Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tour de France: Stage 2 Preview & Favorites

We expected chaos, we expected crashes and we expected a bunch sprint. Yet, Stage 1 managed to surprise us. Marcel Kittel took the first Yellow Jersey but it won't be easy for him to keep on Stage 2. It’s a short stage of only 156 km and that means a fast day in the saddle.

The Route
The intermediate sprint is located in Castello Di-Rostino after just 33 km. That means a break most likely won’t get away as early as on Stage 1. The climbs and the finish - more on that later - will make it hard for Mark Cavendish to fight for the win. Therefore, the Manxman needs to win the intermediate sprint in order not to lose terrain in the fight for the Green Jersey.

The first categorized climb starts after 63 km but actually, the road already kicks up 15 km earlier. This is a great place for a breakaway to be established and with three KOM sprints within the next 50 km, many riders will be eager to get away. Euskaltel’s sprinter Juanjo Lobato could try to hang on to the Polka Dot Jersey but I doubt it. The first climb isn’t very steep but the next two both have an average gradient of 6‑7 % and are better suited Lobato’s strong teammates.

There are about 60 km to go from the top of the penultimate climb and after a descent of more than 30 km, there’s only one obstacle left for the riders to overcome before the final.

The Finish
With 13 km to go, the peloton faces Côte du Salario. This little category 3 climb is only 1 km long but it has an average gradient of 8.9 %. The long descent from Col de Vizzavona isn’t very technical and the teams of the pure sprinters will have to push hard in order to come back. I expect most of the sprinters to be in the peloton when Côte du Salario starts. Cannondale and Peter Sagan knows they need to drop Cavendish and Kittel on the climb and they will probably set a high speed early on the stage to make sure Cavendish is already tired reaching the final climb.
The last 10 km of Stage 2 - click for larger view.
The final 10 km takes place alongside the Mediterranean Sea without any difficult corners to tackle. The sprinters dropped on Côte du Salario will have to work hard to come back and even if they manage to, they will have problems again with 2 km to go. Here the road kicks up with about 5 % for 500 meters and if Cannondale and other teams can keep a high speed, I doubt the pure sprinters will make it back.

The Favorites
As you can see, my big favorite is Peter Sagan. He’s not as fast as Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel but on a route like this one, he’s the best. Sagan has no problems overcoming the climbs and if Cavendish isn’t in the bunch, this is a day Sagan can’t afford to miss out. Sagan not only aims to win the Green Jersey again this year, he also wants to wear the Yellow Jersey. The Cannondale team is built up around him with a special focus on the team time trial to keep Peter Sagan in yellow should Stage 2 and 3 go as planned. Therefore, they won’t let a break get too far away. King Sagan wants the Yellow Jersey and Cannondale will do whatever they can to make it happen. The only question is how Sagan's body will respond after his crash on Stage 1. Sagan went down hard and you know it's serious when he doesn't do any stunts crossing the finishing in a small group. The Slovakian Wonderboy will be eager to take revenge and he really needs a good place on this stage if he wants to wear the Yellow Jersey after Stage 3.

One of the few riders who can come close to Peter Sagan is John Degenkolb. Argos-Shimano is not all about Marcel Kittel, they also have Degenkolb who won five (!) stages in last year’s Vuelta España. I doubt Kittel can get over the climbs - despite yellow wings - near the front but Degenkolb shouldn't have problems. The strong German went head-to-head with Peter Sagan in Tour de Suisse recently but didn’t really have the speed to pass him in the final. Still, the Tour de France is a different thing and with a long straight out sprint, Degenkolb may have a chance.

It wouldn’t be fair not to mention Matt Goss on a stage like this one. The Australian sprinter won a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this year against Sagan, Greipel and Cavendish. Again, it’s important to note the difference between the Italian one-week stage race and Tour de France. The route on Stage 2 favors Matt Goss compared to the pure sprinters and I’m sure GreenEdge will try to set him up again. Personally, I doubt he can beat Peter Sagan but with a perfect leadout from Daryl Impey, it’s definitely not impossible. Another thing is that Daryl Impey finished 11th on Stage 1. That means that if GreenEdge can set him up for a top place - in front of the 10 other riders form Stage 1 - Impey could end up in yellow! That should give the Australian team something to think about...

The Jokers
I could use the joker section to name a few good riders for a breakaway but I honestly can’t see a break making it on this stage. This is a golden opportunity for riders like Sagan and Goss (both with two dedicated teams) to get rid of Cavendish and the others before the final sprint and they need to control the race. Instead, I’d like to point out Tony Gallopin. The young Frenchman is in great shape right now and he was very close in the French Nationals last week when he took the bronze medal. Gallopin is very fast on the line in a reduced group and he shouldn’t have any problems overcoming the climbs. Unfortunately Tony Gallopin also went down in the big crash on Stage 1. He didn't break anything but reports pain in his right arm, back and right hip. If he can cope with the pain this is a good opportunity for him but if not let's look to other jokers.

First one is the new French Champion, Arthur Vichot. He was outstanding in the French Nationals keeping Gallopin and Chavanel behind him and he's also very fast in a reduced group. Nacer Bouhanni is FDJ’s designated sprinter but if he can’t keep up on the hills, I would expect FDJ to try setting up Vichot for the sprint.

Another one who should find this stage appealing is Francesco Gavazzi. While teammates Brajkovic, Lutsenko and Murayev all crashed, Gavazzi somehow managed to stay upright. The Italian rider is fast on the line and he has no problems with these kind of climbs. Gavazzi has been very consistent in Top5 this year and if everything works out for him, he could take his first win of the season in Ajaccio.

Also, look out for Samuel Dumoulin. The little French sprinter took 6th place on Stage 1 and with another top performance; he could very well end up in the yellow jersey after the stage.

Favorite: Peter Sagan
Jokers: Tony Gallopin / Arhur Vichot / Francesco Gavazzi

For live race coverage go to

Just like during the Giro d’Italia this year, I once again have the chance to bring you daily “Fly Through” previews from Global Cycling Network. Here is Stage 2:


  1. Does Cannondale have the team to get over the climbs (faster than the sprinters), So they can keep the sprinters away. I mean Sagan cant drive to the finish line from the top of the mountain alone, he needs someone, and if his team cant help him... ?

  2. I think the point would be for the Cannondale team and others to split the peleton, thus becoming a small group of better climbers, than the top sprinters - who would then possibly work together on the way down and home to fight for the win between them. Or just by going the faster speeds uphill, draining out enough energy from the sprinters and their lead-out trains so they can can be beaten in the end.
    These are my thoughts any ways :)

    Crazy stage 1 huh!!?

    Great site also! Thanks a million.