Tour de France 2013: Stages 1 & 2
It’s Tour month! The Tour de France is back and celebrating its 100th year. Yet, despite being an event known for its unwavering devotion to tradition, this year’s Tour began unlike any other.
Saturday marked the first stage of the Tour de France 2013, and it began with a proper stage – no easing back into things with the usual prologue stage. Traditionally opening with a time trial, this year’s first stage was a flat group stage favoring the race’s sprinters.
The stage took place on the island of Corsica, spanning 213 kilometers of coastline from Porto-Vecchio up to Bastia. The only climb of the stage occurred early and got claimed by Juan José Lobato, of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team. The remainder of the short stage was devoted mostly to the organization of teams within the peloton, providing the opportunity for many major names to make an appearance at the front of the pack. Perhaps it was just luck, or perhaps it was the sense of the race’s special anniversary, but it seemed like the best of the best have managed to make it to the Tour de France this year with almost no key riders left out. The only exception being Bradley Wiggins (Sky) last year’s winner.
Chris Froome, Wiggins’ right hand man, is back this year, however, as the new leader of Team Sky. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) returns, whom we’ve missed due to disqualifications and suspensions. Contador’s old rival Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) is back, lost in last year’s Tour due to injury, as are promising young riders like American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) and Canada’s Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).
Saturday was shaping up to be the most relaxing stage the Tour had ever seen, with beaches, palm trees, oceans, and large white boats for scenery. But just when you thought Beyoncé was going to pop up on a yacht, disaster struck. Roughly 15 km from the finish line, one of the Orica Greenedge buses (driving at roughly 15 km/hr) crashed into, and got wedged right under, the finish line structure. Unable to free itself, race officials panicked and deemed the 3 km mark the new finish line.
Riders were informed that the stage would now be finishing 3 km earlier, but without markers to guide them, a major crash ensued. The crash took out several riders, including two key sprinters, André Greipel and Peter Sagan. Due to the confusion, all riders were given the same finish time, and there would be no sprint today. Disappointing, but not without drama, and ultimately the warm-up stage that riders needed.
The Orica bus was eventually freed, and the original finish line reopened. Though all riders would receive the same time, there was still opportunity to land the first yellow jersey of the Tour. In a last minute dash, Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) crossed over the finish line slightly ahead of his competitors, earning him,the yellow jersey (best overall), the green jersey (best sprinter), the white jersey (best young rider), and the disdain of every rider moving forward.
The second stage of this year’s Tour de France persisted with the same theme as the first: this round, tradition will play no part. In a week typically riddled with flat, sprinter stages, stage 2 boasted four climbs in total; three category 3 climbs, and one category 2 climb: The Col de Vizzavona.
The untraditional route is actually quite fitting for the 100th Tour de France. If this really is to be a landmark Tour, perhaps breaking away from the familiar will allow us to see whether or not seasoned riders can hold their own in the face of change, or whether a lack of familiarity really is a deal breaker.
Notable wins of the day included Pierre Rolland's (Europcar) attack on Vizzavona, earning him the polka dot jersey and effectively establishing him as a real threat for the overall King of the Mountains title. Another great aspect of the new route is that this stage first revealed which riders have come to this Tour in an effort to take home a jersey.
Speaking of taking home jerseys, in a demonstration of true sportsmanship and sacrifice, newly minted Best Young Rider Michal Kwiatkowski’s (Omega-Pharma Quickstep) performance in stage 2 was impressive enough to spark rumors that he’d try out for the General Classification this year, his first Tour de France. Kwiatkowski swiftly denied the idea, saying that he had come to the Tour with “other goals” and that his priorities lay in learning how to help his team.
In the end, it was Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard), one of six breakaway riders on yesterday’s stage, who proved lucky enough to have the legs to just barely hold off the peloton and ride over the finish line with a one second lead. The image of one man holding off a hundred other riders at his back was so powerful it almost made me want to start working out. It was an important win for Bakelants, who’s had few stage wins in his pro-cycling career, but a more important win for his team, who’ve had their fair share of bad press this last year – this was Lance Armstrong's team until it was bought out by Trek.
It looks like Bakelants’ real motivation was to prevent young Peter Sagan, a talented stage winner and notorious showboat, from winning a stage today. “I said [to the six other breakaway riders], ‘Come on, are we going to ride and be the first six riders, or are we just going to wait for the bunch to come back and see another win of Sagan?” he offered after the stage.
The only play was to ride on.