Stage 2 is in the bag- a rain soaked, crash filled, soggy bag... but it's still done, just the same.
The day, as expected, was a tough one that did have the usual escape and it almost paid off for Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis), as he was caught with about 1km to go. Chavanel and Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom) spent nearly the entire day on the attack and were joined late in the race by Christophe Moreau and David le Lay (both Agritubel). Amazingly, as the break was being caught in the closing moments of the race, it was still Chavanel and Voeckler with the most courage to keep fighting for the win as the field closed in. Hats off to both! Chavanel netted himself the Most Aggressive award for the day- his solo attempt to hold off the field was an inspired ride of courage.
But, in the end... as expected... Chavanel was caught by the hungry teams behind him. As he has done successfully in the past, Fabian Cancellara (CSC) launched an incredible last Km attack that almost worked again. He looked like he might just get the win again, but he was caught with less than 500m to go. As the group caught him, the sprinter's teams were salivating at the front- tongues dragging in their spokes as they set an unreal pace up the finishing climb. With 400m to go, Luke Renshaw of Australia unleashed an amazing leadout for his sprinter Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), who took the win with a brutal sprint ahead of Kim Kirchen and Gerald Ciolek (both Team Boring Kit... I mean Columbia... Bob, call me).
It was a great day of racing, but there were still many crashes as the field is nervous and aggressive. The day's break rode admirably and Chavanel and Voeckler were great antagonists. It was amazingly close at the end and watching the big teams set things up for the finish was amazing. Those last few kilometers were painful to watch as you could see the break struggling and the main peloton at warp speed bringing them back. Sadly, it looks as though Soler (Barloworld) is suffering with more pain than he can handle. He bravely rode the stage with an apparent fracture of his wrist, but faded at the end and is a big question mark for tomorrow. If he can manage to stay out of trouble until the real mountains come, there is a chance he can salvage his Tour by hunting for another KOM jersey, but his GC chances are clearly over. Thus is the nervousness of the early days of the Tour.
The hunt for yellow in Paris is still handily controlled by Valverde and he looked like a possible stage winner again today. Team Boring Kit looked great with two riders in the top three and is clearly trying to stay in contention for the GC... though I have serious doubts Kirchen can make the podium in Paris. Cadel Evans continues to ride smartly with the help of of his Silence-Lotto team. He's riding like a real contender for the jersey and is staying out of trouble so far. The opening week of the Tour can be a very frightening time for all the GC riders, with all the crashes and nervousness in the field, but so far Cadel has shown that he intends to be ready for the real racing in the coming weeks.
Tomorrow looks to be a real stage for the sprinters. The green jersey is currently worn by Kirchen after his 2nd and 4th place finishes so far, but I expect Hushovd to make a real run on the jersey tomorrow. The stage is almost flat- for that region of France- and lends itself to the sprinters. Expect to see another break get away, but a field sprint is more than likely... it's almost assured. Look for Team Boring Kit to be setting up Mark Cavendish, who could very well win. Hushovd will be on his tail looking for green jersey points- as his mission is the jersey, especially after he has already netted a stage win. My "dark horse" for the stage win is McEwen (Silence- Lotto). He's one of the very best opportunists in the world and can feed off of other teams better than any sprinter I've ever seen. If Columbia doesn't shut the door on him, they'll be leading him out, as much as Cavendish, and Robbie is still one of the fastest men alive. In the end, it should be a great sprint... as long as early crashes don't spoil the day. As with the usual rider hazards, the final kilometers are littered with more roundabouts and they are notorious for causing crashes- especially when many riders are simply staring at the tire in front of them, due to the high speeds approaching the finish. I hate to say it, but expect to see more bloody riders limping across the line tomorrow.
And there you have it folks. Day two is over and the Tour has already been exciting. Looks like we might just have a race this year... and I couldn't be happier.