Team Sky’s Chris Froome threw down a marker to his rivals, showing a glimpse of his stellar form on a tricky stage two from Bastia to Ajaccio. Froome showed his pace and purpose on the final steep kick before the finish, before completing the stage safely alongside his general classification rivals, while up ahead RadioShack Leopard Trek’s Jan Bakelets took a thrilling victory.
It was a tough day for Mark Cavendish who was distanced by the field over the stage’s four categorised climbs, the British sprinter’s bid for the green jersey and stage victories put on ice for the time being.
Stage two featured three categorised climbs on its 154km route. The first was the 3rd category Col de Bellagranajo followed by the 5.2km, 6.9% Col de la Serra. Following a short descent the route climbed to its highest point, the 2nd category Col de Vizzavona at 1163 metres. A long descent followed, interrupted by the 3rd category climb of the Côte du Salario. Topping out at just 98m, the final climb averaged a nasty 8.9km over its 1km length so the short sharp shock of Salario promised to be pivotal.
If the day’s profile cast doubt over the chances of Mark Cavendish and his fellow sprinters, the intermediate sprint at Castello-di-Rostino prior to the day’s climbs was important. However, with a four man break consisting of Davids Veilleux (Europcar), Blel Kadri (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel) and Lars Boom (Belkin) up the road, the sprinters were merely fighting it out for minor points. In a repeat of the day before, Andre Greipel proved the be the form rider, mopping up the 11 points on offer for 5th place ahead of Peter Sagan, Danny Van Poppel, Mark Cavendish and Matt Goss. The subject of points was a sore one for Cavendish, who had publicly complained after the previous day’s points classification results failed to be annulled following the finish line chaos.
Also sore was Geraint Thomas, who came off the worst of the Brits in the previous day’s pileup. Following a visit to hospital, Thomas was given the all clear to compete but was visibly suffering on stage two, visiting the team car for medical attention during the stage, hoping to ride out the pain and stay in the race.
For general classification favourite Chris Froome stage two demanded respect and concentration; the climbs offering his GC rivals a chance to slip away while the twisting technical descents threatened to punish a moment’s inattention. At this point Froome’s teammate Ian Stannard appeared to be suffering no ill effects from the previous day’s spill, at the head of the pack shepherding his team leader up the Col de Bellagranajo. Up ahead, Lars Boom took the points at the summit while at the other end of the field, Mark Cavendish dropped to the rear of the group as the peloton began the short descent to the foot of the day’s second, steeper climb.
Up ahead the breakaway group had split, with Veilleux and Kadri pressing on, distancing Boom and Perez who were soon caught by the group. The peloton’s pace and the gradient began to make Cavendish suffer while the ever entertaining Thomas Voeckler launched a solo attack off the front of the peloton in an attempt to join his Europcar teammate Veilleux up front.
However Voeckler couldn’t break the elastic and was soon caught by the peloton, headed by a hard charging Equipe Cycliste FDJ team, their sprint favourite Nacer Bouhanni coping well with the gradient. Kadri went on alone to reach the summit alone, Veilleux too having fallen back into the peloton, while Cavendish and his group of stragglers (also including yellow jersey Marcel Kittel) had lost over a minute on the peloton.
Onto the biggest climb of the day and the peloton hunted down the lone leader, who suffered a mechanical and was almost caught but decided to battle on alone. Europcar were clearly on a mission as Pierre Rolland attacked off the front, catching and passing Kadri who had been joined by Brice Feillu of Sojasun. Rolland went on to take the mountain points and the polka dot jersey with it, while behind Froome’s Sky team took control ahead of the long, sinuous descent that followed. Now almost ten minutes back lay Cavendish, dropped from the Kittel group, his slim hopes of stage victory at an end for the day.
All too soon, Rolland was caught by the peloton, now headed by Cannondale, keen prevent the sprinters making the junction and give Peter Sagan a shot at stage victory. Yet with the final sting of the Côte du Salario still to come, the race was far from over.
As the final climb approached, BMC Racing, Team Sky and Garmin Sharp amassed at the front of the field and ramped up the pace; BMC perhaps riding for world champion Phillipe Gilbert while keeping their GC contenders on the right side on any splits. Ditto for Team Sky, keen to keep Froome out of trouble while teeing up Boasson Hagen, while Garmin perhaps sensed a chance for David Millar to grab the maillot jaune following his fourth place on stage one.
Onto the climb and Flecha (Vacansoleil) and Gautier (Europcar) attacked forcing Team Sky, headed by Richie Porte, to reel them him in. Then Froome kicked from Porte’s wheel and attempted to chase down Gautier, Flecha having sat up. However, with 10km to go, Froome realised that to continue would be folly and fell back into the lead group, leaving the Europcar rider to battle on alone. Gautier was caught at 7.5km as a six rider counter-attack (Flecha, Chavanel, Izagirre, Bakelants, Fuglsang and Mori) went clear.
Into the final kilometre and RadioShack’s Jan Bakelants went clear as the rest of the break was swept up by the peloton, Bakelants just holding on for the stage win and the yellow jersey.
Chris Froome finished in the main group alongside teammate Peter Kennaugh and his general classification rivals, another nervous day in Corsica behind him. Meanwhile, thanks to his fourth place in stage one, David Millar lay in second place on the general classification behind stage winner Bakelants. Mark Cavendish eventually rolled over the line over 17 minutes behind the race winner in a group which also contained the ailing Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard.
Following his audacious show on the final climb, Chris Froome spoke to ITV:
"I think the main objective for us today was to stay out of trouble at the front and not really lose any time to the other big contenders.
"Coming into the finish, if Eddie (Boasson Hagen) was there he was going to have a go at the sprint.
"I think all in all a good stage for us having kept our places on the GC and Eddie got to stretch his legs a little bit today."
Froome went on to reveal his reasons for jumping clear on the final climb:
"That little climb about 10kms from the finish - I knew the descent was quite tricky and dangerous. I was on the front with Richie (Porte) and I thought it might be a good time to push on and get ahead, take the descent at my own pace and stay out of trouble really.
When pressed on the side-effects of his decision a smiling Froome said, "It's always good to keep people on their toes at the same time".
The race continues with another medium mountains stage on Corsica tomorrow.
1 BAKELANTS Jan RadioShack - Leopard
2 SAGAN Peter Cannondale Pro Cycling Team
3 KWIATKOWSKI Michal Omega Pharma - Quick-Step
4 CIMOLAI Davide Lampre - Merida
5 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald Sky Procycling
6 SIMON Julien Sojasun
7 GAVAZZI Francesco Astana Pro Team
8 IMPEY Daryl Orica GreenEDGE
9 BENNATI Daniele Team Saxo-Tinkoff
10 LAGUTIN Sergey Vacansoleil - DCM
13 MILLAR David Garmin - Sharp
35 FROOME Christopher Sky Procycling
83 KENNAUGH Peter Sky Procycling
182 CAVENDISH Mark Omega Pharma - Quick-Step
195 STANNARD Ian Sky Procycling
196 THOMAS Geraint Sky Procycling
General Classification after stage 2
1 BAKELANTS Jan RadioShack - Leopard 08:40:03
2 MILLAR David Garmin - Sharp 00:01
3 SIMON Julien Sojasun ,,
4 IMPEY Daryl Orica GreenEDGE ,,
5 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald Sky Procycling ,,
6 GERRANS Simon Orica GreenEDGE ,,
7 KWIATKOWSKI Michal Omega Pharma - Quick-Step ,,
8 LAGUTIN Sergey Vacansoleil - DCM ,,
9 RIBLON Christophe AG2R La Mondiale ,,
10 EVANS Cadel BMC Racing Team ,,
18 FROOME Christopher Sky Procycling ,,
51 KENNAUGH Peter Sky Procycling ,,
160 CAVENDISH Mark Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 17:35
191 STANNARD Ian Sky Procycling ,,
198 THOMAS Geraint Sky Procycling ,,