Sylvain Chavanel, a Frenchman riding for a Belgian team, won a hilly and crash-marred Stage 2 of the Tour de France in Belgium today, claiming the yellow jersey in the process.
Riding on some of the same roads where he crashed badly during April’s one-day Liege-Bastogne-Liege—a spill that fractured his skull and knocked him out of the sport for six weeks—Chavenel was part of an early break that went just a few miles into today’s 124-mile stage from Brussels to Spa. He attacked his breakaway partners in the closing miles and won by nearly four minutes.
Behind him, the main peloton rolled in together, refusing to sprint for second pace. It was a show of protest over what the riders thought were unnecessarily dangerous roads, made more so by intermittent rains. A number of riders crashed today, including Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank, who finished second overall last year. Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador were among the many riders who got caught behind crashes, but both managed to finish in the main bunch.
Chavanel’s victory puts him in yellow by 2 minutes and 57 seconds over Prologue winner Fabian Cancellara, who seemed to be the man in charge of the peloton’s protest finish. Armstrong drops from fourth to fifth, 3:19 behind Chavanel, with Contador in seventh at 3:24.
After two days of crash-filled racing, the riders will be in the mood for an easy day tomorrow. They won’t get it. The cycling world has been talking about this year’s Stage 3 from the moment it was announced last fall. The route will take the riders over several of the most difficult cobblestone roads of the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic.
Armstrong pointed to it as a decisive day when I spoke with him in April. The roads are so difficult, and crashes so common, that the time gaps at the finish can look like those of a climbing stage. Featherweight climbers like Contador tend to suffer the worst, since the constant bouncing over the stones can knock them all over the road. If Contador looks to be in any sort of difficulty tomorrow, the race’s top teams might try to work together to distance him.
Team Saxo Bank, which has two-time Paris Roubaix winner Cancellara and 2007 winner Stuart O’Grady on its Tour squad—as well as GC contenders Frank and Andy Schleck—is probably best positioned to take advantage and will likely be at the front once the race hits the cobbles.