Tinkoff rider Peter Sagan seized the rwce leader’s yellow jersey with a perfectly timed uphill attack in the final few dozen meters of Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour de France, while his team leader and overall favorite Alberto Contador crashed for the second day in a row, landing on his already injured right shoulder and dropping to 62nd place, one minute behind his race leading team mate.
For Sagan, Stage 2 was his fifth career Tour de France stage win and his first day in yellow; for Contador the fall was more of a disappoint than a disaster. The Tinkoff team leader was not seriously hurt; he only aggravated the damage done during his crash in Stage 1.
Still, the crash means one more day of healing, one more night of not sleeping comfortably, and it means the 33-year-old Spaniard has a sizeable, if not insurmountable deficit to overcome before the first serious climbing stage has even approached the horizon.
Contador’s body will heal; it is his morale which will be tested. The two-time Tour winner knows that Movistar’s General Classification contender Nairo Quintana lost a minute in Stage 2 last year, and three weeks later finished the race in second place, one minute behind the winner, Sky’s Chris Froome. Contador still has a strong chance to win, but he needs a little help from fate.
Stage 2 this year connected the two cities of Saint-Lô and Cherbourg-Octevill, 182 km apart, with three Category 4 climbs along the way. The only significant climb was the final incline, the 1.9-km long Côte de La Glacerie.
Staring just three km from the finish, the Côte de La Glacerie averages 6.54 percent of incline but hits 14 percent in its middle section—sufficiently steep to sap a rider’s legs after 180 km of racing. After a few hundred meters of flat, the route finished with 600 meters of 5.7 percent climb—a final nail into the coffin of a tired breakaway rider, potentially.
And so it was. A breakaway of four riders formed in the first few kilometers: Paul Voss of Bora-Argon 18, who led the break in Stage 1 was joined by team mate Cesare Benedetti, Vegard Breen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). This quartet rode together into the final 8.6 km, when Jasper Stuyvens struck out on his own.
The Trek Segafredo rider came within 450 meters of surviving; the peloton swallowed him up within sight of the finish line.
Tinkoff’s Roman Kreuziger led the chase through the final few kilometers, dragging Peter Sagan to the front. Sagan opened a small gap, then eased up, allowing Etixx-Quickstep’s Julian Alaphilippe to take the lead. Sagan followed the young Frenchman for a few hundred meters, then exploded past him to take the stage win by eight seconds.
Alaphhilippe’s efforts were not wasted. The 24-year-old moved into second place in the General Classification, ahead of Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Giant-Alpecin’s Warren Barguil.
Alberto Contador got caught up in a small collision at the 122-km mark, landing on his already sore right shoulder. he rode on apparently unconcerned—he has won seven Grands Tour already, so he has already faced most possible situations. Still, it would be hard to imagine a worse start to a 21-day bike race.
BMC’s GC contender Richie Porte was stricken with a flat tire four km from the finish. The Australian rider lost two minutes, enough to ensure that his team would oust him as leader and replace him with American Teejay Van Garderen.
2013 and 2015 winner Chris Froome of Team Sky lies fifth, 14 seconds behind Sagan.
Stage 3 is flat, with a single Cat 4 climb early on, ending in a short uphill sprint. Likely the Tour will see yet another rider in yellow Monday evening.