Today’s affair was another lumpy one, with a length of 175 kilometres. Unlike yesterday, the weather appeared to plummet below the 10 degrees Celsius as the world champion Julian Alaphilippe [Deceuninck-Quickstep] swapped his white rainbow band jersey for a black one with waterproof lining, even the race leader – winner of stage 1 – Davide Ballerini [Deceuninck-Quickstep] attempted to go incognito by swapping the striking multi-coloured jersey for his standard spring wet weather jacket from Vermac Sport. One kit sponsor must find a way to allow for full use of the rain cape without obscuring the numbers as throughout the stage it was apparent the sear number of riders who rolled their jacket up above the pocket line, to show numbers but also reach their pockets. UCI: **Note to self* Sticky Adhesive numbers do not work in rain…
The early break of 5 riders: Filippo Conca [Lotto-Soudal], Jerome Cousin [Total-Direct-Energie], Eduard-Michael Grosu [Delko], Samuel Leroux [Xeliss-Roubaix Lille Métropole] and Baptiste Bleier [St Michel – Auber93] gained a maximum of 2m50s ahead of the peloton lead by the Blue Wolfpack of Deceuninck-Quickstep, drilling it with Remi Cavagna. Whilst the breakaway was pressing on remaining toasty hot, UAE Team Emirates appeared ominous throughout the stage, not least for their baggy black rain capes costing them vital watts. It appeared they were riding for Matteo Trentin for the final of today’s stage, which contained a substantial incline for the last couple of kilometres of today’s stage, one that suited the rider’s characteristics.
Heading towards the punchy Cat 2 and Cat 3 climbs (to wear out the pure sprinters to just ensure they can’t sprint for the finale) Grosu increased the pace of the breakaway to ensure they maintain the gap of 2m30s with 48km to the finish. 40km to go, clothes start peeling off the riders and finding themselves in the pockets or the side of the road with soigneurs. Meanwhile in the peloton, white paint the infamous culprit of yet another crash on a 90 + degree turn. It was slow paced and thus nothing awful came of it
On the climb Ballerini is ominous on the first climb showing big riders of nearly 80 kilograms can in fact climb. And he sure continued that way all the way to the finish. As the line drew closer and the endgame entered, the rain came down heavier than the rest of the stage. There had already been a crash on the first crossing of the finish line, so we were in for one sketchy finish on those classic slick South-Eastern French roads.
So, time for the finale of the race, 5km to go… Quickstep were leading out, apparently riding for Alaphilippe, until Ballerini and the world champion switched positions with about 2km to go. Then Astana, who’s kit I must say is very neat, lit it up at the front with Gorka Izaguirre. He pulled a monster turn from 2.5 km to 1.5km to go, all of which were up hill drag, of about 4 %. The top 3 of Astana appeared to ride for Alexander Vlasov, who was the final rider in the train, but with just over a kilometre to go a costly mistake for Astana’s team leader Vlasov brought down Alaphilippe along with him. Alaphilippe, in only the way the French know how, was furious with this rookie error of overlapping wheels on the damp roads. [I believe they both have obtained the same time of the group they were in in the time of the incident, as it was within the final 3 km].
Ballerini, all well and good though, now the only sprinter who was present at the front. Just delving into his mind for a moment, what would a guy who knows he is 90% likely going to win the stage going to do to make this a 100% chance. Well let me pick this apart for you. The man we speak of is just shy of the 80 kg mark, and a big powerful sprinter as we saw on the first stage, having beaten the best sprinter of 2020, Arnaud Demare [Groupama-FDJ]. All around him were climbers and skinnier puncheurs, a lot of you might be thinking oh Watts/Kilogram will have him done. Nah you’re wrong. He bided his time probably full of confidence that he would succeed because despite the finish being up hill, he would have a strong kick to finish the day off and get 2 from 2 in 2021. With 300 m to go Lutsenko launched for his sprinter Aranburu, but he was too far away from the pointy end of the race.
So Ballerini waited till around 200 m to go to the finish line to launch his sprint, now this is around a 20 – 30 second sprint on the gradient they were undertaking, a difficult feat to achieve. Simply because the weather conditions would have taken a lot out of the legs already. But he launched with only Guilio Ciccone on his wheel, the rest of the field he gapped… easily. So again, whoever says 80 kilogram people can’t climb with the best, please visit this stage a timely reminder than it can be done. Ballerini’s sprinting style is a unique one thrashing the pedals propelling the bike forward in a spectacular fashion. A comfortable win and a comfortable lead in the standings by 16 seconds. But with Chalet Reynard looming it will be difficult for him to defend, I wait with anticipation to see what he can do. Finally, whilst all this occurred, Matteo Jorgenson [Movistar] had his **handlebars swiped/knocked by another rider and he found himself on the ground with riders dodging him to remain up right. He’d also animated the race with 10km to go, but to no avail. **He actually was taken out by a spectator leaning across the barriers…
Top 10 as Follows:
1st Davide Ballerini [Deceuninck-Quickstep]
2nd Guilio Ciccone [Trek-Segafredo]
3rd Alex Aranburu [Astana]
4th Dylan Teuns [Bahrain-Victorious]
5th Patrick Konrad [Bora-Hansgrohe] 6th Alexey Lutsenko [Astana] 7th Gianni Moscon [Ineos] 8th Stefano Oldani [Lotto-Soudal] 9th Sven Erik Bystrøm [UAE Team Emirates] 10th Bauke Mollema [Trek-Segafredo]
I hope you like this report, with a lot more focus on the finish, let me know of any feedback you have to make this more appealing of what you want looked at in the reviews.