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TdF’09 St.2: Who Else But Cavendish
Race Report: The first road stage of this year’s Tour took the riders inland from the magnificent shores of the Mediterranean to the sprinting battleground of Brignoles. A sacrificial break provided a wholesome appetizer, but a wild bunch sprint was the main course on today’s menu.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind that is Mark Cavendish these days. Though we all long for the thrilling underdog fighters, there’s something about watching a dominant rider do his work. With each successive win from Mark Cavendish, his status as the world’s best sprinter bar none is further and further underlined, italicized, and emboldened. It’s a fact. If you go to the line with Mark Cavendish in a good position, your chances of victory are slim, and Cav’s are great.

And so it was today. The rocket propelled Columbia sprinter added another win and further fueled the Columbia Winning Machine. The leadout was perfect, the result in the bag before he ever got going. Tyler Farrar put in a valiant effort to come ’round Cavendish, but there was just nothing doing. It was a great effort, but he not only didn’t come around Cavendish, he lost ground in the closing meters. Instead, he had to contend with the man snapping at his heels – Agritubel’s Roman Feillu. Feillu nearly swiped 2nd place from Farrar’s fingertips.

Cav’s margin of victory? Three bike lengths.

Let’s Go Back
Stage 2 had bunch sprint written all over it since the days of the Tour presentation, but it wasn’t one of those typical early Tour flat moseys. This was a tough, rolling course of 187 km, and any sprinter hoping to take the stage would have to do battle with the insanity of an early Tour bunch sprint to go along with the ardors of the lumpy parcours.

Fabian Cancellara and Alberto Contador doing their best to look unhappy.

The stage started in Monaco, immediately headed up the Col de la Turbie at KM 8.5. After that, the race passed through Nice before heading inland to cover the Category 4 climbs of the Cфte de Roquefort-les-Pins, Cфte de Tournon, and the Col de l’Ange.

Columbia’s Tony Martin threw his hat in the ring for the Polka Dots when he took the KOM points over La Turbie. The race was still more or less intact at this point…but not for long.

The day’s break.

The break went soon after the first KOM containing Jussi Veikkanen (Franзaise des Jeux), Stef Clement (Rabobank), Cyril Dessel (AG2R La Mondiale), and Stйphane Augй (Cofidis. The four riders were allowed some space to do their thing, swipe up the intermediate points, fight for the KOMs, and generally just get really hot and tired whilst vying for an impossible stage win. Sorry if that sounds bad, but it’s still a pretty sweet gig – I’d go in a suicide Tour break in a second.

So the break is gone, riders keep falling down here and there throughout the stage, but nothing drastic, that’s about all. Let’s fast-forward to catch time, shall we?

Saxo Bank did their good jobs at the front keeping the break within reach for most of the day, but come catching time, it was all Columbia on the front. Cervelo threw in a little bit of help here and there, so did some other teams, but there’s no getting around it at this point: if there is going to be a sprint, Columbia is responsible for making it happen.

Cancellara enjoyed a nice, peaceful day in Yellow…well, as peaceful as you can have for the first road stage of the Tour.

The day’s gap never grew to double digits, not even halfway to double digits. There would be no messing about today. The Columbia boys had to be careful though about those pesky counterattacks, so the catch wasn’t made until about 10k to go. Normally it’s pretty evident where the catch is made, but that pesky late race attacker from Russia, Mikhail Ignatiev, bridged across to the fading break, blasted through, and enjoyed five kilometers of face time with the camera bike. Good for him.

It’s Sprinting Time
5k to go, all together, let’s have us a sprint. Big question: how bad will the crash be? It’s almost a tradition at this point.

As always in the final 5k, the chaos levels went well beyond boiling point, and then IT happened, the big one. The crash, towards the front of the galloping frenzy of brightly colored thoroughbreds made it even easier for King Cav to get a breezy shot at the line.

The final right hander before the line proved to be today’s deciding factor for many of the big sprinters. The swarming field howling along at near terminal velocity just couldn’t make the final right-hander. Some riders didn’t even try and rode right off course. Koldo Fernandez dumped it, and in that moment, most everyone was affected save for the top 4, three of whom were Columbia riders. Boonen and Napolitano were among those amongst the victims.

Heading into the closing meters, there were three Columbia riders and Farrar, with a mean gap having to be closed by Milram’s Ciolek. Hincapie put in a monster turn after assuming leadout duties from Rogers, and when Hincapie was done, Renshaw barely had anything else to do, realized it, and let Cavendish do his thing…from a long way out. The long sprint was no problem for Cavendish.

Rider of note in the finale? Gerald Ciolek did a fantastic job of closing a brutal gap after the split occurred. Ciolek hasn’t been one of the names we’ve been tossing about lately, but he looked wicked strong getting back onto terms. He only pulled off 6th on the day, but I think we’ll see some more from the former German Champion soon enough.

Two stages, two greats on top. The best time trialist in the world took Stage 1, the best sprinter in the world took Stage 2. With or without the hectic finale, it was always going to be hard to get hold of Cavendish.

The big question: how many more stages will go to Cavendish? How many more to Columbia?

Thankfully, it looks like most everyone made it through today’s stage unscathed. No big favorites broke bones, none of the favorite sprinters look too bad off. I guess we can call that a success.

Stage 2 Results
1. Mark Cavendish (Columbia)
2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin)
3. Romain Feillu (Agritubel)
4. Thor Hushovd (Cervelo)
5. Yukiya Arashiro (BBox)
6. Gerald Ciolek (Milram)
7. William Bonnet (Bbox)
8. Nicolas Roche (Ag2r)
9. Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano)
10. Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r)

How about Nicolas Roche in 8th?!?!

General Classification After Two Stages
1. Fabian Cancellara Team Saxo Bank in 4:49:41
2. Alberto Contador Astana at 00:18
3. Bradley Wiggins Garmin at 00:19
4. Andrйas KlЦden Astana at 00:22
5. Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto at 00:23
6. Tony Martin Team Columbia – Htc at 00:26
7. Levi Leipheimer Astana at 00:30
8. Roman Kreuziger Liquigas at 00:32
9. Vincenzo Nibali Liquigas at 00:37
10. Lance Armstrong Astana at 00:40


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