Today's stage was marked by a few large happenings;
- Sylvain Chavanel won the stage solo after initiating a break at around 15km into the race. Chavanel, who fractured his skull this year during Liege-Bastogne-Liege on nearly the same roads, came back strong with the goods and won a brilliantly fought stage. Chavanel is among the classiest of the French riders in the peloton and is purported to be an actually decent guy. His win, though helped considerably by the day's 2nd big event, is impressive for the courage and grit it took to survive and continue to hammer the pedals for almost 200km off the front.
- The day's second big deal was the crashes, most notably the blood bath on the descent of the Stockeu climb. Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre), who was part of the break that joined with Chavanel, fell out of the back of the break and then crashed on the slippery wet roads of the Stockeu descent. That seemingly minor crash of one man set off a chain reaction of events that changed the face of the 2010 Tour de France. Reportedly, one of the TV motorbikes, in an attempt to avoid Gavazzi, fell over and began to leak oil across the road. By the time the field came chasing along, the road was slickened and more than just a little dangerous. The ensuing carnage and chaos was more like an actual battle scene as riders scrambled to their feet and looked for their bikes and checked their bodies. Nearly all of the favorites were involved in the crash (or crashes) and it looked very much like Andy Schleck's Tour might be over. After getting a bike from teammate Matti Breschel though, Schleck was back in action and chasing hard to regain the field.
- The third major event of the day, and what truly cemented Chavanel's still impressive win, was a slowdown of the race by many of the riders- but most notably yellow jersey wearer Cancellara. Losing his jersey in the process to Chavanel, Fabian helped to orchestrate a neutralization of the race so that the chasing riders could regain the field after so many of the riders- estimated at over 60- came down on the slick roads. Even with this slowing of the race, many of the riders never regained the main field- regrettably including Tyler Farrar and Christian Vande Velde (who later abadondoned with two fractured ribs). Both riders completed the stage in great pain and covered in bandages from the race medics.
** And here is where I must have my rant; plug your ears if you are offended easily...**
There were many folks chiming in on Twitter after the stage, calling the riders wimps, pussies and whiners for protesting the race conditions today and neutralizing the finish to allow their fellow racers, teammates and friends to attempt to regain the group.
In my opinion, people who don't know what the fuck they're talking about should really just shut the fuck up. No, I've never held a pro license, but I have ridden with countless pros and have raced with and against many of them over the years as well. Protecting themselves and their fellow riders, or being vocally concerned, does not make them less of a man. These guys do this for a living- not because they chasing down a midlife crisis or because they have a point to prove to themselves or others. Racing is their job and their livelihood, not their hobby. Chris Horner was among those voicing concerns about the race today and I'd like to see some of the people talking shit today tell Chris he's simply being a whiny pussy. It'd be funny... believe me.
It's easy to sit in anonymity at your computer, or just snipe away from a safe electronic distance thinking you're so much better than the riders at the Tour, but until you've "been there and done that" yourself... shut the fuck up.
Alright... I'm done.
Tomorrow is likely to be an even bigger bloodbath than today- especially if it rains again. If the roads are dry, it's still likely to be brutal on the field. With just over 13km of cobbles in store for the riders in multiple chunks, Stage 3 promises to be very painful in a lot of ways; with so many riders starting tomorrow with injuries, it's only going to be worse. The chaos and nervousness of trying to avoid injury and mishap is only going to make things that much worse. With all the GC teams trying to protect their main riders, expect things to get insane at the approach to each cobbled section... and then to deteriorate immediately after.
Teams like Quick-Step, with Chavanel in Yellow, should do well since they are Belgian Classics specialists. Omega Pharma-Lotto should also be quite active, as well as Paris-Roubaix winner Cancellara and his fellow P-R winner/ teammate Stuart O'Grady. The main GC contenders have all scouted the course so that they have a little better idea of what to expect- and fear- so they will be relying on teammates and luck to get them to the finish safely and without losing time.
It is unlikely that the Tour will be won tomorrow, but it could certainly be lost. My only prediction is that there will be some really unhappy riders by the end of the stage... and possibly only one really happy one.