Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas will start today’s Stage 2 of the Tour de France in the white jersey of best young rider following yesterday’s opening stage, won by Philippe Gilbert. But should the British ProTeam win this afternoon’s team time trial at Les Essarts, the 25-year-old Welshman is likely to find himself in the maillot jaune as race leader this evening.
Thomas is one of four Team Sky riders who lie six seconds down on Gilbert and three behind Cadel Evans, second yesterday. But if Team Sky are the quickest outfit around the 23km circuit today, with the time calculated on when the fifth rider crosses the line, then assuming those seconds have been made up on the two riders at the top of the GC and Thomas is one of the first five over the line, he will be race leader.
Should he have lost contact with the group that crosses the line, he would be given a slower time, and the rider to potentially get the yellow jersey in the case of a Team Sky win would be the next in the general classification, Edvald Boasson Hagen, and so on.
Among riders from other teams that are strong in the time trial who may find themselves wearing the most famous jersey in cycling are Thor Hushovd of Garmin Cervelo, third yesterday, Tony Martin of FTC-Highroad, and Rabobank’s Robert Gesink.
“The first week is always madness. It can be really sketchy with lots of crashes… everyone wants to be at the front and, especially today with the yellow jersey on the line, there was a lot of fighting for position going on,” said Thomas after a stage that burst into life after a crash 9km out split the peloton, with the big loser being defending champion Alberto Contador who lost more than a minute to most of his GC rivals.
“Fortunately most of our team managed to get up there into the final three kilometers relatively unscathed,” continued Thomas. “I think Brad [Wiggins] got caught up in the second crash [which took place just under the 2km to go banner] but I think he should be okay time wise.”
Thomas’s assumption was correct. While Wiggins rolled over the line in 63rd place, nearly 30 places behind Contador, who came 35th, the fact that the crash that brought down the Briton was inside the final 3km meant that unlike the Spanish rider, he was awarded the same time as the group with which he’d been riding.
“I felt great today as well, so it’s nice to have a prize jersey,” continued Thomas, before looking forward to this afternoon’s stage, in which Team Sky set out at 3.08pm British time, with the starting order based on the team classification in reverse order. Saxo Bank-SunGard will be first out at 1.30pm, Omega Pharma Lotto the last at 3.57pm.
“For me personally, the team time trial is what I enjoy. It’s like what I’ve been doing on the track – it’s very similar to the team pursuit – and I can’t wait for it,” continued the Welshman.
“Obviously we’ve got a great team for it and we just want to get out there, give it our best, ride it well and hopefully that’ll be enough to win the stage. We’ve got a great chance. There are a lot of good teams out there and it’s going to be hard but if we ride it really well, we’ll be close,” he concluded.
Contador, booed by the crowd at Thursday’s team presentation due to the ongoing doping case resulting from his positive test for clenbuterol in last year’s race, was philosophical after losing more than a minute and a quarter to most of the riders with pretensions to succeed him as Tour de France champion.
“It was a difficult day. There was a lot of tension and we were all pushing hard to reach the front,” he explained afterwards.
“I was very close to the head of the group but riders went down in front of me and although I managed to stop in due time to avoid crashing myself, I was slowed down and lost time to my opponents.
“But that's part of the game and today it happened to me and tomorrow someone else is in bad luck,” he continued.
“The Tour is long and I'm still optimistic and motivated, which is important.
Referring to today’s team time trial, he said: “There are other teams that might be better than us, teams who really want to win this stage, but I'm confident with my team and myself and we will soon show why we're here.”
Whoever ends up wearing the maillot jaune this evening, during today’s stage it will be worn by Philippe Gilbert who bided his time yesterday as attacks came inside the final kilometre before following one from Fabian Cancellara and passing the Swiss rider to eventually win easily from Evans, who will wear the points jersey today, and Hushovd, who swaps world champion rainbow bands for king of the mountains polka dots.
“I dream of winning big races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne but to win here in the Tour de France is something special,” said Gilbert afterwards.
“It is another dream. I’ve never won any stages. I’ve never had this yellow jersey before so, for me, it’s a very good day,” he reflected.
The Belgian, whose Omega Pharma-Lotto team had put in a big effort all day to keep a three man breakaway in check and also pulled hard at the front as the leaders hit the final ascent, revealed that he and his team mates had discusses tactics on Friday evening and had predicted how the finale would play out.
“I was talking with my room-mates and saying that, on the steep part of the hill with a little more than one kilometre to go, we would have to pull very hard and that I’d need somebody there with me.
“We knew that Cancellara would go there because it was a perfect place for him – with his big power, he can come from behind – and it’s exactly what happened. I was ready to react and I never panicked. I just moved near to him and rode behind for a moment.
“When he stopped his effort I told myself, ‘I cannot hesitate any more.’ I had to go then. It was still a long way away, about 500 meters but I thought, ‘No I have a small gap and I have to go – full gas!’”
Gilbert had double cause for celebration yesterday – it was his wife’s birthday. The Belgian puncheur is also favourite to win Tuesday’s Stage 4 on the Mur de Bretagne – which happens to be his own birthday, when he turns 29.
Besides Gilbert’s win, another feature of yesterday’s stage that followed the predicted script was a Europcar rider getting into the day’s break – the French team is based in the Vendée region and indeed is based in Les Essarts, host town to today’s team time trial.
That rider was the 27-year-old Breton, Perrig Quemeneur, making his Tour de France debut. “I never knew what it was like at the Tour and I’ve just had a wonderful first day,” he revealed afterwards.
“This morning we expected that any one of us would be in the breakaway because this is the nature of our team. So I said I’d go and I raced out of the peloton in the first kilometer.
“Then I spent the day with two good riders but [Lieuwe] Westra” – one of two fellow escapees alongside FDJ’s Jeremy Roy – “wasn’t exactly convincing with his turns of pace. We did not have enough of a gain to ever consider the victory.
“I live in La Roche-sur-Yon and I’m very familiar with these roads so I knew we would have to fight on wide, straight and exposed roads,” continued Quemeneur.
“It was a bit doomed but I still spent the day enjoying the encouragement from the public. I had a great time,” he concluded.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.