Marcel Kittel has won Stage 2 of the Tour de France in Liege as the best sprinters in the world battled it out for victory in the Belgian city on a day they almost let the break get away. Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas retains the yellow jersey as race leader despite being caught up in a crash as the stage headed towards its finale.
On a day mainly raced in driving rain, defending champion Chris Froome of Team Sky and last year’s runner-up, Romain Bardet of AG2R-La Mondiale, came down in the same crash near the front of the peloton when a rider lost his front wheel in the wet some 30 kilometres from the finish.
Both riders were back racing on spare bikes, though damage to Froome’s shorts suggested he had come down heavily on his right-hand side, although he confirmed afterwards that other than "losing some skin on my backside," he was otherwise uninjured.
A four-man break had formed early on in the 203.5km stage from Dusseldorf, comprising Cannondale-Drapac’s Taylor Phinney, Yoann Offredo of Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Thomas Boudat of Direct Énergie and Fortuneo-Oscaro’s Laurent Pichon, but the peloton kept them on a tight leash throughout.
With the chase faltering after that crash, the break crested the day’s second and final categorised climb ahead of the chasing bunch, Phinney – making his Tour de France debut after a long, slow recovery from a horrific crash at the 2014 US National Championships – guaranteeing himself the polka-dot jersey this evening.
Immediately over the top of the climb, Phinney and Offredo left their breakaway companions behind, and with 10 kilometres left the pair had an advantage of 50 seconds as none of the sprinters’ teams made a concerted effort to bring them back.
Instead, it was the teams with eyes on the general classification who were near the front as they sought to keep their overall contenders out of trouble on another wet day as the race moved from Germany into Belgium.
With 5.5 kilometres to go, Lotto-Soudal’s Adam Hansen, working for Andre Greipel, hit the front, with the gap still just over 30 seconds but the roads were drying out, handingthe advantage back to thesprinters.
Entering the final 2 kilometres, and with Quick Step’s Jack Bauer also having done a big turn at the front of the peloton for Kittel, the gap was down to 10 seconds.
The game was up for Phinney and Offredo as they came under the flamme rouge to enter the final kilometre, and as the world’s top sprinters joined battle the stage was going to end in a bunch sprint – and a hard fought one it was too.
Kittel prevailed to take the 10th Tour de France stage win of his career ahead of FDJ’s Arnaud Demare and Greipel – while Mark Cavendish, who only returned to racing last month after missing most of the season with glandular fever, took an encouraging fourth place.
> Tour de France 2017 preview: Your stage-by-stage guide to cycling's biggest race
Stage winner Marcel Kittel
I'm super happy that I got this victory. It's been an incredible start in Germany with so many people. It would be wrong to say that I didn't have any expectation or pressure. I really wanted to have this win. It was a big goal to start in Germany and win at the end of that stage. It didn't go according to the plan that didn't work at all. I came pretty late. I needed to go my own way jumping from wheel to wheel but I made it. It's wonderful.
Race leader Geraint Thomas
I'm not sure who went down first but Froome and myself were in the top 10 or 15 and there was nowhere to go to avoid crashing. But we only slipped. There's no damage at all, just some skin gone.
I don't think Froome is vulnerable when it rains. This was a real slippery corner and other riders went down too. It's been a special day for me in yellow, a massive buzz all day even with the rain. I felt the adrenaline and the pride. It was an awesome feeling.
Taylor Phinney, in the break and who took the mountains jersey
I didn't really think I could win the stage. I didn't have a lot of mathematical process in power left. We were out there for five hours. We were getting time gaps but all you have to do is put your head down.
I knew the peloton was coming fast and fresh. Honestly I'm feeling like I'm in a sort of strange dream. You're in a bike race but at the same time, we were passing in the middle of a million people today. With the rain, you think you're rolling around alone, but you wonder what are all these people doing on the side of the road. It's the Tour de France!
I got the first climb and I started to envision myself maybe going onto the podium, maybe like wearing some polka dot shorts tomorrow. I don't know if we have this. It just kept going more and more wild. I thought we were going to be caught before the last KOM but they had a big crash behind so we made it to the climb. I liked Yoann Offredo before but now we're friends for life.
Chapeau Mavis, you are a legend.
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