Cent Ans de la Plus Grande Course du Monde

Tour de France

STAGE 2 : June 30

Bastia → Ajaccio

“J’AI JOUÉ MALIN”

So said Jan Bakelants after holding off the peloton over the last kilometer in Ajacio. I played it crafty. A great win: the six-man break was enough to stay in front through most of the windy, flat final kilometres after Côte du Salario, but jockeying and fatigue within the group broke it up. Bakelants took the moment — ‘one of those special chances’ Liggett said — bore down, and just barely made it. His first win in five years of professional riding! They’ll give him a 1 second lead, which is plenty to show that he earned it.

Here’s the final 2 seconds, with Bakelants in the green helmet:

Come on, man! Don’t look back! I think he must have had no idea how close they were. Either that, or he’s never been in that position before and wasn’t quite sure what to think.

He crosses the line almost in disbelief:

Kittel (who wore yellow and really who can blame him, it’s once in a lifetime) will keep the green jersey, but a stage like this, in which the 2 climbs really strung out the pack and in which FDJ, Cannondale, and Eurocar all controlled the front at various points and reeled in leaders — this stage was a proper demonstration of the flow and drama of a stage. Corsica redeems itself after yesterday! (Here’s poor Garikoitz Atxa apologizing for the bus thing.)

And Blel Kadri! Ranked 115th in the world in 2011 and with a name straight out of a China Miéville novel, Kadri spent most of the day determined to lead. Early Tour stages are great for these efforts by the domestiques and general non-favorites (like Bakelants) to grab some glory. After Kadri dropped Veilleux, he was caught by Voeckler, who won the mountains jersey last year and was up on his pedals again. Voeckler was helped in part by the pace FDJ was setting for the peloton. Kittel, Cavendish, Poppel and the other prima donnas sprinters fell further and further behind. Then Kadri had some mechanical problem and was off his bike, allowing Rolland to pass him and get the 5 mountain points for being first to Col de Vizzavona. but Kadri battled back! Bike fixed, he was back in the saddle with the peloton, what, 100 metres away? They were right there. And still Kadri rode off again. It wasn’t heroics by any means, but it was brave.

Descending from Vizzavona it was Rolland, Kadri, Feillu for a bit longer before Cannondale finally pulled them in. The pack rode together to the short ascent on Côte du Salario into Ajacio, then Voeckler jumped again, they caught him, then the 6-man group that included Bakelants got away. It always feel like the peloton can catch the breakaway whenever it wants to — it usually does — but not today. Great job, Bakelants.

Speaking of descents, it used to be done like this:

But now it’s this:

Plus ça change.

And I might as well say this now: Sprinters? Come on. They’re the cycling equivalent of slam dunk champions: yeah, it’s exciting for the 2 seconds when they do their thing, but it’s not what the game is really about. Kadri gutting it out alone, or Bakelants summoning the reserves after hours of racing: there’s glory in that.

Here is your daily champion for Stage 2:
Greg LeMond, who never really had a nickname
Three-time winner of Tour de France in 1986, 1989, and 1990. I’m putting him here on day 2 because a) Kadri’s finish today reminds me of Lemond’s 8-second win in 1989 and b) LeMond was my hero when I was a kid and c) I don’t care about his post-cycling career, the guy won three! Shown here after the 1985 Paris-Roubaix (not the Tour), but how great is that picture?

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