but not like that!).
        A joy to listen to: an articulate and insightful commentator who also seems to be a thoroughly decent human being.

  15. editing ….

    “These climbs are small but help spice up what can otherwise be a flat stage, the Giro often” … and then the sentence finishes, I guess by mistake

  16. Anyone new to pro cycling and watching the mountains leader must think he’s lost a bet or suffers an unusual personality disorder.

    Quite the needless spectacle.

  17. Is that 2 stages in a row where a rider with out an inrg chainring won? When did this last happen? Am on this amazing blog often but not all the time. When last did the Oracle at Delphi not give a stages winners a chainring two predictions in a row?

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