Raven’s Terrible Tour Textbook: Stage 2

Stage 2 sees the Tour move from German soil over onto Belgium soil on its first road race stage, and it will bring sprint action on the wet roads of Liege. The Tour de France called, it wants its sun back.

The Course

The race departs from Dusseldorf at 10am local time, heading out of the city to the East and looping back around as the riders make a beeline towards the Belgium-German border and Liege. There is a Cat 4 climb on the Côte de Grafenberg 6.5km into the stage. It’s 1.4km at 4.5%, so not hard at all, but riders who want to be in polkadot for the first week or so will target these smaller climbs. The small amounts of points from these climbs can influence the standings later on, and who doesn’t want to look fashionable in red and white? After that, it’s pretty flat all the way towards Belgium. A sprint point at 82.5 km in Mönchengladbach will most likely be gobbled up by an inevitable breakaway on the 203.5km flat stage, but there are a few punchy climbs once the riders approach the Belgium border.

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The riders make a beeline straight out of Germany to Liege. Source: Le Tour.

The riders pass by the Vaalserberg, used in the Hammer Climb just a few weeks ago, on their way into Liege. There is also the climb into Henri-Chapelle, and the Cat 4 Côte d’Olne at km 183. The climb is slightly shorter but steeper, 1.3km at 4.7%, but the break will probably make it this long to just get the points before getting reeled in. The run into Liege is flat. The riders enter Liege 4km out from the finish, and a not so technical finish into the city centre will mean that the sprint will be long and straight. No false flats on the way in, it’s just a pan flat course all the way through to the finish. One for the sprinters undoubtedly.

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Pretty flat but there are a couple of lumps. Not enough to deter the sprinters though. Source: Le Tour.

The Weather

The weather is expected to be the same as today’s wet time trial, but should be drying up. There are expected to be sporadic showers at the 5pm arrival into Liege. The wind through the day will be coming across the riders, but also into their head. The easterly winds will cut across the south-westerly heading riders and could lead to some splits in the rain. However, the wind is not too intense – around 18kmh – and won’t lead to full on echelons. Yesterday’s time trial saw the sprinters ride carefully in the rain, this time they will be going flat stick for a chance of a stage win.

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Couple of showers spitting around, and the makings of a nasty wind too. Source: Google (via weather.com).

The GC Situation

Buchmann, Majka and Pinot were the 3 GC contenders who left early on the race while the rain was at its worst. Buchmann put out the best time of the three (16’44”), 9″ ahead of Majka (16’53”) and 10″ ahead of Pinot at 16’54” (who looked very weak during his ride). Most of the GC contenders set off near the end of the day however, trying to avoid as much of the rain as possible. The rain and slick roads were unavoidable, but at least it wasn’t bucketing by the end of the stage compared to earlier parts of the stage.

The later part of the stage saw all the GC riders come through. Andrey Amador was the first major placing at 16’31”, while Simon Yates (16’41”) came in shortly after. And while the camera’s showed Bardet consolidating his position and time with a 16’55”, Geraint Thomas completely smashed it behind him finishing with a 16’04” as the last major contenders departed. Outsider Esteban Chaves finished with a 17’17” at a similar time.

The biggest GC impact on the day was Valverde’s crash. Same corner as Bennett and Groenewegen, he lost the bike underneath him and crashed out of the Tour. Ion Izagirre was also a DNF after a crash on the course, leaving Bahrain Merida without a nailed on leader. As the rain died down though, the wind picked up and hampered the GC rider’s times at the end of the day. This didn’t hamper Chris Froome though. Quintana and Porte took the corners cautiously, whereas Froome put the hammer down to create a gap between his rivals. This means Froome is setting pretty over the next few stages before we start the mountains in Stage 5.

Top 10 GC Contenders

  1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – 16’04”
  2. Chris Froome (Team Sky) – 12″
  3. Pierre Latour (AG2R) – 25″
  4. Andrey Amador (Movistar) – 27″
  5. Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) – 31″
  6. Simon Yates (Orica) – 37″
  7. Emanuel Buchmann (Bora) – 40″
  8. Richie Porte (BMC) – 47″
  9. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – 48″
  10. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) – 49″
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Chris Froome is out of the blocks in the race for Yellow! Source: Tim de Waele.

My Prediction

The flatter finish will favour pure sprinters like Marcel KittelMark Cavendish and Alexander KristoffPeter Sagan prefers the more hilly stages compared to others in the bunch (look at Stage 10 from last year’s TDF) but will definitely still be up there as you would be crazy to discredit one of the best riders of this generation. Frenchman Arnaud Demare is the leader for FDJ and has a full team behind him to try and capitalise on the flatter TDF this year to take as many stages as possible (not to mention he is hot off a 19 man leadout at the French NCs to win the Road Race). The race finishes in the home country of Greg van Avermaet and he will be looking for another TDF win on home soil. Similarly, leaving his home country, John Degenkolb will be in the plans for Sunweb as a 1-2 with Michael Matthews and either one of them could take out the stage. Dylan Groenewegen will want to rebound after his slight crash on the time trial

My pick for the stage, however, is the German climber sprinter Andre Greipel. The Gorilla played second fiddle to Cavendish last year at the Tour, but a stage win at the Giro this year and 2 podiums 2 weeks ago at Ster ZLM Tour means that he is in pretty good form. The flatness of the stage means he won’t face the risk of getting dropped, and the long straight finish means the powerful German doesn’t need to negotiate any tight corners which can slow him down. A longer dragged out sprint will suit the German, and I can see him taking it out in Liege.

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Greipel took one stage last year, he will be hoping for more this year. I think Liege will be his starting point. Source: Christophe Ena.

~ The Cycling Raven