Result: IS IT THAT time of the year already? Mark Cavendish claimed today’s second stage from Visé to Tournai — his 21st Tour win and his first as world champion — when he held off sprint rival Andrei Greipel and Matt Goss in a thrilling finale.
Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara retains the yellow jersey, seven seconds ahead of Cavendish’s Team Sky partner Bradley Wiggins.
Here’s how it happened: On the first sprint finish of this year’s race, Mark Cavendish showed that he’s as clinical as ever in beating his rivals to the line.
A three-man breakaway group of Christophe Kern (Europcar), Michael Morkov (Saxobank-Tinkoff) and Anthony Roux hit the front early on and, despite Roux’s best efforts to overcome an injured wrist and make a break for it by himself, he was slowly reeled in by the peloton who were happy to leave him out on his own until just 14 kilometres remained.
With Cavendish buried about 20 riders back and without the lead-out train he would usually have in support, the stage seemed to be Greipel’s for the taking as the race entered its final kilometre. But some clever train-hopping followed by a last-gasp move to outmanouevre Greipel gave the Manx missile victory by half-a-wheel at the line.
The big winner: Mark Cavendish. As the reigning world champion, his drive is as strong as ever but many doubted if he could match the success of last year with Team Sky focusing most of their efforts on getting Wiggins into yellow. Today was a bit too close for comfort, Cavendish admitted, but he proved he’s still the man to beat in the sprint stages.
The big loser: Marcel Kittel. The German debutant was expected to be one of the main players in today’s finish but was dropped with 12km still to go. He finished the stage third last, losing 6:33 on the peloton.
What about the Irish? Another solid day for both Nicolas Roche and Dan Martin. Both finished with the main bunch in 4:56:59. Martin moves up to 23rd place overall, 24 seconds behind Fabian Cancellara in the yellow jersey, while Roche is a further second back in 24th.
So what happens tomorrow then? Stage three sees the race head into France and the first of the medium-mountain stages, a 197km journey from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer.