Tour de France: Stage 1 review

Stage 1: Liege to Seraing, 198km

A six-man break escaped early on, including Yohann Gene (Europcar), Pablo Urtasun (Euskatel-Euskadi), Maxime Bouet (AG2R La Mondiale), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) and Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), with Morkov the first over three of the four Cat 4 climbs en route to take the early lead in the mountains classification.

But with around 20km to go the racing took a nervous, twitchy turn as the pace ramped up in the peloton. There were two crashes in quick succession, one caused by a camera-wielding, over-eager spectator, which effectively wiped out the entire second half of the peloton. After the crashes, first BMC and then Lotto-Belisol took up the pacemaking, after Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan), who had been sat on the front for nearly the entire day, fell backwards.

The breakaway were caught with 9km to go. As the steepest part of the concluding 2.4km climb took hold, the attacks started. The most notable came from French favourite Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). But he failed to force a gap, and with just over 1km remaining the maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) gloriously launched himself out of nowhere, with Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) locked on to his wheel. Cancellara impressively led himself and Sagan away off the front, with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) eventually bridging across. Unsurprisingly, the in-form Sagan sprinted away from the duo to take his first Tour stage win in style. Cancellara impressively held off Boasson Hagen to finish second.

VeloVoices rider of the day

Sagan claimed a maiden Tour win with ease (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

As predictable as it may be, the rider of the day must go to Peter Sagan.

Unlike Philippe Gilbert, who finished fourth, Sagan lived up to expectations with a terrific victory, his 14th of the season. With his ability to stay strong on hilly climbs there is very little that he can’t do, and he will provide a strong challenge for the green jersey, for which he is the favourite.

It will be fascinating to see if the 22-year-old Slovakian national champion can match the likes of Mark Cavendish (Sky) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) on the flatter finishes. He rode intelligently here, deliberately riding behind Cancellara, anticipating an attack from the current race leader:

It was a good day today, the finale was very hard. I knew Cancellara would attack so I stayed behind him. I did not overtake him before the final stretch because he was riding so fast.


It was the second consecutive year that a spectator-induced crash claimed numerous big names, as Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) and Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan) were amongst the riders who went down, after Alberto Contador was taken out early in last year’s edition.

One of my favourite moments of the stage was Saxo Bank’s Michael Morkov celebrating like he’d won a stage after learning out on the course that he had done enough to take the polka dot jersey. The Dane is 27years old and has been a professional since 2005, but finding out he was the Tour’s King of the Mountains brought back the enthusiasm and excitement of a young neo-pro. Congratulations, Michael!

World time trial champion Tony Martin (OPQS), who suffered a puncture in yesterday’s peloton, crashed early in the stage and rode in pain to the finish. It was initially suggested that he had abandoned with a broken collarbone, although it was later reported that he had a wrist injury and a final decision had not yet been made.

Tactical analysis

Sagan‘s victory was an exercise in good strategy and perfect timing. Whereas Sylvain Chavanel‘s attack came too early to have any chance of holding off the entire field, Sagan coolly locked on to the yellow jersey’s wheel and was in perfect position to track his attack. As at Milan-San Remo earlier in the year, Cancellara was a victim of his own strength as his rivals forced him to lead-out and the Slovak picked his moment to accelerate away for an easy win. Nonetheless, the fact that the maillot jaune was still able to hold off Boasson Hagen was mightily impressive. There can be no doubt: Cancellara is back and fully fit again.

The bunch was quick enough in the closing metres to eliminate any time losses for most of the GC contenders. However, Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun), who finished 14th overall last year, lost 17 and 23 seconds respectively, Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) almost a minute, and Bradley Wiggins‘ mountain lieutenant Chris Froome (Sky) was 1:25 adrift after a late puncture.

In collecting three points and the race’s first polka dot jersey, Morkov provided a much-needed lift for the beleaguered Contador-less Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team. With just a single point available in tomorrow’s stage, he will spend at least another day in the jersey, and will no doubt be keen to get into the break the following day to try to protect his lead. With no GC contender, expect to see them animating breakaways on a regular basis.

At the intermediate sprint Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) won a hotly contested gallop from the main bunch, beating Mark Cavendish (Sky). Despite Cavendish downplaying his focus on the points classification, he did clearly contest the sprint, and must therefore still consider a second consecutive maillot vert as a possible option, no matter how much he suggests otherwise.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website

What’s happening in July?

July is unquestionably the biggest month in the 2012 cycling calendar, featuring as it does the Tour de France and the London Olympic Games. But those are not the only races this month, with two distinctly different but equally interesting races in Austria and Poland to look forward to for those unable to take the start-line in Liège yesterday. Aside from Le Tour, here are the key dates for your diary for July – as well as a preview of what’s coming up in the world of VeloVoices this month.

Tour of Austria (1st-8th)

This eight-day stage race kicks off the day after the Tour de France and offers a varied all-round challenge for those unfortunate enough not to have received a personal or team invite to the Tour. Flat stages and a penultimate individual team trial sandwich two major climbing stages – a summit finish on top of the 1,670m hors catégorie Kitzbuheler Horn on stage two, and the HC Grossglockner, a stage finish in the hellish 2011 Giro, on stage four.

Link: PreviewOfficial website

Tour de Pologne (10th-16th)

This year’s week-long Tour of Poland has been pulled forward in the calendar to overlap with the middle of the Tour de France, which is a shame for a race which offers little variety – every stage either involves a bunch sprint or repeating loops of medium mountains – but close, exciting racing which gives us a glimpse of the next generation of up-and-coming stars. The three stand-outs of last year’s race have all graduated to this year’s Tour: Marcel Kittel won four sprint stages and Dan Martin impressed on the climbs here before going on to play a major role at the Vuelta, while Peter Sagan took two stages and the overall by a mere five seconds from Martin. This year’s race will be enlivened by the presence of BMC’s former world champion Thor Hushovd, for whom the lumpy parcours should be ideally suited.

Link: Official website

Olympic road races (28th & 29th)

The men’s and women’s road races take place over the same basic route starting and finishing on the Mall, heading out into Surrey to take on a number of loops – nine for the men, two for the women – each of which includes the ascent of Box Hill, where we can expect a succession of challenging attacks to occur. Mark Cavendish will carry the hopes of the host nation on his shoulders as he seeks to win what should be the first gold medal of the Games in the 250km men’s race. The 140km women’s race takes place the following day, with any one of Lizzie Armitstead, Nicole Cooke and Emma Pooley potential winners.

Both the men’s and women’s time trials both take place on August 1st.

Link: Official website

Look out for full previews in advance of each race here on VeloVoices.

This month’s birthdays

A selection of some of the more notable birthdays in the peloton this month:

Gilbert hits the big three-oh (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

3rd: Nicolas Roche, AG2R La Mondiale (28 years old). The son of 1987 Giro and Tour winner Stephen and cousin of Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin is a solid all-round stage racer whose career highlights include finishing seventh at the 2010 Vuelta and a stage win at last year’s Tour of Beijing. He is currently racing at the Tour de France, where he is hoping to improve on his best finish of 14th in 2010.

5th: Philippe Gilbert, BMC (30). The King of Belgium swept all before him in 2011, winning the Ardennes Triple of Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, both his national road race and time trial championships, and the opening stage of the Tour de France – qualifying him for an elite group of riders who have won at all three Grand Tours – en route to finishing as the world’s number one-ranked rider. This year, however, he has been plagued by health and form problems, with a third place at Flèche Wallonne his best result. However, a solid ninth place at yesterday’s opening Tour prologue suggests he may finally be approaching the kind of form which could propel him to another first-week victory.

13th: Jack Bobridge, Orica-GreenEDGE (23). The Australian youngster is already a multiple world champion on the track and won his national road race title as a 21-year old in 2011. He has already participated in two Giros as he continues his development as a road racer. A star of the future.

16th: Andre Greipel, Lotto-Belisol (30). The powerful but softly-spoken German sprinter is a prolific winner, having reached double figures in victories every year since 2008. He has 14 already this year, in addition to a career total of seven wins across the three Grand Tours.

16th: Stefano Garzelli, Acqua & Sapone (39). The veteran climber has performed best in his home country, in particular at the Giro, which he won in 2000. In addition to eight stage victories, he has also twice won the King of the Mountains competition in the twilight of his career, in 2009 and 2011.

27th: Allan Davis, Orica-GreenEDGE (32). The experienced Aussie sprinter has finished second and fourth at the sprinters’ Classic Milan-San Remo. He is also a Commonwealth Games gold and World Championship bronze medallist (in the 2010 road race in both instances) and claimed overall victory at the 2009 Tour Down Under.

Also on the blog

Obviously July is (almost) all about the Tour de France, and we’ll be bringing you comprehensive daily coverage on our new-look blog with the usual VeloVoices twist: the latest results, rider-centric recaps, focus pieces on relevant times and places in the Tour’s history, and in-depth race analysis. But we’ll also be keeping you up to date with events from the races in both Austria and Poland during the month. And once the Tour has finished we will of course be casting our beady eye over the Olympic road events.

As always, Tweets of the Week will bring you all the news that’s fit to print (in 140 characters) every Tuesday, with a distinctively jaune – not jaundiced! – hue this month. And after a week off, our regular Friday Features will be back with more in-depth views from the wider world of cycling. We’re lining up an insider’s view of what it’s like to attend a press conference with some of the sport’s biggest stars, courtesy of photographer Roz Jones – watch out for that later in the month.

And, last but by no means least, watch out for some special pieces from our latest VeloVoice – quite literally, cycling with a bit of Panache!

Whether serious or light-hearted, VeloVoices is the place to come for all the latest cycling news and views! Pro cycling for fans, by fans.

Tour de France preview: Stage 1

Stage 1: Liege to Seraing, 198km, rolling

If ever there was a stage tailor-made for Philippe Gilbert, this is it. With five short Cat 4 climbs, this is a stage for puncheurs, not pure sprinters, and it rolls over the Belgian roads that Gilbert cut his teeth on. The approach to the finish contains several twists and turns, meaning a crash is highly likely. The final 2.4km is uphill with the contenders for the stage win having to negotiate a 5.8% gradient for 1.4km – although it exceeds 10% in places – before passing under the flamme rouge, where the gradient settles down to 2.9%. While a win here would help rescue a filthy season for the King of Belgium, he needs to watch that the Slovakian meteor, Peter Sagan, doesn’t blaze past him to take the stage. It is also the sort of finish where defending champion Cadel Evans might just fancy a go too.

Look for the inevitable breakaway to be packed with riders seeking a few brief days of glory for themselves and their team in the King of the Mountains competition. In particular, expect the wild-card teams to be well represented as they seek to justify their inclusion. Don’t be surprised if Cofidis and Saur-Sojasun in particular place at least one man in the escape group. The wearer of the polka dot jersey at the end of this stage should retain it for at least two days, and possibly longer. Also, expect the group to contain at least a couple of Belgian riders as they race on home soil, perhaps one of the Cofidis pair of Jan Ghyselinck and Romain Zingle, Vacansoleil-DCM’s Kris Boeckmans, Rabobank’s Maarten Wynants, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Dries Devenyns or Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Nick Nuyens.

Cycling the Alps’ interactive videos of the route can be found here.

Link: Official website