Mark Cavendish came into this year's Tour with high expectations, both self-imposed and from his fans and rivals alike. After four stage victories in last year's Tour and big wins this season including Milano-San Remo and multiple stages in the Giro d'Italia, the sprinting sensation gave Team Columbia-HTC its first success of this 96th edition as most expected he would. Cavendish put several bike lengths into young American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) and emerging French rider Romain Feillu (Agritubel).
"They're superb," Cavendish said of his Columbia colleagues. "They're really intelligent riders. When you see that eight riders were riding for me, it's fantastic and I'm really happy to have won this stage."
"Now I've won a stage and now I want to concentrate on reaching Paris," he added.
After a bona-fide time trial in place of a traditional short prologue on Saturday, Sunday's first road stage didn't offer any easier an introduction to this edition of the Tour. With nowhere to go but up from the Port Hercule in Monaco, the race climbed to the heights of La Turbie above the principality before turning westward toward Brignoles. A perfect launching pad for an early break, the narrow, twisting, relentlessly rolling course coupled with another day of oppressive heat challenged the peloton from the drop of the flag.
Team Saxo Bank's Fabian Cancellara held onto his yellow jersey without difficulty while the favorites for the general classification generally kept quiet. The notable break of the day was established after a flurry of early attacks on the Category 3 ascent of La Turbie out of Monaco. Cofidis' Samuel Dumoulin was the first to try his luck but even in the heat the field was unwilling to let him go that easily. After 13 kilometers of hostilities, a group of four distinguished itself by going clear under the initiative of Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux). The young rider from Finland took with him Stef Clement (Rabobank), Cyril Dessel (AG2R La Mondiale), and Stéphane Augé (Cofidis).
The quartet kept its adventure rolling through relentlessly heavy and winding roads, building a lead of nearly six minutes at the halfway point of the stage. The margin wouldn't quite be big enough, as Team Columbia began to assemble with 45km left to race with the singular goal of carrying Cavendish to a bunch sprint. The gap tumbled quickly and once reeled in only one counter attack, Katusha's Mikhail Ignatiev, showed any chance of stirring up the mix.
"Its' true that we didn't make it all the way," Dessel commented after the finish, drenched in sweat. "Today was a special stage, starting with the climb and the attacks in the heat. I'm still looking for a little confidence, but I'm ambitious and I'm here to win a stage."
|The break of four only reached a six minute advantage under a blazing sun |
|(Photo: Roberto Bettini) |
Ultimately, the Columbia leadout train was on the express track to Brignoles and despite desperate attempts by Milram and Bbox-Bouyges Telecom to steal control, Cavendish's victory began to look certain as the field poured into the final kilometers. Several sprinters, including Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) were delayed in a crash inside the red kite of 1km to go, but nobody was going to challenge Columbia as three riders remained to launch Cavendish to the line.
With his win, Cavendish also took control of the green jersey, something he relishes and considers a real objective in his bid to reach Paris and win more stages along the way. He hugged every one of his teammates after the line, underscoring his appreciation of the work done to set up his victory. He also praised Erik Zabel, who since retirement has become a mentor to the young Brit and a key factor in the Columbia sprinter's rapidly growing experience.
"I think we took control of the race and finished off in spectacular fashion," he continued. "When you can win the stage and wear the green jersey, it's a very special day. It's beautiful to be able to wear the green jersey; it's a big dream for any sprinter."
Stage 2: July 5, Monaco to Brignoles 187km
1. Mark Cavendish (IDM/THR) 4h30min 02sec
2. Tyler Farrar (USA/GRM) @ s.t
3. Romain Feillu (FRA/AGR)
4. Thor Hushovd (NOR/CTT)
5. Yukiya Arashiro (JPN/BBO)
6. Gerald Ciolek (GER/MRM)
7. William Bonnet (FRA/BBO)
8. Nicolas Roche (EIR/ALM)
9. Koen de Kort (NED/SKS)
10. Lloyd Mondory (FRA/ALM)
Overall Classification After Stage 2
1. Fabian Cancellara (SWI/SAX) 4h49min 34sec
2. Alberto Contador (ESP/AST) @ 0:18
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/GRM) @ 0:19
4. Andreas Kloden (GER/AST) @ 0:22
5. Cadel Evans (AUS/SIL) @ 0:23
6. Levi Leipheimer (USA/AST) @ 0:30
7. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/LIQ) @ 0:32
8. Tony Martin (GER/THR) @ 0:33
9. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/LIQ) @ 0:37
10. Lance Armstrong (USA/AST) @ 0:40