Froome pays attention, Nibali dozes off.
Chris Froome, the chief beneficiary of a rain lashed, crosswind whipped run from Utrecht to Zelande, said it best: “It was a nasty old stage.”
Froome, along with GC rivals Alberto Contador and Tejay van Garderen, made the front group when the peloton fractured on the exit from Rotterdam after a crash at a roundabout. Rain, winds, nerves, narrow roads — the usual.
A large group of 26 riders ripped off the front, including those GC rivals along with sprinters Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quickstep) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal).
Left napping was the other half of the Fab Four — defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) along with French hope Thibaut Pinot. The gap quickly went to over fifty seconds and despite a concerted chase. they’d all trail in 1:30 behind.
At least Nibali can truly say he now knows the exact whereabouts of Quintana — right beside him, at the back, already behind Froome.
Andre Greipel won the stage on a perfectly time jump off Cavendish’s wheel and Peter Sagan came in a close second. Fabian Cancellara (Trek) made a huge surge to edge Cavendish for third, earning a four second time bonus and his 29th yellow jersey. A stunning turn of events after his maillot miss with his third place in the prologue time trial.
However, the big winners were clearly Froome, Contador and Van Garderen. The Spaniard in particular showed once again his mental focus and tactical skills. Not even El Pistolero knows what kind of form he’ll have in the third week the the Tour — or week six if, like us, you’re counting back from the Giro.
Our massive question is why Nibali wasn’t riding up front. We’re often told how sharp he is tactically and everybody knew the weather implications and probable attack scenarios. Yet Mr. Tranquillo now finds himself 1:20 behind Froome after only one stage. This fails the basic definition of race savvy. Bad Shark, pay attention.
Speaking of tactics. Alejandro Valverde is another rider with a reputation for race smarts. We’re wondering why a GC rider as experienced as Valverde wouldn’t make sure his man Quintana was also in good position when everyone knew what Classics squads like Etixx-Quickstep would do with rain and crosswinds. Havoc is a word that comes to mind and Valverde did no havoc prep for his captain.
Was Valverde further back in the peloton because he was thinking of himself and saving his legs a bit for tomorrow’s uphill finish on the Mur de Huy? It’s an ideal stage for Valverde and he’s already on record hoping the team will give him free reign. Seems to us he was planning ahead instead of looking after the little Colombian.
As for Monsieur Pinot, it’s no grand surprise that a weaker team like FDJ has to measure out their resources and efforts. They can’t always been at the front because they don’t have the horsepower for the job. Still this seems like one of those Tour 101 situations that team boss Marc Madiot would have seen 1000 kilometers away.
A nasty day for Nibali and Quintana and Pinot. Wake up fellas. It’s the Tour de France. This is no time for dozing off for a few minutes. There’s a race on, you know?