Greipel registers second stage win

Zeeland, July 6

Andre Greipel won the second stage of the Tour de France on Sunday as reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali and fellow favourite Nairo Quintana lost time.

Greipel edged out Peter Sagan by a fraction of a wheel length at the end of the 166km stage from Utrecht to Zeeland in the Netherlands. Fabian Cancellara took third, and four bonus seconds, inches ahead of Mark Cavendish to snare the yellow jersey off Australia’s Rohan Dennis. “I’m really happy because that’s 29 days now in this jersey, it’s nice,” said Cancellara, who’s won eight Tour stages in his career. “The high numbers (many days in yellow) are special but also being back in the jersey after 11 years. I said before the start this is my last Tour. “Reaching yellow, everything to come now is a bonus.”

Tony Martin, who started the day in second, one place and one second ahead of Cancellara, could only finish ninth and now trails the Swiss Trek rider by three seconds, with Tom Dumoulin third overall at 6sec. “I think Mark Renshaw (Cavendish’s lead-out man) went a bit too early so Cavendish too was forced to launch his sprint early,” said Greipel, who won his 10th Tour stage and got the green points jersey.

But it was crashes and crosswinds in driving rain that made the real difference as Chris Froome, the 2013 champion, and twice winner Alberto Contador put significant time into Nibali and Quintana. After a four-man breakaway of Czech Jan Barta, Stef Clement of the Netherlands and Frenchmen Perrig Quemeneur and Armindo Fonseca was reeled in within the first 100km, the next 10km saw the main drama take place. Already 60km into the race with former world champion Rui Costa of Portugal and former Vuelta a Espana winner Alejandro Valverde caught out.

They got back up to the front group but crashes, a searing pace and the inclement weather from 60km to 50km to go saw first Quintana and then Nibali also left behind. “I was held up by Alan Hansen’s crash. I was a hair’s breath away from the lead group but we were disorganised and we didn’t manage to close the gap immediately,” said Nibali. “That’s cycling; you have to accept the bad days. There’s still a long way to go in the Tour.” Quintana’s group quickly lost a minute while Nibali was caught in no-man’s land in a small group that didn’t have enough to close the gap.

At the front Etixx-Quick Step were driving the peloton in the hope of setting up Mark Cavendish for a 26th Tour stage win. With around 35km left and clearing skies, Nibali’s group was caught by Quintana’s and then their Astana and Movistar teams, along with some help from French hope Thibaut Pinot’s FDJ teammates, led the chase. Dennis was caught in this group and with his BMC leader Tejay Van Garderen in the lead bunch, he could count on no help to close the gap. But up front there were riders pushing the pace with the stage win in mind while Froome and Contador’s teammates helped out from time to time to ensure they profited most from the situation.

Italian Nibali’s nightmare day continued as he punctured 25km from home but he quickly fought his way back up to the chase group, with a little help from the slipstream of the team cars. It all left Froome in 10th overall, 48sec behind Cancellara and 12sec ahead of Contador in 14th. Nibali, who started the day 7sec up on Froome, is now 33rd 1min 21sec behind 44th placed Quintana another 18sec further adrift. Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud, the other two podium finishers from last year, also lost time, along with overall contender Romain Bardet.