By Jamey Keaten
The Associated Press
AJACCIO, Corsica — The Tour de France enters its third stage Monday. Five things to know:
Belgian brains: Belgium’s Jan Bakelants showed he was street smart in winning Sunday’s second stage from Bastia to Ajaccio in Corsica by nestling into a six-rider breakaway late in the stage, and then escaping with just a few miles left before holding off the pack at the finish. The RadioShack rider took the Tour leader’s yellow jersey from Germany’s Marcel Kittel, who lost time as he struggled on the day’s climbs. It was a first professional victory for Bakelants, a 27-year-old university graduate in bioscience engineering. He’d shown promise in 2008 by winning the Tour de l’Avenir — perhaps the world’s premier race for young riders — before turning pro.
Froome’s flair: Chris Froome, a Kenyan-born Briton, toyed with some of his expected rivals to win the three-week race in Paris on July 21. The Sky team leader briefly burst clear of the peloton on the last climb of the 97-mile stage from Bastia to Ajaccio. The tactic was designed to give him an easier downhill ride, but with a hidden message, too: Catch me if you can. Barely two minutes later, the pack caught Froome, but none of his top rivals, including two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador of Spain, went after him. Froome quipped: “It’s always good to keep people on their toes.” A spokesman for Contador shrugged off Froome’s move, saying, “there wasn’t much space to do much” to alter the overall standings. They both finished in the trailing pack behind Bakelants, and trail the Belgian by a second.
Sprinters struggle: Race organizers injected a bit of novelty into this year’s 100th Tour edition by placing a hilly stage so early in the race. Sunday’s trek across the French Mediterranean island featured four mid-grade climbs through sun-baked mountains. The sprinters, including Kittel, all lagged: Mark Cavendish of Britain and Matt Goss of Australia were 17 1/2 minutes behind Bakelants and Germany’s Andre Greipel was nearly 13 minutes back. On Twitter, Cavendish used an expletive to describe his day.
Dog day that wasn’t: Cavendish wasn’t the only rider growling in cyberspace. The Tour’s website urged fans to keep their dogs at home after a small white pooch scurried into the road in front of the speeding pack with just about 2 1/2 miles to go. A roadside fan first tried to cajole the dog off the street, then darted out to shoo the interloper away. The lead rider in the pack missed ramming it by a few inches. A year ago at the Tour, current world champion Philippe Gilbert of Belgium was one of several riders who crashed because of a dog. He got back into the race after dispensing some harsh words to its owners.
Danger ahead: After Bakelants’ racing finesse Sunday and Saturday’s opening stage in which a team bus got stuck under framework at the finish line with minutes to go, Monday’s 91-mile leg from Ajaccio to Calvi features what some riders call the most treacherous of the three days in Corsica. French rider Jeremy Roy of the Francaise des Jeux team was quoted in France’s Velo magazine saying this was “the stage of all dangers.” It features winding roads along Corsica’s wild western coast and a speedy downhill from the Marsolino Pass, the last of four mid-grade climbs on the day.