Farrar impresses as 'Cav' dominates Tour sprint
Tyler Farrar stuck another feather in his sprint cap on Sunday by finishing an impressive second on his first real Tour de France debut.
The Tour de France clicked into action on Saturday when Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara grabbed the race's yellow jersey when he won the opening stage time trial in Monaco.
But for sprinters like Farrar, who as an American is a rare breed in his craft, Sunday's hot and sweaty 187 km ride from Monaco to Brignoles was the real start of the three-week epic.
Once again, the 25-year-old had to settle for second best as unstoppable Briton Mark Cavendish upheld the form book by winning a small bunch sprint and pulling on the green jersey for the points competition.
Having come close, at least once, to beating the Manxman at last month's Giro d'Italia, Farrar's second place on the world's biggest race Sunday has given him hope he can go one place better.
"At the finish Julian (Dean) gave me the perfect lead-out. I really couldn't have asked for more, I was in perfect position and didn't have to make any extra efforts," said Farrar, who knows he is inching closer to a first major Tour stage victory.
"That was the plan coming here. It was the same at the Giro, I know I'm right there. I just have to keep trying and hopefully one of these days I'll go one better."
With Cavendish in such fine form and given great support by a Columbia team captained by American veteran George Hincapie, Farrar, and sprinters like Tom Boonen and Thor Hushovd are going to have their hands full.
"Today I had it in mind to try and anticipate him and jump before him but he went early as well," added Farrar. "I don't think I did anything wrong today. He just beat me. But hopefully the legs will get even better for me.
"He had the perfect sprint train today - they did a really good job. Like I say, there's no trick you can pull to beat him. You just have to sprint really fast. That's all there is to it."
But Farrar is hoping his fledgling relationship with New Zealand teammate Dean, his main lead-out man, will reach a stage where details like timing, speed, and a healthy dose of good fortune all come together.
"We barely raced with each other before this year. It's just a matter of getting to know each other and developing a confidence," he added. "It just takes time, you can't just hook up with your lead-out man and then go boom, boom, boom, perfect.
"We're just getting better and better at anticipating each other."
Caution before glory for Tom Boonen
Tom Boonen is taking a cautious approach to the first few stages
Belgium's Tom Boonen said Sunday he was more concerned about staying on his bike than sprinting for victory after a crash just before the finish of the second stage of the Tour de France.
A right hand bend just under two kilometres before the end of the 187km stage between Monaco and Brignoles caused confusion in the peloton leading to some riders crashing and the Quickstep rider had to cycle around the trouble.
The deviation cost the 2005 world road race champion several places, but as part of the peloton he receives the same time as stage winner Mark Cavendish of four hours 30 minutes two seconds despite finishing 174th.
"I had no choice but to follow the deviation around the crash," said the 28-year-old Belgian. "It's the first days of the Tour de France and no one wants to take any risks. Of course, I want to show I am a sprinter, but I didn't think it was wise to take a chance and I am just happy I didn't crash.
"It's very early days yet."
It has been a tough few days for Boonen who was only given the green light to ride in this year's Tour de France on Friday, but was then beset by diarrhoea and abdominal pains in Saturday's time trial to finish 116th.
The illness, according to Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefévère, was brought on by the stress of only being told he could race 24 hours after a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling.
The Belgian rider had been barred from the Tour by organisers following a positive test for cocaine in April, but was cleared to race by Friday's ruling.
It was his second such test in a year. Boonen also missed the Tour in 2008 because he tested positive for the drug in May last year.
Brett Lancaster hits out at 'amateur' Italian's antics
As bunch sprints go, it could have gone much better for Australian Brett Lancaster and his Cervelo team on the Tour de France on Sunday.
While yellow jersey contender Cadel Evans expressed his relief at avoiding one of several crashes on the second stage from Monaco to Brignoles, Lancaster was left frustrated with what he called the "amateur' antics of Italian sprinter Danilo Napolitano of Katusha.
"We got Thor (Hushovd) right up there and then typical Napolitano just smashing people like he's in an amateur bloody under-19 race. It's just disgraceful," Lancaster told AFP.
"The guy needs to pull his head in."
An Olympic champion with Australia's track pursuit team at Athens in 2004, Lancaster's road job is now to drag Hushovd in at as fast a pace as possible before the powerful Norwegian launches a solo bid for victory at the finish line.
But being part of the Cervelo team's four-man sprint 'train' is still a work in progress for Lancaster, and an altogether new job for his New Zealand teammate Hayden Roulston.
Roulston has come into the race knowing his ability to wind it up to 60km/h in the closing kilometres could come in handy when he, Lancaster and Australian-born German Heinrich Haussler attempt to guide Hushovd through the mayhem.
But putting theory into practice, especially with spills splitting the peloton, riders losing rhythm and your own riders making potentially decisive judgements, is harder than it sounds.
Roulston came a cropper on Sunday when he crashed with 70km to go, according to his team, then he missed a split second decision which meant he didn't pull as planned in the lead-out.
Lancaster said he then had to brake hard to avoid Napolitano, who had braked hard in front of him, slowing him down and forcing him to relaunch his bid to get Hushovd to the line.
But Lancaster suggested an overwhelmed Roulston's hesitation had perhaps cost Cervelo a possible victory.
"Hayden wasn't there," added Lancaster when asked what had become of their sprint train. "It's his first Tour and it is hectic out there but you've got to take... not risks, but, it's just dangerous. That's the way it is.
"You've got to think you might fall, you might not. It's just part of the Tour de France."
Any frustration Lancaster was feeling soon dissipated, however, with the knowledge that they will get a chance to make amends.
"He's got the horsepower, and he'll be alright in the coming days," added the Australian.
Lance Armstrong happy to get into Tour groove
Lance Armstrong follows teammate Alberto Contador
Lance Armstrong endured his first testing day of racing on his return to the Tour de France before avoiding a potentially dangerous finish among the safety of the main peloton.
The 37-year-old was given the same finishing time of 4hr 30mins 02secs as Mark Cavendish, who claimed victory over the 187km stage between Monaco and Brignoles as temperatures went close to 40 degrees celsius.
Having finished 10th in Saturday's time trial around Monaco, Armstrong remains in the same position overall and says he achieved his objective of staying out of trouble in Sunday's sweltering conditions.
"Days like today are incredibly hot and hard for everyone," said Armstrong.
"I just wanted to avoid trouble and get into the rhythm of the race, because yesterday's time trial wasn't really a normal stage. We had an important day here and then we are on our way to the Pyrenees."
After such a narrow finish, opening stage winner Fabian Cancellara retained the yellow jersey for Monday's 196.5km stage from Marseille to La Grande-Motte.
Almost pancake flat at the end, that stage is likely to finish in another bunch sprint.
But a day later Astana, whose main yellow jersey contender, Alberto Contador, is only 18secs off Cancellara's pace, may take command of the race after a 39km team time trial around Montpellier.
The question is whether Saxo Bank's efforts in defending the jersey in such heat has zapped any of their energy reserves.
Armstrong added: "Saxo have quite an advantage and they will be strong. They have had to do some work here, which might take something out of them."
Still 40secs behind Cancellara, Armstrong said the time is not concerning him at this early stage of the quest for the yellow jersey.
"It's not a problem for me," he said with a grin.
After nearly four years away from the Tour, cancer-survivor Armstrong admitted he was struggling to feel at home back in the race he has won seven times in a row.
A shoulder injury suffered in March at the Castille y Leon stage race limited his preparation for this year's Tour, but he returned to claim a respectable 12th overall at this year's Giro d'Italia.
"It's hard to throw myself back into competition, those who rode the Tour of Switzerland seem to be in better position," he said. "But I think competing in the Giro really helps, especially the last week."
Armstrong is keeping his Astana team's yellow jersey rivals guessing by refusing to officially endorse Spanish ace Alberto Contador as their definitive team leader.
And 2007 Tour winner Contador, who finished 58th in the peloton here, said the heat was becoming a factor.
"The temperature is becoming a real problem," said the Spaniard, who stamped his yellow jersey credentials on the race by leaving all of his main rivals in his wake on Saturday. "Ten minutes after the race finished, I was still very hot and sweating.
"Tuesday's team trial is important, but it is also important we get through Monday's stage without any problems or risks. I am pretty relaxed, my form is good and I feel fine."
Astana have a total of four riders in the race's top ten - Andreas Klöden of Germany, runner-up in 2006, is in fourth while Levi Leipheimer, third overall in 2007, is still sixth.
Crash victim Jurgen Van der Walle withdraws from Tour
Quick Step rider Jurgen van de Walle on Monday became the first cyclist to withdraw from the 2009 Tour de France after suffering a broken collarbone on the second stage.
The 32-year-old was involved in a crash just under two kilometres from the finish of Sunday's second, 187km-long stage between Monaco and Brignoles which left him with the broken collarbone and a damaged lung.
The Belgian finished the stage, but was taken straight to hospital in Marseille where he was kept in under observation.
© AFP 2009