We’re not too mellow after missing out on yellow

No glory for the team but at least I avoided the first day’s big crash

Jan Bakelants of Belgium crosses the finish line ahead of the sprinting pack to win the second stage of the Tour de France  over 156 kilometres which  started in Bastia and finished in Ajaccio, Corsica. Photograph: Laurent Rebours/AP

Jan Bakelants of Belgium crosses the finish line ahead of the sprinting pack to win the second stage of the Tour de France over 156 kilometres which started in Bastia and finished in Ajaccio, Corsica. Photograph: Laurent Rebours/AP

Mon, Jul 1, 2013, 13:32

Two stages down, nineteen to go. While there’s still a very long way to go in this year’s Tour de France, I already notice a difference compared to when I rode my first Tour last year. Firstly, I am a lot more relaxed, probably because I know what to expect. I am also a lot less intimidated by the race than I was twelve months ago.

I also feel good about things because I believe the course suits me a lot more than last year. That too contributes to being relaxed.

Then there’s confidence. I’ve had a very good spring with victories in the Volta a Catalunya and Liège-Bastogne-Liège and because of that, I know I am capable of getting results in the race.

It also earns you a lot more respect in the peloton. I think people will let me sit at the front a lot easier now. They know who I am, they know what I have done and they know I am not going to let the wheel go, to let gaps open. I’ve seen the benefits of that already in this year’s race, in terms of how other riders are behaving towards me.


Stage one, Saturday:
Porto Veccho to Bastia
(213 km)
As far as the opening stage went, it was mostly a case of staying out of trouble. The breakaway went early and we just cruised along, content to let it gain time and believing that the sprinters’ teams would bring it back later on. We took it as a very relaxed day until the end.

Things got a little more tricky later on. There was a really narrow section with 25 kilometres to go. We worked as a team to stay in a good position and we ended up in the front, which helped to stay out of trouble.

There was a crash with about 12 kilometres to go which involved my team-mate Ryder Hesjedal. I didn’t know about that one as it was quite far behind me. Then with about eight or nine kilometres to go, we came out onto a big, wide road.

I was still at the front and I slowly drifted backwards, without thinking – I don’t know why that was, but it seemed to pay off because I avoided the much bigger crash that suddenly happened, the one that took down guys like Alberto Contador and Peter Sagan, and which delayed others like Mark Cavendish.

I saw it in front of me. I had both wheels locked up completely. I was skidding, skidding, skidding, and managed to stop just in time, without hitting the guys in front of me. It ended up that I had been in the perfect position.

Further ahead, there was chaos at the finish when the Orica GreenEdge bus got jammed under the finishing gantry. The bus had arrived late and was told to drive on through rather than take the diversion, but they had already lowered the banners over the road and it got jammed.

We had information over the race radio about it, but we still didn’t really understand what it meant as regards the changes to the stage. The finish was initially moved to a point that was three kilometres from the finish, because they obviously didn’t want us sprinting towards a stationary bus.

Then they freed the bus and the course was changed back . . . it was completely confusing.

Fortunately things worked out fine, but it reinforces the importance of team radios. Without them, it would have been even more chaotic.


Stage two
Bastia to Ajaccio (156 km)
Yesterday was hard, but I felt really good. I was very, very happy with how I felt. It was the first time I have really raced in such heat this year and while I think a lot of guys suffered because of that, I felt well.

There were 2,500 metres of climbing in what was quite a short stage. The first climbs of the race always hurt, but I was never in trouble. I was very, very comfortable all day. On the last climb I was sniffing around the front of the race to see what was going on.

When Froomey [Chris Froome] attacked, I could have followed, but that wasn’t really necessary. The last 10 kilometres was into a headwind and it was unlikely he’d get any time.

A break got away after that and the Jan Bakelants was able to take the win. He also got the yellow jersey. My team-mate David Millar would otherwise have got it, but because Bakelants had a gap, he was the one who ended up on top.

I tried to get to the front to help the chase and did a couple of turns, but the other guys were already there. There were three teams riding for the sprint, but they couldn’t quite bring him back. Apparently when they looked at the photo finish afterwards, the gap was a metre off being less than a second. If that had been the case, he’d have been given the same time as the bunch, and David would be in yellow.

Much as it would be good to have the jersey, I think it is a blessing in disguise. If we had the jersey today, we would burn up a lot of energy protecting it.

With the team time trial on stage four tomorrow, it’s important that we are going well. That is a big goal for us.

Now we have the third stage. It has an interesting climb close to the end which could suit me. It could break things up and ensure a small group sprint at the finish.

It is going to be a really long, hard day with no flat roads. The objective is to stay safe and not lose any time, then maybe the team can look at trying to win the stage.

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