Victor Lafay took a stunning win on stage 2 of the Tour de France with a fierce surprise attack inside the last kilometer. The French rider on Cofidis hung with the favorites on the pivotal climb of the Jaizkibel and stayed tucked in on the descent and flat run-in to the finish in San Sebastian, biding his time as a flurry of attacks from others went and were re-caught. The unexpected move seemed to catch the rest of the group off-guard, and Wout van Aert opened his sprint too late, with Lafay holding out for the win. Here’s what you need to know:
How it happened
- EF Education-EasyPost’s Tour got off to a decidedly mixed start on stage 1 as Neilson Powless took the KoM jersey while GC hopeful Richard Carapaz crashed hard and finished well down. With the late-Saturday announcement by the team that Carapaz would have to drop out with a fractured patella, Powless wasted little time in re-focusing. He promptly jumped in the three-rider break on stage 2, mopping up more KoM points. He was caught at 2.5 km from the top of the Jaizkibel, but since top points there went to the GC riders, he will hold the jersey at least until stage 4.
- Unlike stage 1, there was no major aggression in the favorites group until inside the last kilometer of the Jaizkibel climb, as pacemaking whittled the field to a group of about 25. Tadej Pogačar took the eight bonus seconds for the first rider over the summit, followed closely by Jonas Vingegaard (five seconds) and Simon Yates (two seconds). Pogačar and Vingegaard got a slight gap, but with Vingegaard unwilling to work with his chief rival the pair were recaught on the descent with 12 km to go.
- Lafay’s win broke a 15-year dry streak at the Tour de France for Cofidis. Not since the 2008 Tour, when Samuel Dumoulin and Sylvain Chavanel won stages, has the French outfit managed to take a Tour stage.
- Victor Lafay (Cofidis)
- Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
- Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
- Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)
- Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) all same time
- Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates)
- Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) @ :06
- Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla) @ same time
- Victor Lafay (Cofidis) @ :12
- Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) @ :16
The Basques appear fond of this bike racing thing
- May you be as enthusiastic about your job as Mikkel Bjerg. The irrepressible Dane on UAE Team Emirates got his Tour off to a banging start on stage 1 by blowing himself to pieces on the Côte de Vivero, and promptly picked up the theme again on stage 2. Seemingly every time you looked, there was Bjerg driving the pace on the front. What was interesting was his teammates weren’t always happy about that. Both Rafał Majka and Matteo Trentin were seen telling him to cool it at various points. In fact, the whole point of Bjerg’s vigorous chase of a no-threat breakaway was tactically questionable – in fighting so hard to keep the gap small, the team did a lot of work and ensured it will have to defend yellow for likely several days yet. When asked why the team was so aggressive, team principal Mauro Gianetti said it came down two things. “We have to defend the yellow jersey,” he said at the finish, “we respect the yellow jersey.” But he also pointed to the time bonuses atop the Jaizkibel as a motivation. “At the end of the day, that was seven seconds and between yesterday and today it is already 11,” he said. “Slowly, slowly, everything will be important.”
- With fewer attacks on climbs than stage 1 and barriers for the final kilometer of the Jaizkibel climb, there wasn’t as much of yesterday’s dynamic of crowds preventing riders from getting around one another. The Jaizkibel summit was also slightly farther from the finish than yesterday’s Côte de Pike, so even though the favorites group splintered over the top slightly it came back together on the descent. It was interesting to note who was there, and who was not. Here’s the breakdown of GC aspirants who:
- Made the front group both days: Pogacar and Adam Yates (UAE), Vingegaard – plus teammates Van Aert and Kelderman (Jumbo), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers), Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla), and today’s winner Lafay.
- Made it yesterday, missed today: Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty)
- Missed yesterday, made it today: Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich), Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), Egan Bernal and Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers), Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe)
- Missed it both days: Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)
- It was a small but telling moment at a crucial point in the race: Pogačar and Vingegaard, off the front together on the descent of the Jaizkibel. Pog looks back, wondering if Jonas will pull through, only to be met with a slight but decisive shake of the head. Whether the pair would’ve been caught had they worked together is the perfect example of a counterfactual hypothetical, so we won’t get into that here. But it does reveal the strategic philosophical differences between the two riders and indeed their teams. Pogačar, always aggressive, racing for every second on every stage; Vingegaard, cautious and calculating, conserving his strength for what he feels are the few most-opportune moments. It’s the same dynamic as the 2022 Tour, where Pogačar looked dominant early only for Vingegaard (with a major assist from Primož Roglič) to rope-a-dope him into a rare defeat. The pattern appears to be repeating, but it’s too early to say what will be the result.
Up next: stage 3 preview
After two days of fierce racing among the favorites, the Tour should calm down slightly on stage 3, a 193.5 km ride from Amorebieta-Etxiano to Bayonne. On paper, it’s a sprint stage, with four smaller climbs (three Category 3s and one Category 4) before a flattish final half. The sprinters have been saving energy for it, so we expect a pretty motivated bunch that will stymie any breakaway attempts. That said, ahem, the route does go along the coast of the Bay of Biscay for long portions, which raises the possibility of crosswinds. The forecast right now calls for mostly light winds that should be a cross-tail from the left. The other wrinkle that could upset a sprint finish is a sharp 180 bend in a roundabout at 2 km to go. Should a late flyer go clear, or a crash disrupt the pack, we could see another surprise winner.
Quote of the day
“I just waited for them to slow down and then I hit them from behind. There was some hesitation and they were looking at each other.”-Victor Lafay on how he waited patiently for a late attack
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