Astana rider rides into yellow jersey with bold final attack
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was the surprise winner on stage two of the Tour de France after jumping clear from a group of favourites with a late attack. The Italian champion also took over the race lead, as he finished the stage two seconds ahead of Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQS).Overnight leader Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) was unable to survive the day’s nine climbs and was dropped on the stage with Nibali’s two second lead enough to move him into yellow and head of Peter Sagan (Cannondale). There were multiple attacks on the final climb, Jenkin Road, with Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, and Tejay van Garderen all featuring. Pre-stage favourite Peter Sagan carefully marked a number of attacks but he had no answer when Nibali attacked inside the final two kilometres.
The Italian established a small gap on his rivals and despite another late effort from Froome and world champion Rui Costa, he had enough to seal the win and Italy’s first yellow jersey since 2009.
Nibali called it a “wonderful victory! It pays me off for all the sacrifices. The beginning of the season has been a difficult one for me but I’ve trained hard with my team-mates for the Tour de France and my confidence is now boosted by the two victories I just got, at the Italian championship and here today.”
It was also Nibali’s first Tour stage win, and the first stage win by an Italian national champion since 1999.
Kittel had never been seriously expected to defend his race lead, but was able to hang on to the lead group until the fifth of the day’s nine climbs. He fell back into the grupetto, finally crossing the finish line over 15 minutes down.
“Despite 3,000 altitude metres I had a good time on the bike,” said Kittel after the stage. “The fans were incredible, there are no words for that and it was an awesome day. I was in front and there were so many people I just yelled at them to tell them to be even louder pretending like I couldn’t hear them – I thought I lost my hearing.”
Welcome to Yorkshire
The peloton took off from York without Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) who was forced out of the race after a crash near the end of the first stage left him with a serious shoulder injury. He was at the start, his arm in a sling, as he briefly talked to the media before departing. The break of the day formed almost straight after the flag was dropped with Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), Blel Kadri (AG2R La Mondiale), Perrig Quemeneur (Team Europcar), David De La Cruz Melgarejo (Team NetApp-Endura), Armindo Fonseca (Bretagne-Séché Environnement) and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis, Solutions Credits) going clear. Bart de Clerq (Lotto Belisol) soon made contact, to make it seven leaders. The peloton seemed happy with this group and let them go, with Giant-Shimano relaxed at the front. The gap peaked at just over three minutes and was hovering around the two minute mark at the day’s only intermediate sprint.
The break didn’t contest the sprint but it was more fast and furious when the peloton came by with Bryan Coquard (Europcar) taking it ahead of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale). There were a number of minor crashes along the way, with even yellow jersey Kittel hitting the deck at one point. Lemoine had taken the one point on offer at the first climb, the Blubberhouses. Quemeneur was determined to grab the two points at the second climb, so he took off and picked them up in a solo move, with Lemoine getting the one point for second place.
The third climb, Hebden Bridge, saw huge crowds, and also Lemoine taking the points ahead of de la Cruz. That put the Frenchman in a tie with Jens Voigt for the KOM, and there were still six more climbs to go. The gap was again around the two minute mark. That climb looked to have been the cue for the field to wake up though and the gap soon dropped to one minute and then kept falling.
As they started up the day’s only category 2 climb of Holme Moss Greipel was spotted dropping off the back with 62km to go, and yellow jersey Kittel was the next to go.
The attacks start
Thomas Voeckler then attacked. Most of the break had been reeled in as the Europcar rider caught the only remaining rider, Kadri, but the AG2R rider crested the climb alone, while Voeckler was joined by Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), who took second on the climb.
The peloton was 1:15 back and Kittel over three minutes down, having also punctured. Voeckler and Edet moved back into a high-powered chase group, which also included Tony Martin (Omega Pharma QuickStep), Marcus Burghardt (BMC) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar), less than 30 seconds back. Sagan was over a minute back in the peloton and slowly realized that such riders as Martin and Burghardt could prove dangerous to his dreams of a stage win and the yellow jersey. Cannondale turned up the speed and caught themwith Kadri captured soon after.
Garmin-Sharp then moved to the head of the field, as they led up the day’s sixth climb, the Midhopestones. Tom-Jelte Slagter and Andrew Talansky took the few points available on the category three climb. The increased tempo and the continuous climbing took its toll. The lead group, headed by Garmin, held only some 20 to 30 riders, including Froome and Contador. With 30km to go, Froome sent his teammates to the front to take control.
The last four climbs were bunched fairly close together. Climb number seven, Bradfield (cat. 4), saw Sky move to the front again and drive towards Oughtibridge.
Pierre Rolland (Europcar) took the two points, and Ag2r’s Jean-Christophe Peraud the next point, as they pulled away from the field. The French duo continued their attack on the descent, sensing an opportunity. Sky, Cannondale and BMC were up front in the chasing group. Peraud was caught first, and Rolland hung desperately to his slim lead, taking 14 seconds into the final 10km. He was caught within 2km.
One more climb remained, Jenkin Road, topping out with 5km to go. Only a category four, it nevertheless seemed destined to play a role. Orica Green-Edge took over the lead work, working for Michael Albasini, but Cannondale wasn’t going to let this one get away. Then Contador moved to the front, with Nibali and Froome right behind him.
Froome attacked as they neared the top, catching his rivals by surprise. Van Garderen led the others back up to him, but the Sky rider was first over the climb. Fuglsang took off on the descent, with Froome then leading the chase to neutralize him.
Attack followed attack, with Sagan marking them all. With 2km to go, Nibali jumped and quickly pulled away. Porte and Sagan looked at one another in the chase, but it appeared that no one could organize anything to catch the Italian champion. By the time the group turned up the speed again, it was too late and Nibali pulled off the upset.