Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) won the second stage of the 2013 Tour de France to move into the overall lead.
The Belgian made a courageous bid for victory, jumping clear of a six-man breakaway as the stage reached its climax, and clinging to the slenderest of margins in the final kilometre to hold off a rampaging peloton.
Bakelants, who had never previously won a professional race, now leads the biggest of them all, adding a yellow jersey to an astonishing victory.
“I won and for the first time. I had to wait five years, but what a victory. It’s hard to believe,” he said.
Bakelants said he had been inspired by thoughts of his room-mate, the veteran, Jens Voight, famous for his relentlessly attacking style and refusal to allow pain to curb his effort.
“I thought of Jensie and said, ‘Come on, just pedal. If they come back, they come back, but no regrets after this’, and I made it,” he said.
The rolling, 156km stage from Bastia to Ajaccio reached its widely anticipated climax on the near nine per cent slopes of the second category Côte du Salario, a kilometre-long ramp positioned just 12km from the finish.
Team Sky’s Vasili Kiryienka led the bunch on to its slopes with team leader, Chris Froome, and Paris-Nice winner, Richie Porte, in close attendance.
No sooner had the road risen than former Sky rider, Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), launched the first assault, rapidly pursued and soon caught by Europcar’s Cyril Gautier.
As Gautier approached the summit, astonishingly it was Froome who kicked from Porte’s wheel and began a solo pursuit of the Frenchman. Both riders nearly came to grief on the high-speed descent, but with so much more at stake, Froome sat up while Gautier continued to push on in the hope of surviving the final 10km.
For half of that distance, he rode alone, with a display of gurning of which even his celebrated team-mate, Thomas Voeckler, an attacker earlier in the stage, might have been proud. With five kilometres remaining, however, the game was up.
A six-man group containing Bakelants, Flecha, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Astana leader, Jacob Fuglsang, Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel Euskadi), and Manuele Mori (Lampre-Merida), swept past him, incentivised by disarray in the peloton.
Cannondale desperately tried to organise behind leader and pre-stage favourite, Peter Sagan, but the Slovak national champion was left to do much of the work for himself, thrusting out his elbows at one stage to gain space to work.
A dog ran in front of the peloton as they flew beneath the 4km to go kite, but if they saw it, they didn’t lift their relentless pace as the dawning realisation that they might have left things too late appeared to sweep over them.
Up ahead, the breakaway momentarily lost momentum as strong men Chavanel and Flecha sensed that they had been left to do all the work. Garmin-Sharp furiously drove the bunch in pursuit, sensing a day in yellow for the veteran Millar was slipping away.
At 2.5km to go, Bakelants made his bid for victory, and, astonishingly, was still clear 1.5km later as he passed beneath the flamme rouge. The sprint heavyweights were now at full gas, with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) the first to sense that it was now or never.
Bakelants drove for the line and clung on by the skin of his tightly gritted teeth to finish a single second ahead of Sagan.
“The nicest thing, it’s the second day of the Tour, so no nerves for the rest of the Tour,” he said afterwards.
‘The team’s Tour is ok. We don’t have a sprinter. We’re not going to win like Mark [Cavendish] five stages, so for the team, this is incredible.”
Anyone who witnessed his courageous victory would agree that Bakelants’ own performance – a mixture of courage and sheer determination – contained something of the incredible. It is one to cherish.
Tomorrow’s third stage from Ajaccio to Calvi includes four categorised climbs and ends with another steep descent to the finish.
Tour de France 2013: stage two – result
1) Jan Bakelants (BEL) – Radioshack-Leopard
2) Peter Sagan (SLO) – Cannondale Pro Cycling +1″
3) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep – ST
4) Davide Cimolai (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – ST
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Sky Pro Cycling
6) Julien Simon (FRA) – Sojasun
7) Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) – Astana
8) Daryl Impey (RSA) – Orica-GreenEDGE
9) Daniele Bennati (ITA) – Team Saxo-Tinkoff
10) Sergey Lagutin (UZB) – Vacansoleil-DCM
1) Jan Bakelants (BEL) – Radioshack-Leopard – 08.40.03
2) David Millar (GBR) – Garmin-Sharp +1″
3) Julien Simon (FRA) – Sojasun – ST
4) Daryl Impey (RSA) – Orica-GreenEDGE
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Sky Pro Cycling
6) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
7) Michal Kwitkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
8) Sergey Lagutin (UZB) – Vacansoleil-DCM
9) Christophe Riblon (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
10) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing