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Beyond the Peloton


July 5, 2010 11:20 AM

Stage 2: The Peloton 'Strikes' Back

And we thought yesterday's Stage 1 was bad.

In the words of Levi Leipheimer, Stage 1 was a "card game" compared to the littered bodies, spilled blood and tattered jerseys produced by Stage 2. Almost all the principals were battered and bruised, including Lance Armstrong, who tweeted this: "Got some good 'road rash' on the hip and elbow. Bike mangled, cleat on the shoe completely cracked in two. Hope it's dry tomorrow."

t1larg.lance.gi.jpgThe narrow and slick roads in the Ardennes threw not just the cyclists off their bikes, but cameramen off motorcycles as well. After repeated crashes and delays, the peloton decided that they've had it. With maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara serving as the chief negotiator, the cyclists reached a truce and basically went on strike. Once the main pack got together, no one rode hard toward the finish.

The primary beneficiary is France's Sylvain Chavanel, who had been on a stage-long breakaway. There was little doubt that the peloton would've reeled him in toward the end, but the riders decided to not even try. Cancellara's diplomacy cost himself the yellow jersey, but allowed his teammate Andy Schleck to ride back into the race after a hard crash that left him a couple of minutes behind.

The other losers were Thor Hushovd and Robbie McEwen, two sprinters who managed to stay in the front of the pack and could've gained considerable edge on Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar, who were both left behind by the climbs and crashes. But because of Cancellara's negotiations, race officials decided to award sprint points only to Chavanel at the finish.

So Chavanel and Quick Step will have to defend the 3-minute advantage and the yellow as the Tour finally enters France tomorrow in Stage 3. The crashes and the "strike" (very appropriately a French kind of thing to do) have thrown the Tour for a loop. But the cobblestones are next, and it's bound to get even more interesting.

Preview of Stage 3
(Wanze to Arenberg-Porte du Hainaut)

Maybe there won't be a rash of crashes in this stage now because the riders are going to be extra cautious. The final part of the route is set up like the classics
Paris-Roubaix race, with the course through narrow cobblestone roads. For the main GC contenders, self-preservation is the objective. You can't win the Tour in Stage 3, but you can certainly be out of it with a bad crash. 

Prediction: Thor Hushovd. We'll stick with the Norwegian sprinter, as he is in better shape than most of his competitors. Barring another breakaway and/or a surreal event like today, he should finally get the sprint finish he's looking for and grab the green jersey. Chavanel should be able to keep his yellow. With the Tour about to enter France, Quick Step will do everything it can to help the Frenchman stay in front.

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