Reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali complained of “bad luck” on Sunday after he lost almost a minute and a half to two of his main rivals for Tour de France victory.
The 30-year-old Sicilian was caught up in a crash around 50km from the end of Sunday’s 166km second stage from Utrecht to Zeeland, which was won by Andre Greipel as Fabian Cancellara relieved Australia’s Rohan Dennis of the leader’s yellow jersey.
The crash happened at a time when Etixx-Quick Step were driving the pace on the front of the peloton as heavy rain and crosswinds caused havoc.
Astana leader Nibali could not get back up to the lead group and lost 1min 28sec on Chris Froome, the man he succeeded as Tour champion, and almost as much to two-time former winner Alberto Contador.
Only Colombian Nairo Quintana of the ‘fantastic four’ was also caught out and he remains 18sec behind Nibali in the overall standings.
“We were following (the pace-setters) all day. I was behind (a crash) and I didn’t quite understand what was happening,” said Nibali, one of only six riders to win all three Grand Tours.
“I managed to stay on my bike but I lost some ground there and to compound matters I also punctured (later).
“It was a question of bad luck, not my legs. That’scycling, you also have to accept these things.”
Quintana also blamed chance on his being caught out.
“With the rain and the crashes we had a bit of bad luck and we lost a bit of time, but we hope to get that back day by day,” said the 25-year-old Colombian, the 2014 Giro d’Italia winner.
“But we managed to maintain the team and worked with Astana to avoid losing more time.”
– ‘Epic’ Team Sky –
Froome was grateful to teammates Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas for keeping him out of the firing line and ensuring that he is now ahead of all his main rivals for the final victory.
On Twitter, he described his Sky team’s performance as “epic” while praising the “phenomenal” Stannard and Thomas.
“It was great to be up there with G (Thomas) and Yogi (Stannard) at the end. They did a great job in keeping me protected,” said Froome.
“This is their playground and the classics style of racing is what they were born to do.
“This is a huge advantage for us now. We’re two days down and I couldn’t have hoped for much more at this point in the race.”
Welshman Thomas is actually ahead of Froome in the standings at fifth overall and 35sec behind Cancellara.
He added: “It was great to gain that time on some of Froomey’s rivals.”
As well as Nibali and Quintana, France’s big hopes for a podium finish were all caught out by the crashes as well.
Thibaut Pinot, who was third last year but is now 31st at more than two minutes down, said: “I didn’t crash and that’s the most important thing. There could still be many comebacks.”
Jean-Christophe Peraud, who was second last year, is down in 41st place, two seconds and three places above Quintana, while Pinot is two places and as many seconds ahead of Nibali.
But Romain Bardet, sixth last year, is right down in 78th and 3mins off Cancellara.
Swiss 35-year-old Cancellara took the yellow jersey thanks to taking four bonus seconds by coming third on the stage.
It put him ahead of Tony Martin by three seconds, but the German could have been in yellow if his Etixx teammate Mark Cavendish, for whom he had been driving the peloton all day, had held off the charging Cancellara in the sprint finish.
Cavendish launched his sprint too soon and faded to fourth, seeming to sit up just before the line when he knew he was beaten.
Some people pointed that out to the 30-year-old Briton, who reacted angrily on Twitter.
“If I could hang on for 3rd, I could hang on for the win… Some imbeciles think cycling is a computer game,” he fumed. “Gutted for @tonymartin85. Congratulations @AndreGreipel.” – Agence France-Presse