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TOUR’15 St.2: Gorilla Gusts to Glory

Race Report: German Andre Greipel mastered the crosswinds to cruise to the first road stage win of the Tour this year. Behind him the main favourites were left scattered across the roads of the Netherlands as GC hope was extinguished for a number of riders.

What a day! The crosswinds starred as Andre Greipel led an elite group of favourites home on the island of Neeltje Jans. The big winners are Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Warren Barguil who gained significant time on pre-race favourites Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Thibault Pinot. We’re only 2 days into the 2015 Tour but already we have had the fastest stage in Tour history and now, one of the most exciting.

The Course
Flat, again. Flat as a Dutch pancake. Our high point is the nose-bleed inducing 6m of the Brouwersdam with 22km to go. What the Netherlands lack in height they make up for in wind, and with the last 50km all hugging tightly to the North Sea coast it is going to be a day punctuated by the effects of crosswinds as the peloton splits and reforms continuously on the way to the finish. The finish itself technically lies in the North Sea as it’s situated on the reclaimed island of Deltapark Neeltje Jans. The final lead-outs will take place on the bridge to the island, resulting in an exciting and unique finale.

Bit of a climb in the middle, if you have good eyesight

Depart Reel
After an exceptionally exciting opening to the Tour we start the second stage with substantial time gaps throughout the peloton, especially for AG2R’s Romain Bardet who is already 53 seconds down on his fellow French challenger Thibault Pinot (FDJ.fr). Christian Prudhomme dropped the flag to kick off the first road stage of the 2015 race and immediately we had a break go containing Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), Armindo Fonseca (Bretagne-Seche Environnement), Stef Clement (IAM Cycling) and Pierrig Quemeneur (Europcar). They quickly built up a lead of 2:45 as they meandered west across the country and towards wind and rain that was brewing at the finish. Their gap was held thanks to the work of Swiss national champion Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing Team) and the Etixx – Quick-Step team led by Polish rider Michael Golas.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 2
Rohan Dennis wasn’t so yellow at the finish

The Wind and the Rain
For the first 50km the race had been run in beautiful summer sunshine with the wind gently animating the numerous road side flags. As we hit the town of Gouda, famous for its cheese, the switch was hit and spots of rain started appearing on the camera and the trees lining the route were straining against the wind. The make-up of the front of the peloton also changed as the GC teams of Astana, Tinkoff-Saxo and Sky all moved up.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 2
The Tour leaves Utrecht

As we got to the 100km to go mark the roads became exposed and Sky, led by Kennaugh and Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front. The gap to the breakaway riders collapsed to less than 20 seconds but more importantly, the peloton started to split with a lead group of around 50 riders gaining 30 seconds on a chasing group containing Valverde (Movistar) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida). With so much riding to do and most of the big names still in the front group, the decision was made to knock back the pace and wait for later in the race. The pictures from the finish were as worrying for the peloton as they were exciting for the fans, a thick mist had descended and the VIPs were struggling to keep their yellow ponchos on in the extremely strong crosswinds.

The Race for Green
Thanks to the peloton easing off, the break were able to keep their meagre lead, but this wasn’t enough for Barta who clipped off the front of the peloton and took the intermediate sprint points in Rotterdam ahead of the remaining three breakaway riders. Behind, the serious green jersey riders were sprinting for 5th and John Degenkolb (Team Giant-Alpecin) took it ahead of Kristoff (Katusha), Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Cavendish (Etixx – Quick-Step). In the peloton we had the first major crash of the Tour with a number of riders including Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) going down, but there were no serious injuries and everyone got back on and headed off in pursuit.

At the front of the race: Barta was making the most of his new found freedom and had a 1 minute lead over the peloton and 20 seconds on his previous breakaway companions; Fonseca and Clement, Quemeneur had previously headed back into the peloton.

Ahead the break had reformed and were working well together but their gap was tumbling as Sky headed back to front and picked up the pace. The inevitable catch happened with 63km to go and it was gruppo compacto with a third of the race still to run.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 2
The black clouds were on the horizon

The increase in pace wasn’t significant but it was still enough to unhitch around 40 riders. It was turning into a very poor day for the Europcar team who had team leader Pierre Rolland trailing the main GC contenders by 40 seconds in the second group. The lead group were riding through a cloud burst and with a number of different teams all committing to the effort it looked like the stage winner, and maybe even the Tour winner would come from that group. Behind Joaquin Rodriguez had been caught out as had Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Jean Christophe Peraud (AG2R-La Mondiale). It was getting almost impossible now to follow the racing as groups were spread across the Dutch countryside.

As bad as it was going for Europcar, it was calamitous for Movistar as both Quintana and Valverde had been caught out and were chasing behind in the second group 48 seconds down. The Lotto Soudal led peloton were trying to set up Greipel but they were also smashing the hopes of, a seriously isolated, Nibali who was now in the second group, 22 seconds down, he was accompanied by race leader Rohan Dennis and FDJ’s Thibault Pinot. Up ahead the teams of Contador, Froome and Van Garderen were all riding with the knowledge that they were putting serious time gaps into all their major GC rivals.

The Quintana group were looking strong with Movistar and Astana working together. The Kazakh team were riding with the intention of bringing more domestiques up to their stricken team leader and as they emerged from the rain, the second group of Nibali, and the third group, of Quintana, combined to close down their 1 minute deficit.

The break goes through town

The End Game
Despite their increased firepower the second group were only able to hold the gap at 1 minute, they weren’t making any impression on it yet. For Nibali it was a case of, “it doesn’t rain it pours” and as soon as his group closed to less than 1 minute he punctured and was then given a very slow wheel change. He kept his team mates ahead and moved up through the cars to rejoin.

With under 20km to ride and the gap at 58 seconds, it was clear that the lead group were going to stay clear but the question was how much could the second group close? If they could get under 30 seconds then it was still very much game on in the overall. If they couldn’t close to less than 1 minute then it would be a significant handicap this early in the race.

Although Tinkoff-Saxo had done an amazing job to get Contador into the lead group they were now beset by bad luck as both Bennati and Sagan were the victims of punctures with only the Slovakian able to get back on.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 2
Peter Sagan fought back after a puncture, but it was Fabian Cancellara who took the yellow jersey

Despite the front group losing men they were now gaining time, the gap was out to 1:23 and what had previously been a well organised chase was now falling apart.

With less than 2km to go it was going to be a battle between the three remaining sprinters; Cavendish, Greipel and Sagan. Etixx had monopolised the front of the peloton but they were running out of men. Behind him Greipel was sitting on the British riders wheel with Sagan on his wheel. The Etixx man went early and Greipel was able to sit behind him, the German blasted past as Cavendish faded to be beaten by Sagan and Cancellara, who took a time bonus for third which was enough to put him into the yellow jersey. It was a huge disappointment for Etixx – Quick-Step who had done a massive amount of work for no reward.

Tour de France 2015 - stage 2
It was close, but Greipel knew he had it

The second group came in 1:27 back and it will now be a huge challenge for the likes of Quintana, Pinot or Nibali to win this race, it’s only day 2 though.

Keep it PEZ for Gordan’s day on the Tour and the EuroTrash catch-up on Monday.

Tour de France Stage 2 Result:
1. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal in 3:29:03
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo
3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek
4. Mark Cavendish (GB) Etixx – Quick-Step
5. Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC
6. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC
7. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky
8. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Alpecin
9. Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step
10. Warren Barguil (Fra) Giant-Alpecin
11. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 0:04
12. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky
13. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo
14. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx – Quick-Step
15. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal
16. Mark Renshaw (Aus) Etixx – Quick-Step
17. Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto Soudal
18. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff-Saxo
19. Michael Schär (Swi) BMC at 0:08
20. Michael Rogers (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo
21. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC at 0:11
22. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx – Quick-Step
23. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky
24. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Etixx – Quick-Step at 0:15
25. Tyler Farrar (USA) MTN-Qhubeka at 1:28.

Tour de France Overall After Stage 2:
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek in 3:44:01
2. Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step at 0:03
3. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Alpecin at 0:06
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo at 0:33
5. Geraint Thomas (GB) Sky at 0:35
6. Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC at 0:42
7. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Etixx – Quick-Step
8. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 0:44
9. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC at 0:48
10. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky
11. Michael Rogers (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo at 0:53
12. Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx – Quick-Step at 0:54
13. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal at 0:59
14. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 1:00
15. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto Soudal
16. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff-Saxo at 1:08
17. Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto Soudal at 1:12
18. Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC at 1:13
19. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Etixx – Quick-Step at 1:19
20. Ian Stannard (GB) Team Sky at 1:20
21. Mark Cavendish (GB) Etixx – Quick-Step at 1:24
22. Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Alpecin at 1:25
23. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC at 1:26
24. Mark Renshaw (Aus) Etixx – Quick-Step at 1:48
25. Matthias Brandle (Aut) IAM Cycling at 1:49.

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