Jan Bakelants of RadioShack Leopard Trek earned his first race win as a pro in the best possible way, crossing the finish line first in Stage Two of the 100th Tour de France.
Bakelants joined a six-rider attack eight km from the end of the hilly 156-km stage, then attacked the break 1500 meters from the finish line.
A group of several dozen riders tried hard to catch the RadioShack rider in the closing stretch, but Bakelants made it across with a second’s gap.
Bakelants won the race leader’s yellow jersey as well as the stage. It is hard to imagine a better first win.
“I am incredibly happy I have never won a race in professional ranks,” Bakelants told Eurosport.com.
“Today we were rather a big bunch and I can’t win in a bunch sprint so I have to gamble, so I go when I see [Movistar rider Juan Antonio] Flecha go. I know he always gives the maximum and [Omega rider Sylvain] Chavanel was there—always a guy who wants to ride.
“We were six and we cooperated pretty well, but I knew in the end we would start looking at each other and maybe wouldn’t keep it.
“I thought, ‘Anyway, they are going to come back—you give everything now that you have,’ so I started pushing at 11; maybe it didn’t look nice but I went fast.
Chavanel was giving the maximum, but on his wheel they were taking profits of his efforts. I think, for this, maybe he wanted me to win more than someone else in the field, so he slowed down a little bit.
“The group came back to the five, but I had a decent gap. And I though of Jensy, my roommate [RadioShack’s always aggressive Jens Voigt] and I said ‘Come on, just pedal! It doesn’t matter what happens; if they come back they come back but no regrets after this.’ And yeah, I made it.”
Hills Foil the Sprinters
The stage featured four categorized climbs, a pair of Cat 3s followed by a Cat 2, with another Cat 3 with a very technical descent 12 km from the finish.
Four riders attacked early: David Veilleux (Europcar,) Blel Kadri (AG2R,) Ruben Perez (Euskaltel,) and Lars Boom (Belkin) split up on the Cat 2 climb, with Kadri and Boom dropping the other two.
Kadri left Boom behind on the second climb, but was himself overtaken by Europcar’s Pierre Rolland just before the peak of the third climb, with Sojasun’s Bryce Feillu taking third in King of the Mountains points.
Francais Des Jeux took over the peloton on the ascents, driving the pace high to wear out the sprinters, and it worked; race leader Kittel and Omega’s Mark Cavendish, among others had dropped more than six minutes back by the top of the Cat 2 climb.
Kadri, Rolland, and Feillu were caught with 45 km left in the stage. The race stayed calm for the next 30 km as everyone planned how to attack the final climb.
Movistar’s Juan Antonio Flecha attacked on the climb, with Europcar’s Cyril Gautier. Flecha dropped back but Gautier persisted, cresting the climb and taking great risks on the tricky descent. Sky’s Chris Froome took off after Gautier on the climb and chased him down the descent.
The front group of forty or fifty riders came back together with ten km to go. Sylvain Chavanel, who turned 34 this day, attacked unsuccessfully once, then attacked again, this time with five compatriots: Jan Bakelants (RadioShack,) Jakob Fuglsang (Astana,) Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel,) Manuele Mori, and Juan Antonio Flecha.
This group cooperated until the final 1500 meters, when some riders showed signs of wanting to sit up. Jan Bakelants, knowing he couldn’t win a bunch sprint, had been waiting for his moment; he decided this was it.
Bakelants pushed hard, but was visibly flagging in the final few meters. Then he looked back, saw how close the peloton had gotten, and tried to sprint a little further.
It was close, but Bakelants held on to win by a couple of bike lengths.
Stage Three will be another hilly adventure for the peloton, with a Cat 4, two Cat 3s, and a Cat 2 climb with a fast descent to the finish line.