The first 10 days of racing in the 2012 Tour—the prologue and nine stages—delivered lots of great surprises—exciting sprints, new faces, and challenging stage finishes. Here’s a recap of five such moments from the opening week of the world's greatest bike race:
Peter "Tourminator" Sagan
Let’s start with Slovakia’s Sagan. Although he swept the sprint stages back in May at the Tour of California, few expected to see him match that feat against the world’s best at the Tour de France. But he’s done just that. Riding in his first Tour, he’s already won three stages in the first six days of racing—two uphill finishes and a flat field sprint.
Sagan went into the Tour’s first rest day wearing the green jersey as points leader, and it’s hard to see a rival taking it off his shoulders between now and Paris. The ebullient Sagan has enlivened the race with a different movie-themed celebration for each stage victory: He has mimicked Forrest Gump’s running and the Incredible Hulk’s flexing. Some have frowned at his high jinks, but his enthusiasm is hard to resist.
Sagan Wins Stage 1 for First Tour de France Victory
Before this Tour began, several pundits picked Mark Cavendish to win all, or at least most, sprint stages. He came into the race with 20 total Tour victories on his résumé and looked set to add a few more. In past Tours, Cavendish has received full support from his team, but this year Sky has dedicated its full effort to putting Bradley Wiggins on the top step of the podium in Paris. Many observers wondered if Cavendish could win without an armchair ride to the finish. He silenced any doubters by winning Stage 2.
The absence of a train for Cavendish has brought suspense to the sprint, but so too has the solid leadout train of Lotto-Belisol for its sprint ace, André Greipel. He’s won two stages so far. Though the first of Greipel’s victories came after a crash took Cavendish out, Greipel did outsprint Cavendish for his second victory. Peter Sagan also answered some questions on Stage 6 in Metz. His win in the bunch sprint adds another dimension to the race—he seems to win on nearly every terrain.
Greipel Wins Stage 4 as Rival Cavendish Crashes
Spartacus Fabulous in Yellow
The rider in the lead in the first week is rarely the one who wins the overall race in Paris. But the absence of time bonuses in this year’s Tour helped Cancellara defend the jersey, which he won in the prologue. A high point of the race has surely been Cancellara’s steamrollering of the final kilometers of the opening road stage into Seraing. Sylvain Chavanel, just seven seconds behind the yellow jersey on the general classification, attacked on the final climb in hopes of snatching the coveted shirt off Cancellara’s back. But Cancellara proved that offense is the best defense by going up the road himself.
Sure, he inadvertently handed Sagan his first Tour stage victory, but he kept the jersey. Just how determined he was to keep it showed at the finish when Cancellara sat with a thousand-kilometer stare, slumped against the barricades just past the line. On Stage 7, Cancellara’s run came to an end with the first uphill finish of the race. In total, he has spent 27 days in the Tour’s yellow jersey during his career—a record for a rider who has not won the Tour de France.
How Long Can Fabian Cancellara Stay in Yellow?
Dynamic New Route
The opening week of the Tour de France has traditionally meant long, flat stages stacked up one after the other, leaving viewers with little to do but wait for the sprint and count up the châteaus. But race director Christian Prudhomme has tried to mix it up. In 2011, the Tour visited the Mûr-de-Bretagne for an early uphill finish that saw eventual winner Cadel Evans take the stage victory.
This year the opening week of the Tour included two uphill finishes. Sagan won both stages, and the overall standings remained unchanged. It wasn’t for lack of trying—Chavanel and Philippe Gilbert both tried their best to punk the sprinters. Chavanel escaped twice—first in the Classics-style terrain on the road to Seraing, then on an uncategorized climb on the way to Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Still, these stages provided a much-needed counterpoint to the seemingly inevitable rhythm of breakaway-chase-sprint.
How sprinters work together to get through the Tour's climbing stages
Young Gun Pinot
When Thibaut Pinot of the Français des Jeux team crossed the line alone in Porrentruy, he gave France its first stage victory of the Tour. He rode in a breakaway with support from teammate Jérémy Roy. Then he defied team orders not to attack and tried to win the stage. In the interminable run-in to the finish, Pinot held off a hard-charging chase group containing yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins and defending champion Cadel Evans, while Pinot’s team manager, Marc Madiot, hung out of the car window yelling encouragement and pounding the side of the car with his fists.
It was a moment reminiscent of Pierre Rolland’s surprise victory on Alpe d’Huez last year. There’s something special about the first big win by a young rider, especially when it comes on cycling’s greatest stage. At 22, Pinot is the youngest rider in the race, and it’s his first Tour.
Team Sky has dominated so far—but the Alps and Pyrenees remain