So, that little annual bike race got underway in France over the weekend (okay, technically it was in Monaco), and it is already off to a fun and exciting start. The Tour’s field is deep and strong this year, and there are a number of top contenders, but lets face it, the cycling world is abuzz in no small part thanks to the return of Lance Armstrong to the event.
Stage 1 took place on Saturday, and it was an individual time trial through the streets of Monaco. The stage began with a long climb to the top of a hill followed by a fast drop back down to the finish line on the other side. At the end of the day, it was time trial specialist Fabian Cancellara who scorched the field and claimed the Yellow Jersey, but Alberto Contador, a team mate of Lance Armstrong on Team Astana, looked impressive in second place. Other contenders, such as Levi Leipheimer, also of Astana, and Cadel Evans, who finished second the last two years, were not far off the pace, and right where they were expected to be. Lance himself had a solid ride, and finished the day in 10th.
Yesterday brought us Stage 2, which was a day for the sprinters across 187km (116 miles) or rolling countryside in southern France. The riders set off from Monaco and ended the day in Brignoles, with little to no change in the main leaderboard. But the day did belong to Mark Cavendish, the very talented sprinter from the U.K. who has earned himself the monkior of “The Missile”. Cavendish blasted his way to the finish line claiming his first stage victory of the 2009 Tour.
Stage 3 was run this morning, and was expected to be much like yesterday. A 196.5km (122 miles) jaunt from Marseille to La Grande-Motte, which despite the heat, would still favor the sprinters. The route was mostly flat, with a few hills to earn a couple of King of the Mountain points for the climbers, but otherwise it was all about speed. The surprise of the day came late in the ride however, when a group of riders that included Armstrong, made a breakaway, leaving the Peloton behind. The split was aided by some serious crosswinds that gave a brief advantage to the escapees, and in the end, that’s all they needed, as the breakaway finished 40 seconds up on the Peloton, led once again by Cavendish who already has two stage wins, halfway to matching the four he picked up last year.
Cancellara will remain in Yellow for now, 33 seconds up on Tony Martin of Team Columbia, and 40 in front of Lance Armstrong who now finds himself in third place, and looking at possibly putting on the Yellow Jersey himself following tomorrows 39km (24 mile) team time trial through Montpellier. If that were to happen, it certainly would be an amazing sight to see. It’s very early in the race however, and I’m sure he’d probably relinquish it at some point before heading into the mountains, but still it would be a great testament to his skills as a rider, even after a three year layoff and at the age of 37, to be back in Yellow.
High drama and expectations for tomorrow for sure! The team time trial makes it’s first return since 2005, and it should be fun to watch.
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