André Greipel of Lotto-Soudal has won Stage 2 of the Tour de France on Zelande on an afternoon when the wind sweeping in from the North Sea wreaked havoc on the peloton and caused some overall hopefuls to lose a minute and a half to their rivals, with Team Sky's Chris Froome and Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo the big winners in terms of time.
The latter's team mate, Peter Sagan, finished second in a very select sprint, with Trek Factory racing's Fabian Cancellara third and getting into the yellow jersey, the seventh separate edition of the race in which the Swiss rider, who has said this may be his last participation, has done so.
Organisers had been hoping for the weather to play a role today on a stage played out mainly on the North Sea coast.
That’s exactly what happened as on a twisting parcours the wind caused echelons to form, the critical split caused by Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo team, and wet roads also making conditions difficult with a number of riders puncturing or crashing.
Heading into the final 10 kilometres of the 166 kilometre stage from Utrecht, some 25 riders were 1 minute ahead of the group containing race leader Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing.
In that front group were Etixx-Quick Step rider Mark Cavendish, seeking his 26th career stage win in the race plus sprint rival Greipel.
Also there were the two men who respectively finished second and third to Dennis in yesterday’s individual time trial, Etixx-Quick Step’s Tony Martin, five seconds off the race lead, and Cancellara, a further second back.
The split, with the subsequent front bunch driven by Cavendish’s team mates Zdenek Stybar and Michal Kwiatkowski, also had an effect on the general classification – BMC’s Tejay van Garderen was the right side of it, as were Froome and Contador.
Missing though, were the Movistar pair of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez, and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Astana.
They rolled over the line around a minute and a half down on the front group, where Cavendish launched his sprint early after being led out by Mark Renshaw, but was overhauled just ahead of the line and finished fourth.
Tomorrow will see an opportunity for some of those who missed out today with a finish on the Mur de Huy, the finishing climb of the Fleche Wallonne - but equally, the Stage 3 finale could also see further loss of time.
André Greipel of Lotto-Soudal, today’s stage winner
Our group never slowed down but we saved a bit of energy. With 2km to go, I told Tony [Gallopin] and Marcel Sieberg to wait as long as possible because I felt the head wind.
Sieberg always knows which one is the right wheel to follow. He's not just a good rider, he's my best friend. I know him since I started cycling. He's a really smart rider. It means a lot to have him in a team.
I've seen a high number of Quick Step riders in our group but Mark Renshaw opened the sprint too early. He forced Cavendish to go early too but I wasn't confident yet because Cavendish has showed in the past that he was able to keep that speed for a long time and win that way. But I was also able to stay on his wheel and pass him.
There was a possibility to have a German stage winner and a German yellow jersey today but I don't know what happened to Tony [Martin], I'm just happy with my first stage victory only on the second day of the Tour de France. Tomorrow it'll be my first time in the green jersey at the Tour de France and I will enjoy it before thinking of targeting it.
Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing, the new race leader
I had cramps at the end, it was so fast and nervous, but finally some luck. I had so much problems out of the corners, out of the roundabouts, the problem was from yesterday, I paid a lot – I mean everyone probably did - from yesterday’s effort.
I am not sure what happened, if it was a crash or just a split because the guys from Lotto-Soudal went full gas. But we went through this small city and there were a lot of roundabouts and with the rain and wind…it was not easy and I was just there and suddenly the group split up.
I hoped for sure at the end to get something out and now of course with the yellow I am really happy.
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