So we start with the yellow jersey blazing away up a hill and leaving almost all the pack for dead. However, that might not be a sign of how the rest of the race will develop seeing as the yellow jersey was Fabian Cancellara and the hill was just a 200m category 4 blast in the suburbs of Liege. It was an exciting start to the race, though, with lots of first day nerves as everyone fought their way to the front and tried to hold on through bumpy roads and tight corners.
I would like to take this moment to point out that the four riders I named yesterday – Sagan, Cancellara, Boasson Hagen and Gilbert – were the top four in the stage. Makes up for my tip of Sagan in the prologue not working out, though I didn’t have any money riding on this one. Gilbert’s push at the end did something else beyond grabbing him fourth place as well – it ensured there were no time gaps amongst the front group. Whether that was his intention or not, it did stop Boasson Hagen gaining the one second he needed to take the white jersey for best young rider from Gilbert’s team mate Tejay Van Garderen.
Some riders lost time yesterday, of course, though all the major favourites made it into the front group. Some possible contenders for high placings did get gapped and lose some time – Lieuwe Westra, Levi Leipheimer and Juan Jose Cobo amongst them – though the unluckiest rider yesterday was probably Chris Froome, who punctured 15km from the finish and was unable to get back into the main group, losing almost a minute and half. Interestingly, rather than being left to fend for himself, Froome had Richie Porte and Christian Knees helping him to try and rejoin the group, which suggests that Sky are treating him as a bit more than a super-domestique and are pushing to get him as high up in the GC as possible.
Today’s stage seems relatively simple – one early fourth category climb, then a drop down towards the French border, stopping just before it at Tournai. Everything seems set up for a bunch sprint finish, with the key question being whether the breakaway gets recaptured before or after the intermediate sprint point.
This will be the first chance for the sprinters and their trains to match up against each other – Orica-GreenEdge will likely be doing a lot of chasing for Matthew Goss, while Lotto-Belisol will be pushing for Andre Greipel and Argos-Shimano for Marcel Kittel. While their teams might not be as interested in the chase, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan will also be up there, and this could well be the first time the two of them get a chance to go head-to-head. For a lot of these riders, the Tour sprints are also an interesting precursor to the Olympic road race at the end of the month, where most of them will be hoping to fight it out on the Mall.