"There's a lot of emotion," he gasped at the finish. "I don't know what to say. It's the most beautiful day of my career."
Sylvain Chavanel crosses the finish line to win stage 2--and the yellow jersey--in the 2010 Tour de France.AP Photo/Laurent Rebours
Chavanel crossed the line, kissing a medallion he wore around his neck, a gift from his wife on father's day bearing the names of his two sons to whom he had promised a kiss should he have the occasion to win alone.
The day was marked by an eight man breakaway, spearheaded by Chavanel and his teammate Jérôme Pineau not long after the peloton rolled out of the Belgian capital city of Brussels. The group gained a maximum lead of more than six minutes before the peloton began to react. With a challenging second half of the race course offering few moments of respite, the day was tailor-made to a breakaway and the initiative of a rider like Chavanel.
Belgium's Jurgen Roelandts briefly joined Chavanel in his late escape from the break, but the Frenchman was not to be denied his solo glory. On the Col de Stockeu with little more than 30K to race, Chavanel kicked again and left Roelandts behind, setting off on his solo bid.
Saxo Bank had taken responsibility to lead the chase, looking after Fabian Cancellara and the leader's yellow jersey, but the impetus would quickly go out of the group as wet roads and a series of accidents on the descent of the Stockeu dramatically changed the day's outlook for the sprinters and overall favorites alike.
Crash after crash after crash
While Chavanel forged ahead, crashes began to wreak havoc on the main field through a series of narrow, twisting descents, notably on the downside of the Col de Stockeu. Among those to go down were yellow jersey Cancellara and his Saxo Bank team leader, Andy Schleck. While Cancellara was up and riding quickly, rejoining the peloton without trouble, Schleck was clearly in pain, holding his left wrist. He would finish in the main field but the damage will no doubt prove a challenge in tomorrow's rough ride over the cobblestones of northern France.
Alberto Contador (Astana), Lance Armstrong (RadioShack), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), and a host of other contenders for the overall title went down at some point or another. Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) may have fared the worst, finishing nearly 10 minutes down on Chavanel and losing more than six minutes to his rivals. He now sits in 146th place overall. The remainder of the contenders survived to finish in the main field. Vande Velde and his teammates Julian Dean and Tyler Farrar were taken to a hospital in Liège for evaluation after their crashes, as were Katusha's Robbie McEwen and Vladimir Karpets.
The peloton arrived in Spa together, deciding not to contest the field sprint for second place out of frustration and resignation for the difficult and accident-prone day of racing. After a discussion with the director of competition, Jean-François Pescheux, Fabian Cancellara spread that word that points would not be awarded toward the green jersey competition beyond Chavanel's first place. For the weary field, just finishing in one piece was enough.
"It was obvious that you had people everywhere," Armstrong explained after the stage. "It was almost unreal. When I got back on my bike and started chasing, I saw crash after crash after crash... I was scared. I think everyone is scared in a situation like that."
Not everyone was pleased with the slow finish, however, and the sprinters who did make the cut early on were not pleased to have their chances denied for the sake of the unlucky stragglers behind.
"I feel frustrated by what happened today," said Thor Hushovd of the Cervélo TestTeam. "Our team was working hard and we would have had a good chance for victory. I feel like they have taken something away from us today."
"There were a few sprinters who did not make it to the front group, but there was no reason to not contest the sprint today," he added. "Everyone made a gentleman's agreement not to sprint, but I lost an important opportunity to try to win the stage and gain points."
Yellow Road Ahead
For Chavanel, however, the fact that the field was slowing down behind was nothing but good news. Although he said he didn't know much of the decisions made on the road behind him, he made no apologies for taking full advantage of the occasion.
"That's part of racing," he said of the day's events. "Jérôme and I chose to be in the breakaway and in a stage like this it's always better to be out front than in the peloton because the roads are narrow and slippery."
"The crashes don't take anything away from my victory," he insisted repeatedly. "I've had enough bad luck in my career, being caught one or two kilometers from the line, today was my day and if the field decided not to chase, I was going to take full advantage."
He can look forward to a likely stint of several days in yellow assuming he passes through the pavé (cobblestones) of stage 3 intact. Chavanel is an experienced campaigner in Paris-Roubaix and barring bad luck should conserve his jersey. A series of flat stages to follow will also help his chances for yellow jerseys until the race reaches the mountains.
Stage 2 Results
- Sylvain Chavanel (QST) - 04:40:48
- Maxime Bouet (ALM) +03:56
- Fabian Wegmann (MRM) +03:56
- Robbie McEwen (KAT) +03:56
- Christian Knees (MRM) +03:56
- Jurgen Roelandts (OLO) +03:56
- Sylvain Chavanel (QST) - 10:01:25
- Fabian Cancellara (Sax) +02:57
- Tony Martin (THR) +03:07
- David Millar (GRM) +03:17
- Lance Armstrong (RSH) +03:19
- Geraint Thomas (SKY) +03:20
- Quick Step 30:11:40
- RadioShack + 02:51
- HTC - Columbia + 02:52
- Garmin Transitions + 02:53
- Sky Pro Cycling + 03:07
Overall Points Standings
- Sylvain Chavanel (QST) - 44 Points
- Alessandro Petacchi (LAM) - 35 Points
- Jurgen Roelandts (OLO) - 34 Points
King of the Mountains Jersey
- Jerome Pineau (QST) - 13 Points
- Sylvain Chavanel (QST) - 8 Points
- Rin Taaramae (COF) - 8 Points
Best Young Rider
- Tony Martin - 05:19:48
- Geraint Thomas + 00:13
- Edvald Boasson Hagen + 00:22
Click here for complete standings
201K (125 miles) - Monday July 5
- This hilly course follows parts of the Ardennes Classics race routes
- Sprint Points at: Perwez, Seny, Coo
- Mountain Passes: Cote de France located at 98 kilometers - 2.2km climb to 6.2 percent grade - Category 4; Cote de Filot located at 128.5 kilometers - 3.9km climb to 4.5 percent - Cat. 4; Cote de Werbomont located at 136 kilometers - 4.5km climb to 3.5 percent - Cat. 4; Cote d'Aisomont located at 161.5 kilometers - 4.5km climb to 5.2 percent - Cat. 3; Col de Stockeu located at 167.5 kilometers - 3.0km climb to 5.9 percent - Cat. 3; Col du Rosier located at 189 kilometers - 6.4km climb to 4 percent - Cat. 3
Image courtesy of www.letour.com
Image courtesy of www.letour.com