So we're now two stages into this Tour and we had an interesting race already- though as much from the off-the-bike dramas, as on the bike. That said, the predictable has happened, but the racing has been great just the same.
Stage 1; Cancellara wins the opening stage TT- no surprise there... I shoulda simply declared him the winner in my opening post... but alas. What impressed me most was the fact that Contador finished in 2nd, just 18 seconds off the time of the Olympic TT champ. Wiggins, of Garmin-Slipstream rode a respectable 3rd and then Kloden was 4th, Evans 5th, Leipheimer 6th and Sir Lance of Armstrong was 10th. You would think we have established something of a pecking order in the Astana camp now... but no... still rumbles of "who's the boss" floating around. Poor Carlos Sastre finised the day 1:06 down, but the plucky little climber can not be ruled out with so many climbs in this race- remember how he rode the Giro this year... Then there's Kreuziger, in 7th, who officially now carries the title of "dark horse", though since we're talking about him this much, it means the others are looking at him too. So maybe he's less of a dark horse and more of a not-so-dark-and-slightly-bright horse? BUT... can Liquigas support his efforts? Lots of talent, but can they defend a jersey if he gets it? I dunno... Oh yeah, Evans in 5th- surprised by that because he "looked" like he was going slow on the bike- his form and his pedal cadence seemed slow and labored, yet he came in very well for 5th on a day that did not really suit him that well. Could he be at the Tour to actually contend? Hmmm...
Stage 2; Cavendish wins the sprint with Farrar in second and Roma Feillu in 3rd. Feillu? A French rider in 3rd in a sprint... with other non-French riders in the sprint? Has that happened since Jimmy Casper or Jalabert? I was watching the footage wondering who the non-French guy on the French team was who was in the thick of the sprint. When I found out he was French, I almost fainted!
The day was slated and peppered with several small claimbs that kept things from being too easy, along with the heat. Peaking out at nearly 104 degrees on the road, you can bet there was lots of Evian being slurped down today. Well, some riders mighta been gargling Perrier Jouette, but none the less, people were thirsty. The big motor of Cancellara managed to stay in Yellow after all was said and done, but he was having to work a bit more than he woulda liked, simply due to the climbs and the heat. 4 riders got away and stayed out until around 10km to go- Stef Clement (Rabobank), Cyril Dessel (Ag2r), Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux) and Stéphane Augé (Cofidis). At one point Clement became the new Yellow on the road, but Saxo Bank worked hard to close the gap and keep Fabulous Fabian in Yellow and then the sprinter's teams took over to set things up for the finish.
The break was caught about 10km out, then Mikhail Ignatiev of the Katusha team launched himself into a break of his own as the foursome was being caught and falling apart. He managed to stay out front and probably mouthed a few "hi mom" to the cameras, but was caught with about 5km to go. At that point, the big power men could smell the finish line and were super motivated to get to the front. Columbia- of course- had control of things largely- Cavendish IS the current uber speedster these days, after all. Milram, of all teams, was also up there- possibly trying to get Ciolek set up for the sprint, though I never saw him anywhere near the pointy end of things. Skil-Shimano got their guys up front as well- with most folks assuming it was to lead out Kenny van Hummel... which didn't happen. Cervelo Test Team scrapped it together for Thor Hushovd, who did manage to get 4th on the day. Amazingly, Garmin seemed to be NOWHERE to be seen in the closing kilometers and then- POOF!- showed up with less than 2km to go! Julian Dean deserves a medal for fighting his way to the front to drop Farrar into a position to look like he could try something. Tyler did manage 2nd in the sprint mayhem- which is admirable- but it was a forgone conclusion that Cavendish was going to get the win once his teammate Mark Renshaw pulled off the front and placed him into the driver's seat. He showed everybody a clean set of wheels as he sped to the line without ever having to worry about fighting his way past another rider. Farrar is proving to be a great talent, but is he coming into his best form as Cavendish is set to dominate sprinting for the next several years?
Stage 3; Tomorrow should be another fast finish with the stage being relatively flat. If the coastal winds pick up, look for Saxo Bank to employ its usual tactic of creating splits in the field that catch people in bad positions as the filed breaks into echelons. Riis is famous for employing this tactic, so it could come out of his playbook tomorrow. Barring anything happening, it should be a sprinter's day. With the Team Time Trial coming up the following day though, expect to see the real contenders for the GC trying to minimize losses on the day, as well as trying to stay out of trouble with crashes.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and pick Cavendish for the win. He's just too fast right now and it will take Garmin at least one more try to figure out how to fight against him and the teams with bigger sprint leadouts.
NOTE; It merits mentioning that Tom Boonen only managed to finish in 174th today. Could it be that the "gastrointestinal upset" mentioned yesterday is real? How fitting would it be that Quick-Step fought so hard to get Tom into the Tour and then he is unable to be a factor in the race? Poor Alan Davis- who was set to replace Tom; he must be pissed beyond belief.