Tony Martin was really the only person who had a chance of challenging Fabian today. Tony has been riding exceptionally well and is an exceptional talent, but when Fabian has the pressure on him and is in the spotlight, he seems to nearly always come through with an exceptional performance.
The weather was certainly a factor for the contenders who chose to ride early in hopes of missing the rain that was supposed to come later in the day. The gambled and lost. The rain came earlier than predicted and made the course treacherously slick, resulting in a few nasty crashes- one leading to the exit of BMC rider Mathias Frank, who injured himself well enough to break a bone in his hand and severely hurt his thigh muscle... leaving Cadel Evans minus one rider already.
There were several shocking rides on the day, including Bradley Wiggins riding in the rain to finish well down on the day at 77th, 56 seconds down. Not a great start, for sure, but we're only beginning. But Andy Schleck finished a painful 122nd... so the mountains are already proving to be even more important for him.
Of the other main contenders- ie Lance and Alberto- the race story was a bit different as both had great rides. Lance showed that at 38 he's still a pretty good rider against the clock by finishing a very respectable 4th and Contador just 2 places back in 6th. So even though Fabian ruled the day, the two main protagonists of the race are almost exactly where they want to be... for now.
Notable rides were handed in by David Millar in 3rd and Tyler Farrar in 7th at 28 seconds out of Yellow. Garmin's leader, Vande Velde finished a less than stellar 92nd and 1 minute back... but he's a tough guy... even if fragile. Radioshack also did well to get 4 riders in the top 20- Armstrong (4th), Leipheimer (8th), Brakovic (13th) and Kloden (17th). Astana only managed to get Contador (6th) and Vinokourov (19th) in the top 20... so the pundit's tongues are all a-wagging.
Without a massive screwup/ injury, the prologue is largely pointless in regards to the final GC- usually- so this is really just an exercise in selecting the first classification leaders. However, with Mark Cavendish finishing a dismal 127th and 1:10 down, it looks like the only sprinter with a real hope of wearing yellow is Tyler Farrar... which makes tomorrow's stage important for Garmin...
Stage 1 goes through the narrow and twisty roads of Netherland into Belgium, to finish in Brussels. Netherland is famous for it's strong coastal winds and narrow roads, so you can expect the field to be hyper-nervous as they head to Belgium. The stage passes through Eddy Merckx's hometown in honor of his 65th birthday- so expect Belgian riders to be itching like hell to win the stage in his honor. BUT... it's gonna be an ugly day at 223km with a nervous field trying to minimize losses over the next few days as the race hits the cobbles in Stage 3. There's a short rise before the finish in Brussels, but the approach to the line is downhill. Expect breakaways ALL DAY LONG, but it is unlikely to work because the sprinters are going to be hungry and there are plenty of them in the race with a point to prove;
- Farrar is looking for his first Tour win and a shot at Yellow.
- Cavendish needs redemption after a crappy season so far.
- McEwen is an adopted Belgian and needs to get a win for his large pride.
- Allesandro Petacchi wants to show he's still fast enough to be called a Super Sprinter.
I expect it to be a messy day with lots of chaos and likely numerous crashes- hopefully Vande Velde avoids them and manages to get through safely... given his brittle nature and bad luck. I doubt that Farrar will get Yellow, since fabian is just too strong to lose 28+ seconds on the first stage. I think Farrar has a shot at the win, if Cavendish and Columbia-HTC can't get their act together. I'm pretty sure Garmin would love to get their sprint ace the win he's been hunting, as well as an early Yellow... since it might be their only hope of it being in the team this year.
Today, Fabian proved the motor is in his legs, not his bike. Tomorrow is waiting to see who the new motor is.