FONTENAY-LE-COMTE, France, Jul 8 – Chris Froome approaches Sunday’s second stage of the Tour de France playing catch-up after an astonishing opening day blew the yellow jersey battle wide open.
Few could have predicted the wild final run into Fontenay on Saturday which left four-time champion Froome, who fell into a ditch, and other favourites Richie Porte and Adam Yates trailing stage winner Fernando Gaviria in the overall standings by 1 min and 1 sec.
The second stage should provide a perfect platform for early leader Gaviria to throw down the challenge to Peter Sagan in the green jersey struggle.
“I’m the first Colombian to wear the yellow jersey for 15 years,” said the 23-year-old Gaviria on his first ever Tour de France and who already has 33 wins to his name.
Gaviria was immediately congratulated by Colombia’s cycling-mad president Juan Manuel Santos, who visited the Tour de France last year and who sent his best wishes via Twitter.
– Green with envy –
While Sunday’s stage looks as innocent on paper as Saturday’s did before the start, it promises instead to ratchet up the heat in the high-octane war for the green sprint points jersey.
Gaviria leads the sprint points standings with 61 to Sagan’s 37, but neither man will be in green on Sunday.
With Gaviria in yellow, Sagan will wear his rainbow world champion jersey.
“It was Sagan’s choice and he said he considered the better jersey was the world champion one,” a Skoda spokesman, the Tour green jersey sponsor, told AFP.
So it is Germany’s Marcel Kittel who will embark in green on Sunday after coming third on the line and 12th at the intermediate sprint leaving him on 24 points.
The 185-kilometre (115-mile) second stage from Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon, where Froome was roundly booed at the teams presentation on Thursday, looks like a nailed-on sprint finish too.
On the 2018 Tour de France both flat and hilly stages will have an intermediate sprint worth 20pts to 1pt for the first 15 across the line while the finishes will be worth 50pts to 2pts for the first 15 home.
The smiley Australian Michael Matthews proved his steely nerves and won it in 2017, but has said this year he feels a little more reticent after his first baby.
“You just feel so much more aware of the dangers when you’re a parent,” White said this week.
On Saturday he was in the mix coming seventh, but on Sunday the “faux plat” (false flat) slightly uphill sprint will play to his strengths.
The Sunweb man won the points race in Paris last year largely due to the fact that two key rivals didn’t make it that far.
Mark Cavendish, winner of a record 30 Tour de France stages, and Sagan, who was gunning for a sixth green jersey, both left the Tour after a notorious incident where the Slovak was thrown out of the race after being ruled guilty of the Briton’s Tour ending date with the tarmac.
“I still don’t consider myself guilty of that and would do exactly the same again if faced with the same situation on this Tour,” the unrepentant Sagan said at his team hotel on Friday.
Whatever happens Sunday, the rest of the yellow jersey chase on the Tour’s ‘first flat bit’ of nine stages before the switch to the mountains, will have its agenda set on Monday, with the 35.5km team time-trial that will reshape the overall standings.
Gaviria’s Quick Step team is full of powerful rollers, and he may emerge as the surprise star of the first week as well as racking up the points for Paris.
Froome meanwhile took his first day fall on the chin.
“We knew the first days were going to be tricky, what happened is part of the game,” said the 33-year-old who had a skinned knee and some possible bruising on his right shoulder after his head-over-heels fall.