Jan Bakelants of Radioshack-Leopard has won a gripping Stage 2 of the 100th Tour de France on Corsica, the Belgian, who had been in a group of six riders that got away from a select group with 7km left to ride, somehow managing to hold on as the bunch led by Cannondale's Peter Sagan threatened to catch him. Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Michal Kwiatowski finished third.
Bakelants, who takes his first pro win today, also gets cycling's most iconic jersey, the maillot jaune, the one second advantage he held over the chasing bunch being enough to put him ahead of Garmin-Sharp's David Millar on the General Classification.
The wearer of the jersey this morning, Stage 1 winner Marcel Kittel of Argos Shimano, was among a number of sprinters, including Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Mark Cavendish, who were distanced coming over the day's big climb, the Category 2 Col de Vizzavona.
This morning, there had been some speculation that the sprinters might be able to hang on over the top of that ascent to give themselves a chance of contesting the finish.
By the time the race headed up that climb, however, the earlier ascents of the Col de Bellegranajo and the Col de la Serra – respectively, Category 3 and 2 – had already taken their toll with Kittel and Cavendish among those shelled out of the back.
Sagan was still there, however, and his Cannondale team pushed the pace on the long descent to ensure that the Slovak champion’s rivals had no chance of getting back on, with the group containing Kittel and the other three men who had begun today’s stage in the classification leaders’ jerseys all more than 5 minutes down.
To compound Kittel’s misery, he also seemed to have been stung by a bee, the TV cameras catching him holding an ice pack to his lips.
Earlier on, four men – AG2R’s Biel Kadri, Lars Boom of Belkin, Euskaltel’s Ruben Perez and David Veilleux of Europcar – had got away from the peloton to form the day's break.
However, by the time the race hit the top of the Col de Vizzavona, they had been reeled in and it was Europcar’s Pierre Rolland who led going over the summit, and thereby take the lead in the mountains classification.
After a long descent of around 40km, one more climb had to be negotiated on the 154km stage from Bastia, the short but sharp Côte du Salario, just 1km long but with an average gradient of 8.9 per cent and crested 12km from the finish.
Approaching it, the racing in the front group of 90 or so riders was frantic as teams with an eye on getting one of their men into the maillot jaune jostled for position.
Team Sky led the bunch onto the start of that climb in Ajaccio, but it was the British outfit's former rider Juan Antonio Flecha, now with Vacansoleil-DCM, who made the first move, followed by Europcar’s Cyril Gautier.
Flecha soon dropped back, and as Gautier tried to hold on it was overall favourite Chris Froome who put in a huge kick to distance his GC rivals and set off on pursuit of the Frenchman.
Gautier nearly came to grief on a corner on the descent, but hit the bottom with a clear advantage as Froome, who in making his move had sent a clear signal to his rivals that he is up for the race, eased off the pace and was brought back by the main bunch, now coming back together after being strung out on the descent.
Back on the flat, a crosswind hitting 20kph meant that Gautier’s move was doomed, and now came the first of two heartstopping moments in the final kilometres, the first being when Sagan had to swerve to avoid a fan who had run into the road to retrieve some object he’d dropped.
With 7km left, Gautier’s bid for the maillot jaune fizzled out and it was another Frenchman, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel, a former maillot jaune, who led the charge, five other riders, including Bakelants and Vacansoleil-DCM’s Juan Antonio Flecha, joining him.
Again, as the Sagan group tried to close down the escapees, there was a second moment of heart-in-mouth drama as a small white dog, not on a leash, got into the riders’ path, but somehow escaped being run over or causing a crash.
With 2km left and the group closing fast, Bakelants launched his bid for glory, the 27-year-old from Oudenaarde just hanging on to take a landmark victory and guarantee himself at least a day in the maillot jaune on tomorrow’s Stage 3 from Ajaccio to Calvi.
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.