The pressure was on Peter Sagan and Cannondale Pro Cycling for the Tour de France's second stage. The route, traveling 156km (97.5mi) south from Bastia across the mountainous middle of Corsica to Napoleon's birthplace of Ajaccio, had a profile that fit the Slovak's characteristics perfectly. The ascents were certainly enough to dislodge the fastest of the sprinters, the only guys who can match Sagan's finishing burst, but not enough to put the young rider into difficulty. So long as he could make it over the Col de Vizzavona, 95km into the stage, the odds were with him.

While the paper pundits predicted a positive outcome, this is the race of races, and nobody is in the mood for an easy coronation. The moment kilometer zero, the official start of the stage, was passed, the attacks began. Within six kilometers (3.6mi), a group of four was away. But with the first intermediate sprint, and precious points, up for grabs in another 27km (17mi), the field kept the break close in hopes of pulling it back. On the line in Castello di-Rostino, the break still had a gap, and despite Cannondale's lead-out, Lotto-Belisol's Andre Greipel bested Sagan on the line.  However for Sagan it was another ten points in the bag, with more on the line in Ajaccio.

When the day's climbing began, Greipel, Omega Pharma-Quickstep's Mark Cavendish, and race leader Marcel Kittel of Argos-Shimano all started to feel the pain. The FdJ team went to the front to make sure their dreams of glory were snuffed for the day—their man Nacer Bouhani can go uphill and sprint. Over the top of the Vizzavona, and the break was caught, but a few dreamers scrabbled ahead.

That's when Cannondale went to the front, aided by team Sky, to steamroll down the mountain. The assignment was keeping the pace so high that the dropped riders couldn't get back on. And they didn't.

The day's last obstacle, and a potential launch pad for victory, was the short, steep Cote du Salario that topped out at 12km (7.5mi) from the finish. Both climbers interested in gaining a few seconds, and opportunists with a good punch, could use this hill as a springboard to victory.

Team Sky set the pace for their leader, Chris Froome.  The effort was sufficiently hard enough that only one rider, Europcar's Cyril Gautier, got away. Over the top, Froome himself chased and Sagan put in a dig to make sure everyone was paying attention. Gautier was brought back within seven kilometers (4.3mi) of the finish.

Sensing an opportunity, Omega Pharma's Sylvain Chavanel attacked. A wily tactician, his effort brought out another five riders, including RadioShack's Jan Bakelants. The group floated ahead of the pack as Cannondale worked to get to the front and then the break started to gain ground. A classic chase was on as Cannondale burned their remaining riders in pursuit of the escape. Everyone gone but Sagan, Garmin took over in the hopes of getting the Maillot Jaune for their man David Millar.

Into the final kilometer (.6mi), the break splintered and Bakelants sped away. The field was now giving everything to catch up to him, and Orica-Greenedge started leading out their sprinter, Daryl Impey.

From out of the chaos, Sagan jumped, desperately trying to eat up the distance between himself and Bakelants in the final meters before the finish.

On the line, Bakelants hung on for a dramatic one-second victory over the Slovak. That one second put Bakelants in Yellow. Sagan, for his efforts, moved into second in the general classification, second in the points competition, and won the best young rider's award for the day.

Sagan was disappointed with the finish, but acknowledged the difficulties he faced. "I tried a breakaway, but one guy came with me. It's difficult for me because everyone is looking for me. So it's hard to attack on the flat. And it wasn't a good day for me, after yesterday. Dropping riders on the climb made things a bit easier, though." His teammate, Ted King, the only American on the squad, and in his first Tour de France, who was cleared to start today by doctor's yesterday, was "pleased to have gotten through today. It was a short stage, and I'm happy to have gotten through it. The legs are great, but the body has taken its toll."

Tomorrow, Stage Three of the Tour, from Ajaccio to Calvi, is another short day in the saddle at 145.5km (91mi). It's also hard, with a lumpy profile that, while not decisive for overall contenders, is almost certainly too hard for pure sprinters. As such, it is another opportunity for Cannondale Pro Cycling and Peter Sagan. A stage win is within his grasp, and with it, would almost certainly come the Green Jersey.

 

Tour de France 2013

Stage 2:Bastia to Ajaccio 156km

Stage Results.

1. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack Leopard                   in     3:43:11             
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale                              at     0:00:01            
3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick-Step      same time                     
4. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida                                  same time
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling                    same time

 

Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling

65. Moreno Moser (Ita)                                                          same time
94. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita)                                               0:01:24           
114. Kristjan Koren (Slo)                                                       0:05:39
118. Maciek Bodnar (Pol)                                                       0:09:06
123. Alan Marangoni (Ita)                                                       0:12:44                         
124. Brian Vandborg (Den)                                                    same time
161. Fabio Sabatini (Ita)                                                          0:17:36
167. Edward King (USA) Cannondale                                    same time

 

General Classification

1. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack Leopard                           3:43:11             
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale                                      0:00:01            
3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step   same time                     
4. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre-Merida                                  same time
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling                    same time

 

General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling

65. Moreno Moser (Ita)                                                          same time
94. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita)                                               0:01:24           
114. Kristjan Koren (Slo)                                                       0:05:39
118. Maciek Bodnar (Pol)                                                       0:09:06
123. Alan Marangoni (Ita)                                                       0:12:44                         
124. Brian Vandborg (Den)                                                    same time
161. Fabio Sabatini (Ita)                                                          0:17:36
167. Edward King (USA) Cannondale                                    same time

Points Competition

1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Team Argos-Shimano                          47 pts
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale                                      43         
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha                             41         
4. Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin Procycling Team                         40         
5. Danny Van Poppel (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM                      39