This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France fan who is reporting his 4th tour
The 1st Stage of the 99th Tour de France started of from Liege to Seraing, a distance of 198kms, with all of the 198 riders riding this year. With the race route spread around the Ardennes, there were 4 Category IV climbs, with the final one coming on the finish stretch, which kept the race on its toes.
The day stated off with six riders, YohannGène of Europcar, Pablo Urtasun of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Maxim Bouet of AG2R La Mondiale, Nicolas Edet of Cofidis, Anthony Delaplace of Saur-Sojasun and Michael Mørkøv of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, making for the break of the day. They rode up ahead for almost 190kms before the peleton swallowed them up in the run into Seraing. In the bargain, Michael Mørkøv of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank won the most points for the King of the Mountain Polka dotted jersey.
With the breakaway forming right from the word go, it was upto the RadioShack Nissan team to shoulder the race and drive the peleton all the way, as their rider Fabian Cancellara was in the Yellow Jersey, and to their credit they did not keep a wrong step as they kept the pace high enough so that the breakaway couldn’t fly away for a stage win. It was only in the final 25kms, when the rest of the teams with stage win ambitions started getting organized to try and put their rider in the front, that RadioShack took a back seat.
The roads of Belgium are renowned for their cobbles and small run ups. This also ensured that there was a massive turn of speed at the front as each team cranked it up to put their best man in the correct position. This saw a lot of riders in the peleton loose touch at the back, and as the race turned into the last climb, it become a trickle of riders. Sylvain Chavanel of Omega Pharma Quick Step was the first rider to make a serious effort to break free, but was reined in by Michael Albasini of Orica GreenEdge and Peter Sagan of Liqigas Cannondale.
A few meters later, it was the Yellow Jersey of Cancellara who just cranked his gears up, and in true Spartacus style just pulled away from the rest of the riders. This time only Sagan could catch his wheel. As his relentless ride continued, the gap widened on the peleton and a hope for a few extra seconds on the others was strengthened. Soon however Cancellara flipped his hand to Sagan for him to take over and drive the race further, which the wily Slovakian Sagan refused, as he knew doing that would further strengthen Cancellara. With no other option but to continue his searing pace at the head of the race, Cancellara pedaled on. Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky was the only other rider who could bridge across to these two. In the end Sagan kicked home effortlessly to win his first Stage in his first ever Tour de France. Cancellara finished second and Boasson finished third.
Cadel Evans rode a hard race in the end and helped Philippe Gilbert to come to the front of the peleton, but Gilbert’s last minute effort did not materialize in any rewards for him, but ensured that he dragged the whole peleton up to finish in the same time as the winners, thus robbing Cancellara of a few seconds lead that would have been profitable for the Yellow Jersey.
In the end, nothing much changed on the leader board as all the leading contenders finished on the same times. The Yellow Jersey of the race leader and the Green jersey for the points leader both continue with Fabian Cancellara of RadioShack Nissan. The White Jersey, for the best young rider is retained by Tejay Van Gargeren of BMC Racing team, while Michael Mørkøv of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank gets the King of the Mountain Polka dotted Jersey.
Speaking to media after the race Peter Sagan thanked his team, specially race title contender Vincenzo Nibali, for taking care of him and placing him in the front when the final climb began. “I waited to see if I could attack and I wanted to hold on because I knew it was a long finish. I couldn’t ride with Cancellara. I know he’s very strong… but I did succeed in getting a win” said a delighted Sagan.
For Cancellara, these poker type finishes are now becoming a routine. Over the last 2 years, he has lost many a classic and stage races to riders who have just piggy backed on his efforts and in the finale outsprinted him, when he had done majority of the work. “I said in the end to myself, probably attacking is the best defense. When I saw Chavanel was attacking with Albasini, I just went up steady. When the cobblestones came, that’s my thing, and I attacked. This play of poker is maybe where I lost in the end, but I think I won a lot of confidence and that’s really important,” said Cancellara.
For those who want to enjoy thevisit to Seraing and look around the town, one must visit the Val Saint Lambert Glass Museum and the Crystal factory to watch the glass workers make the world famous pieces. More info on them at http://www.glass-wiki.net/Val-Saint-Lambert.ashx
After the race one can walk around town to meet a Macrales, a local witch and before leaving taste the “BouletLiégeois”, a local favourite.
Tomorrow the 2nd Stage of this year’s TdF is from Vise to Tournai, a distance of 207kms, which will see the race move from Belgium and enter France. By all assumptions, this stage is set to finish in a bunch sprint and Team Sky with Cavendish, who by the way today popped off in the final run in to the finish line before the last climb, must be looking to stamp their win list for 2012. Will it be Cavendish or Greipel or Sagan or Goss?? Can Kettel unleash his power? Me thinks, without any crashes, the race will be amongst the fast men and victory will belong to the team with a well set delivery train…
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