It was a wild and challenging start to the Tour de France over the weekend, starting with a rain soaked individual time trial and ending with a challenging run today that saw Thor Hushovd claim a stage victory. In between, we’ve had crashes galore, including one that took out a Tour favorite, while Lance Armstrong suffers a bit of bad luck that puts him at a disadvantage to his chief rival, defending champ Alberto Contador.
On Saturday, the riders took to the road in Rotterdam to compete in the Prologue that was an exciting start to this year’s race. As expected, Fabian Cancellara of Team Saxo Bank took the stage win, but Armstrong looked to have regained some of his championship form, and performed well too, finishing fourth in the stage, 22 seconds behind the winner. Contador has a solid run, but looked to struggle a bit at times, and ended up in sixth place, 27 seconds off the pace. Armstrong had to feel good coming out of the day with a slight edge on the Tour favorite.
Sunday, the riders took the open road for the first time, racing to Brussels in celebration of Eddy Merckx’s 65th birthday. The stage was mostly flat, with the only expected challenge being the blustery crosswinds across the Belgian countryside. Those winds never materialized, and thus it was a relatively easy ride, with the sprinters picking up valuable points towards the Green Jersey. There were a number of nasty crashes, but the Tour favorites managed to avoid the mishaps, and come through mostly unscathed. Cancellara remained in the Yellow Jersey, with no real changes in position amongst the race favorites.
Yesterday’s Stage 2 introduced some hills into the mix, and allowed the climbers to get in on the action early on. Sylvain Chavanel of Team Quick Step made a breakaway at the end of the stage however, and held on to cross the finish line by himself, taking the Yellow Jersey from Cancellara. Once again, the top riders remained unchanged in their position with one another, as they wait for their opportunity to attack one another later in the race.
Today was Stage 3, which was a 213km (132.3 mile) route from Wanze Arenberg to Porte du Hainaut. With one category 4 climb mixed into the ride, there was a chance for the climbers to strut there stuff once again, but mostly it was another day for the sprinters, but the biggest challenge for the peloton was to survive the nearly 9 miles of cobblestones that threatened to end their tour early, and for one top rider, they did just that.
Frank Schleck, of Team Saxo Bank, was involved in a crash part way through the race that has sent him on his way home, which is a huge blow to his team and to his brother Andy, who finished second last year, and relies heavily on his big brother throughout the Tour. Frank just came off a huge win in the Tour de Suisse, and was considered a contender in his own right. His departure from the race changes the complexion of the Tour dramatically.
Meanwhile, the ride today was a fast and furious one, with the speed demons going for Green Jersey points. Last year’s Green Jersey winner, Thor Hushovd took the stage win, with Fabian Cancellara not far behind. The fast finish for Cancellara allowed him to regain the Yellow Jersey after Chavanel lost time due to multiple tire punctures. Neither Cancellara nor Chavanel are considered real contenders to win the race, but they’ll likely continue to battle for the lead until the riders hit the Alps in a week’s time.
The real story may be that Lance Armstrong gave up time to Alberto Contador following a tire puncture of his own. Lance was riding very strong, and was actually riding away from Contador before the unfortunate incident, but following the tire change, he ended up finishing behind his younger rival. Contador now sits in 9th place, 1:40 off the lead, with Armstrong dropping to 18th, another 50 seconds back. Both men will duel it out in mountains of course, but Lance will look to make up time before then, as that is a huge gap to overcome against one of the top climbers in the world.
Stay tuned for more tomorrow, when the Tour actually appears in France for the first time this year. Stage 4 will run from Cambrai to Reims on a route that is 153.5km (95.3 miles) in length and is mostly designed for the sprinters. The ride should be a relatively easy one, giving the Peloton the chance to recover and regroup after a rough start thus far.
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