Astana’s Nibali broke clear of a select group of race favourites with two kilometres remaining of the 201km stage from York to secure his first win of the season after a gruelling succession of nine categorised climbs in the Peak District proved too much for overnight race leader Marcel Kittel of Germany.
Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet (BMC) led the chasing pack over the line two seconds behind Nibali with Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in third ahead of the pre-stage favourite Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Following a trademark dance on the pedals by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) led the pack over the summit of the punchy final climb of Jenkin Road 5km from the finish.
Sagan came to the front on the descent before the select group of 20 riders slowed before the technical finale north-east of Sheffield city centre. Sensing his moment, Nibali launched his decisive attack on the left-hand side of the road. Froome led the chase alongside Portuguese world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) but both riders sat up inside the closing metres once Nibali’s lead became unassailable.
"It was a very difficult stage," said Nibali, who became Italy’s first maillot jaune since Rinaldo Nocentini in 2009. "I really felt spent by the finish and I wasn’t sure I could hold on. Everyone seemed like they wanted to attack, but they were just watching each other and so I decided to make my move."
Giant Shimano's Kittel – who won the race’s opening stage in Harrogate – was distanced on the Cat.2 climb of Holme Moss in the Peak District, the German finishing 18 minutes in arrears ahead of Monday’s third stage to London.
Earlier in the stage, Kittel found himself on the tarmac after an incident with spectators caused three Giant Shimano riders to hit the deck. The German’s team-mate Roy Curvers later avoided a high-speed crash despite being clipped by a fan with a camera in the build-up to the intermediate sprint at Keighley in West Yorkshire.
Incidents with spectators were a theme of the day as the whole of Yorkshire seemed to come out and cheer on the world’s biggest bike race - despite the early withdrawal of British sprinter Mark Cavendish following his nasty crash at the end of the opening stage.
On one climb, Lithuania’s Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) appeared to knock a smartphone from the prying hands of a spectator who had encroached upon the road and made the passage treacherously narrow for the passing peloton.
SEVEN-MAN BREAK: Once again, the first move came from French wildcard team Bretagne-Séché whose rider Armindo Fonseca attacked from the outset. He was joined by fellow Frenchmen Blel Kadri (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) and Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), Spaniard David de la Cruz (NetApp-Endura) and American Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing). With the peloton easing up, Belgian Bart de Clercq (Lotto Belisol) managed to bridge the gap to complete a seven-man group that built up a maximum lead of around 3:30.
With Lemoine picking up enough points over the first four categorised climbs to move into the virtual polka dot jersey, the break was fractured near to the start of the Cat.2 climb of Holme Moss in the Peak District, just over 60km from the finish. Kadri was the only of the escapees to hold the peloton at bay after being joined by compatriot Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) on the climb.
Kadri pulled clear over the summit and a five-man chasing group formed around Voeckler featuring the former French national champion’s team-mate Cyril Gautier, their compatriot Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and German powerhouses Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC). But the race came back together on the Cat.3 climb of Midhopestones 34km from the finish as both Kadri and his pursuers were caught by the peloton, which by now rode some five minutes clear of the gruppetto featuring yellow jersey Kittel.
FAST FINISH: Frenchmen Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2R-La Mondiale) attacked over the penultimate categorised climb of the day, the Cat.3 ascent of Oughtibridge. The pair bickered their way to opening up a slender 15-second gap before Peraud threw in the towel. Rolland followed suit with 9km remaining as the pace hit furious levels on the approach to the decisive climb of Jenkin Road.
Contador tested his legs on the steep 33% ramp of the punchy 800m climb. The Spaniard was shadowed by Froome, who led the leaders over the summit before Nibali’s Astana team-mate Jakob Fulgsang tried his luck. Van Avermaet reeled in the Dane and all eyes were on Slovakian sensation Sagan, wearing the white jersey as the race’s best young rider, as a battle of attrition commenced.
Nibali, however, had other plans.
MAN OF THE DAY: Nibali’s timely attack giving his doubters something to chew on and underlined the former Giro and Vuelta winner’s credentials as one of the dangermen of this year’s Tour.
BIGGEST LOSER: Billed as a mini-classic in the mould of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, stage two was certainly on the radar of Australia’s Simon Gerrans, winner of this year’s edition of the spring classic. Despite some stellar work by his Orica-GreenEdge team-mates, Gerrans was clearly feeling the after-effects of that big crash in Harrogate and was unable to perform as he would have liked on the final climb.
But the biggest disappointment came from Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha, who crossed the line almost 15 minutes down on Nibali to end his chances of a high finish in Paris.
COMING UP: Monday’s relatively short 155km stage from Cambridge to London is one for the sprinters with a flat finale on The Mall in the shadow of Buckingham Palace on the cards. Mark Cavendish was odds-on favourite to get over his London 2012 Olympic disappointment with victory in the capital, but the Manxman’s withdrawal means the likes of Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel should do battle for the win. But watch out for Frenchman Arnaud Demare of FDJ, who won the inaugural Surrey 100 race on The Mall last summer.
PLAT DU JOUR: Cambridgeshire is historically the home of the renowned blue-veined cheese Stilton, which is now primarily produced in Derbyshire. The peloton can breakfast on cheese washed down with the infamous Cambridge Ale Cup – ale with spices and sherry served with nutmeg-flavoured toast. Once in London, a celebratory meal of jellied eels and pie ‘n mash will await both the brave and the hungry.
STAGE IN A SENTENCE: Nibali comes in from the cold as yellow jersey Kittel wages a giant battle with excited spectators in Yorkshire.
- Sports & Recreation
- Marcel Kittel
- Chris Froome
- Peter Sagan
- Alberto Contador