Monday, July 07, 2014

Tour de France 2014: The Riders Arrive in London

The 2014 Tour de France got underway this past weekend, with the first three stages taking place in the U.K. And while traditionally not much happens in the first few days of the race, at least in terms of the General Classification, there is still plenty to report from the peloton as the riders get ready to leap across the English Channel in preparation for the tough stages that are yet to come.

On Saturday, the race got underway with a 190.5 km (118.3 mile) stage that ran from Leeds to Harrogate. While the route featured a few minor climbs, the day was really meant for the sprinters. It was expected to be a wild finish, with the fastest cyclists in the world going head to head not only for the state win, but also the coveted Yellow Jersey. British rider Mark Cavendish had circled this date on his calendar, saying that if he didn't win, his entire year would be for nothing. Unfortunately for Cav, he caused an accident 250 meters from the finish line that not only took him out of the running for that day, but caused an injury that has forced him to withdraw from the Tour altogether. We will not see the Manx Missile for the rest of the race.

Cavendish's chief rival Marcel Kittel ended up taking the win, and put on the Yellow Jersey, although he held it for just one day. On Sunday, the race ran for 201 km (124.8 miles) from York to Sheffield, with the route including some rolling hills, and even a few solid climbs. That tested the legs of the peloton early on, and actually caused quite a bit of separation across its ranks. The non-climbers already find themselves well off the pace, and are not likely to get anywhere close to GC contenders for the rest of the race. The day was won by Vincenzo Nibali of Team Astana, who also claimed the Yellow Jersey in the process.

Today's third stage was almost completely flat, allowing the sprinters to once again take center stage. It covered 155 km (96.3 miles) from Cambridge to London, with no real action to speak of until the riders turned toward the finish line. Some light rain later in the stage caused a little bit of concern, but for the most part the riders navigated the situation well. A long breakaway of two riders, Jan Bárta and Jean-Marc Bideau, tried to survive to the end, but were swept up by the Peloton with 6 km to go. That allowed the top teams, and their sprinters, to come to the front, in order to get into position to make a dash for the win. In the end, it was Kittel who ended up nudging out Peter Sagan for the State 3 victory.

After three days of racing. Nibali continues to hold on to the Yellow Jersey, and Sagan has a firm grip on the Green Jersey that goes to the stop sprinter. The Polka Dot Jersey for the King of the Mountain is on the shoulders of Cyril Lemoine, and the White Jersey for the top young rider (under the age of 25) is currently worn by Sagan as well, although it is on loan to Bryan Coquard to wear out on the road.

One of the surprising things about this year's race so far, is that the true contenders for the Yellow Jersey are already lurking on the leaderboard. Often times at this stage of the race, the GC contenders are just happy to stay out of trouble, and bide their time until the later stages in the big mountains. But this year, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Rui Alberto Costa, and others with aspirations of winning the Tour are already within striking distance. That leave little room for error in the days ahead, and should make for some exciting stages.

Tomorrow, the riders will face a very flat stage running for 163.5 km (101.5 miles) from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille Métropole. It will be the first ride on French soil, heading towards a brief ride through Belgium. In the days ahead, the route will start to incorporate more hills, and eventually big mountains, but for now, it will be another day for the sprinters to take center stage.

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