Mark Cavendish has taken the 21st Tour de France stage victory of his career, and his first for Team Sky, after using Lotto-Belisol's André Greipel as an unwitting and, going by the German's reaction, very unwilling leadout man to pip his rival to the line to clinch Stage 2 in Tournai. One of the world champion's former leadout men at HTC-Highroad, Matt Goss of Orica-GreenEdge, was third. It was a chaotic and hard fought finale, but one in which the type of big crash typical of a sprint stage in the early days of each year's Tour de France was thankfully absent. Fabian Cancellara retains the race leader's maillot jaune, while Peter Sagan moves into the lead of the points classification, with Cavendish, winner of the green jersey last year, second.
With Team Sky focusing on Bradley Wiggins’ GC challenge in this year’s race, Cavendish, who has said that Olympic gold is his target rather than defending his points title here, is missing the type of train that served him so well at his previous team in chasing down breaks and setting him up in the finale, a tactic also employed to great effect by his current outfit in May’s Giro d’Italia.
But just as he had done when winning the rainbow jersey in Copenhagen last September after losing leadout man Geraint Thomas as that race headed into its final kilometre, the Manxman defied his critics again today by proving that he is a shrewd enough bike rider to grab a rival’s wheel when those of his own team mates are missing.
Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol team had towed the peloton along as the stage neared its conclusion, with Jurgen Roelandts and Greg Henderson leading the German under the flamme rouge and into the final kilometre, Sagan on his wheel.
Garmin-Sharp’s Robbie Hunter was challenging at the front as he looked to set up Tyler Farrar for what would have been an emotional victory in the town where his great friend and training partner, the late Wouter Weylandt, got his final victory in the last stage of the Circuit Franco-Belge in October 2010, but the American was crowded out as riders fought for position.
Cavendish, crouched low over the bars in his typical sprinting position, had got himself into Goss’s train ahead of the Australian but leapt onto Greipel’s wheel 400 metres from the line, biding his time before coming round the left-hand side of his rival to pass him just metres from the line.
One sprinter who had been expected to contend today's finale was Argos-Shimano's Marcel Kittel, but he was missing from the sprint, reportedly suffering from a stomach bug during the stage.
Earlier, for the second day in succession, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Michael Morkov had slipped into the inevitable break and took the solitary mountains point on offer at the sole categorised climb on today’s route.
The Dane, more at home on the track than on the climbs, therefore gets to keep the polka dot jersey for another day, but with a succession of sharp ascents peppering the final kilometres of tomorrow’s stage into the Channel port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, he’ll have a fight on his hands to keep it beyond that.
With Morkov in the break was FDJ-BigMat’s Anthony Roux, who initiated the attack 22 kilometres into the 207.5km stage despite nursing an injured wrist after he was involved in a crash during yesterday’s opening road stage.
Morkov and Europcar’s Christophe Kern soon joined the Dane, and the trio at one point had a lead of around eight minutes but were slowly reeled back in by the peloton which had started to chip away at their advantage ahead of that Category 4 climb in Namur, with Roux riding up the cobbled ascent with his left hand off the bars due to the injury he sustained yesterday.
Also injured in crashes yesterday were Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tony Martin and Rabobank’s Luis Leon Sanchez, but both lined up at the start today.
Initial reports yesterday evening were that world time trial champion Martin had a suspected broken collarbone, but those turned out to be unfounded; he does however have a fractured scaphoid bone in his wrist, and rode today wearing a plastic cast to protect the injury.
"We will take it step by step, kilometre by kilometre," said Martin prior to the start. "The first objective is to try and arrive to the next time trial on next Monday. I know it won't be easy, it will be painful, but I really want to try. The Tour de France is really important for me and I don't want to give up without trying."
Stage winner Mark Cavendish (Team Sky):
“It wasn’t too technical but there was enough technicality to make it a bit chaotic with all the other riders there. Normally I’m out of the way in the front but today I could kind of freestyle.
“It wasn’t as windy as I thought it was going to be and that didn’t play as much of a factor. It’s been a good start to the race for the team. Brad stayed out of trouble and hopefully he can continue on towards yellow. We’re here to win the yellow jersey. I’m here to do what I did today.
“I’ve been on the back foot but I’ve been more relaxed than ever coming into this Tour de France as the pressure hasn’t been there for me to do anything. [A win] doesn’t give me any more confidence as it’s never easy to win a Tour de France stage, with a team or on your own.”
Sean Yates, Team Sky Sports Director:
“For the umpteenth time he’s proven that he’s the man to beat. He found the right wheel heading into the finish and you know if you give him half a chance and without bad luck, invariably he will strike.
“It was a tough finish today. We kept Bradley safe towards the front with Mark also up there. It was a finish typical of the first week of the Tour with all the GC guys up there with the sprinters.
“It was a perfect scenario for us as we have retained second place overall for Bradley and the guys are riding well together.”
Maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara, who met King Albert II of Belgium after the stage:
“I let him know how much we’d appreciated riding in Belgium these past three days. I also told him that the cycling fans and reception from the Belgian public is the best anywhere.
"Other than that, it was business as usual today. Our objective was to bring the jersey to the finish without crashing. We spent the least amount of energy possible but the finish was still pretty intense and hard. It wasn’t my best day but I look forward to tomorrow having a good day again and defending the jersey for another day.
“I tried to race relaxed today but that’s not always easy. The pace gets pretty high but that’s normal in the Tour de France. You just have to be in the front with a final like that. I was concerned about keeping myself out of trouble. It was an easy start, easy through the feed zone, but then it got tricky and crazy at the end.”
New points classification leader, Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
“I’m glad to have taken the jersey and I want to hold it as long as possible. I know that won’t be easy, as today wasn’t easy to compete because of stress and dangers: it was clear that was the first mass sprint with many riders that want be in front of the group. However, was a useful test to know how to sprint here at the Tour de France: I’m here also for this, every chance is good to learn something and don’t make mistakes during the next sprints.”
BMC Racing DS Jonathan Lelangue on tomorrow’s Stage 3:
"It's like a small classic – a mix between Liège–Bastogne–Liège and Flèche Wallonne, with many ups and downs. It's a stage where we will need to stay safe and I think we will see a beautiful show in the last hour of racing."
Tweet of the Day:
"Bad day. @BorutBozic was hit from behind by organization car. Org car could avoid him, but would bump into other car. He chose hitting rider" - Astana's Janez Brajkovič
Tour de France Stage 2 result
1. CAVENDISH Mark SKY PROCYCLING0 4h 56' 59'' 2. GREIPEL André LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM0 All at same time 3. GOSS Matthew Harley ORICA GREENEDGE0 4. VEELERS Tom T EAM ARGOS-SHIMANO 5 PETACCHI Alessandro LAMPRE - ISD 6. SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 7 HUTAROVICH Yauheni FDJ-BIGMAT 8. HAEDO Juan Jose TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 9. RENSHAW Mark RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 10. FARRAR Tyler GARMIN-SHARP-BARRACUDA 11. ROJAS Jose Joaquin MOVISTAR TEAM 12. HINAULT Sébastien AG2R LA MONDIALE 13. VELITS Peter OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 14. VAN HUMMEL Kenny Robert VACANSOLEIL-DCM 15. ARASHIRO Yukiya TEAM EUROPCAR 16. FREIRE Oscar KATUSHA TEAM 17. BOZIC Borut ASTANA PRO TEAM 18. EISEL Bernhard SKY PROCYCLING 19. BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 20. DE KORT Koen TEAM ARGOS-SHIMANO
Last man home on stage
198 FEILLU Brice SAUR-SOJASUN + 09' 55''
General Classification after Stage 2
1. CANCELLARA Fabian RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 1 0h 02' 31'' 2. WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 07'' 3. CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 07'' 4. VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 10'' 5. BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING ' + 00' 11'' 6. MENCHOV Denis KATUSHA TEAM + 00' 13'' 7. GILBERT Philippe BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 13'' 8. EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 17'' 9. NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 18'' 10. HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN-SHARP-BARRACUDA + 00' 18''
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.