Good day, bad day – Liege to Charleroi

Thankfully the bunch avoided the pile-up of last year's first stage, but it wasn't a good day for ev

Thankfully the bunch avoided the pile-up of last year’s first stage, but it wasn’t a good day for ev

Wind and rain, Belgian toothpaste (that’s mud and other ‘stuff’ all mixed up together), crashes and echelons, plus an edgy, over-excited peloton. It was a stage for a cool head today. And some had it, while others didn’t. GOOD DAY Lance Armstrong: looked good in green and rode at the front at the crucial time, with most of his team at his shoulder. Never looked in trouble, even when Fassa put the hammer down with a resounding thump in pursuit of CSC’s Jens Voigt. Marks out of 10 – an assured 7.5 for keeping well out of harm’s way Jaan Kirsipuu: a wily old fox who profited from the rivalry between Cipollini, Petacchi, McEwen and Cooke to sneak in on the blind side and expertly pickpocket an accomplished Tour stage win, the 114th success of his career. Marks out of 10 – 9.5 for showing his rivals how to make a little go a long way Fabian Cancellara: the 23 year old maillot jaune suited the jersey and rode assertively in the sprints to maintain his lead, and even found time to take a massive turn at the front of the bunch for team-mate Petacchi on the approach to Charleroi. Marks out of 10 – 7 for his maturity and confidence under pressure. BAD DAY Erik Zabel: is it fair either to the fading Zabel or to his team to leave him to fend for himself in the bunch sprints? Why is he here? Can he really hope to win a Tour stage again? Why on earth did T-Mobile bring Zabel when they could have had Cadel Evans, a powerhouse in the mountains and time trials, to support Ullrich? Marks out of 10 – 8 for effort, 4 for result. Mario Cipollini: when Cipo’ rode to the start line today there were two ‘lions’ – fans dressed in lion suits, scampering in his wake, roaring at the fans – to support him. They would have been better employed pushing him up the hills. Is he really past it, as many are now saying? We’ll soon see. Marks out of 10 – 8 for entertainment value, 4 for low octane performance. Australian cycling: first the Tour’s Aussie clan lose Matt White from the Cofidis team before the race even starts. Then Brad McGee, troubled by back problems, has a ‘mare on stage one. Oh, and Nick Gates of Lotto is out of the Tour too, after crashing in the Ardennes and finishing 30 minutes down on the bunch. He rode to the finish alone. Marks out of 10 – 9 for courage, but a mere 4 for efficacy