113km to go: Stunning scenery shots from the TV helicopter – check. French rider up front, getting on the telly – check. Frenchman in yellow – check. Zero interest from the peloton in anything resembling a race – check. This is, in some senses, the perfect day on the Tour de France.
117km to go: Some very ominous dark clouds are gathered over this corner of south-west France. It looks like we are guaranteed to get some more rain later in the stage, but there is blue sky in the distance too.
Cousin pushes on alone up front, with a lead of 4’14” now. Deceuninck-Quick-Step work at the head of the peloton with Alaphilippe prominent, wearing yellow. As it stands he will be very confident of another day in yellow tomorrow.
After two categorised climbs, the top of the KOM standings looks like this:
Anthony Perez (Cofidis Solutions Crédits) 22 pts
Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r-La Mondiale) 20 pts
Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling) 12 pts
Up front, Cousin has four minutes. The marketing teams at Total and Direct Énergie are going to be happy, at least.
Here’s a clip of the sprint for the first climb of the day, at the top of the Col du Pilon:
124km to go: An email from Tom Paternoster-Howe: “Come the finish Deceuninck–Quick-Step are going to be knackered after working on the front for most of the day, so Bennett isn’t going to get much, if any, help from the team. I don’t think he’s good enough to sneak a victory without a lead-out when the other sprinters will all have one, so I don’t think he’ll get it. Sagan isn’t fast enough to win a bunch sprint any more (but he’ll still be in Green whenever the race finishes), so someone like Ewen, Coquard or Viviani are more in the reckoning, as I see it.”
The gap is out to three minutes.
126km to go: This is quite interesting in one sense – with Cousin now up front alone, does that increase the chance of the race coming back together a long way before the finish? We shall see – for the moment, the peloton look determined to have the closest thing you can have to a day off when you’re riding the Tour de France. Cousin’s advantage over the peloton is 2’33”. I was going to call them the ‘chasing’ peloton but that would be wrong.
127km to go: There seems to be a bit of a row going on in the breakaway, with Cosnefroy appearing to suggest to Perez in no uncertain terms that he should be doing more work.
“If the peloton go any slower, they will have to be doing standstills,” says Kelly on Eurosport. “We are way behind the slowest time schedule.”
Following that little tête-à-tête between Cosnefroy and Perez, they have both dropped back, and Cousin is now out front on his own. He doesn’t look too thrilled about it, it must be said.
134km to go: At the top of the second categorised climb, the Col de la Fay, Perez beats Cosnefroy in a two-man sprint yet again. Perez just looks stronger today, and seems well set to take the polka-dot jersey off his compatriot’s hands, now with a two-point lead. The mood back in the peloton is very relaxed, content to let the breakaway riders fight it out at the front.
135km to go: Approaching the top of the second climb, and the gap is 2’12”. The rain has eased off and the riders in the peloton, correspondingly, look a bit happier with life.
136km to go: Speaking on Eurosport, Bradley Wiggins says: ‘This is a bit of a boring stage for the viewers. But it’s all about Perez and Cosnefroy at the front and the king of the mountains points. Neither of these riders will try and hold the jersey to Paris, it’s about success for French teams in the first week of the race.”
Sean Kelly adds: “Perez and Cosnefroy were looking at each other a bit, so the peloton has knocked off [the pace], otherwise they are going to swallow the breakaway up far too early in the stage. It’s very easy racing now.”
143km to go: Perez and Cosnefroy sprint for the line atop the Col du Pilon, while Cousin decides not to contest it with them, and Perez takes maximum points for Cofidis. Cosnefroy looked like he might just overhaul Perez at the line, but he held on. Perez puffs his cheeks out and grimaces at the camera alongside him. Perez edges ahead in the KOM classification with 20 points overall, a point ahead of Cosnefroy now, who has 19.
The break is now on the Col de la Faye, which is shorter than the previous climb, at 5.3km in length. The gap between break and peloton is just under two minutes.
144km to go: Jérôme Cousin (Total Direct Énergie) just stuck in a cheeky attack off the front in the breakway, forcing his companions to respond. They are together again, one kilometre from the summit, and the rain seems to have eased off a touch towards the top of the climb.
146km to go: As Alan Partridge once said, it really is raining quite heavily now. The riders look about as happy as you’d expect, that is, not very happy at all. Alaphilippe is visible close to the front of the peloton in a yellow rain jacket to go with his yellow jersey. Today’s three leaders are just over three kilometres from the top of the climb, the Col du Pilon, and we should see a good race for the KOM points between Cosnefroy and Perez in a few minutes.
150km to go: The rain is fairly hammering down on the riders now as they ride up the Col du Pilon. Interestingly, the gap between break away and peloton has also fallen, down to 1’40” now. If this all comes back together halfway through the stage, we could see some fireworks.
Deceuninck–Quick-Step are massed at the front of the peloton, and they have eaten into the breakaway’s advantage slightly, bringing it back to two minutes. Clearly, they are not prepared to give this breakaway much rope, which tells you all you need to know about their intentions for the finish in Sisteron later.
The breakaway has in fact just hit the foot of the first climb, the Col du Pilon. Back in the peloton, rain jackets are going on as a shower appears overhead.
Sam Bennett (Deceuninck–Quick-Step) was the most heavily-backed favourite on the betting markets this morning. Who do you think will win? Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) are other obvious candidates. Ewan in particular will be one to watch – he can be very effective on uphill sprint finishes.
Do send me an email or a tweet with your thoughts on that, or anything else Tour de France-related …
Here’s the GC top 10 as they stand after Stage 2:
1 Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) 8hr 41’35”
2 Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) +4”
3 Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) +7”
4 Sergio Higuita (EF Pro Cycling) +17
5 Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) (all same time)
6 Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott)
7 Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates)
8 Egan Arley Bernal Gomez (Team Ineos)
9 Richard Carapaz (Team Ineos)
10 Tom Dumoulin (Team Jumbo-Visma)
There is a three-man breakaway who currently have an advantage of about 2’15” on the peloton. Benoît Cosnefroy (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in the polka-dots, Jérôme Cousin (Total Direct Énergie) and Anthony Perez (Cofidis Solutions Crédits) are the men in it. Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was there originally but has now dropped back to the bunch, leaving a 100 per cent French trio at the tête de la course.
The 2020 Tour de France seems to have begun on fast-forward. Long before the Covid-19 pandemic ensured this race would take place in extraordinary circumstances, the organisers had chosen to insert a mountain stage on just the second day, which is fairly extraordinary in itself.
Following a chaotic, crash-filled, rainswept first stage around Nice, won by Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates), Julian Alaphilippe of Deceuninck–Quick-Step triumphed on Sunday’s remarkably early foray into the mountains. So, a Frenchman wears the yellow jersey as the world’s greatest race travels inland on today’s 198km trip from Nice to Sisteron, and all seems bien with the world, at least if you are French cycling fan casting an eye over the general classification. The polka-dot jersey is also on the shoulders of a Frenchman, Benoît Cosnefroy of AG2R La Mondiale, who has already snuck into today’s early breakaway.
The first half of today’s stage is going to be tough even if it already looks to have settled into a familiar pattern: the category-three Cols du Pilon and de le Faye come inside the first 65km, which is almost all uphill. There are four categorised climbs in all, with the Col de Lègues (category three) cresting at 117.5km and the Col de l’Orme (category four) at 152.5km. There is an intermediate sprint after 160.5km, coming in a final 70km which is almost all downhill. It looks set to a be textbook breakaway-followed-by-bunch-sprint kind of affair, with the sprinters’ teams almost guaranteed to bring it all back together for a bunch kick on an uphill finish in Sisteron.
But in this Tour de France with a difference, with the risk of cancellation hanging over the event, will some teams and riders regard this as something other than a day simply to be negotiated ahead of bigger tests to come? Can Alaphilippe stay in yellow? We will find out in a few hours’ time, and are sure to see some beautiful TV helicopter shots of from south of France along the way.