Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
As I tap out the first few keystrokes of this piece, the rain is starting to fall on Rohan Dennis and the other 197 riders in the 102 edition of the Tour de France.
What’s more, the first pictures from the finish line look really grim with gale force winds and horizontal rain buffeting the officials and spectators – and ending the lives of numerous umbrellas.
And while the race organisers can’t organise the weather, they do plan the Tour route, so they’re fully aware the effect the climatic conditions could have on the race on any day.
The dangers of this particular Stage 2 to an already nervous peloton were the wind, which, given the coastal route were likely to be crosswinds.
A heatwave over much of Europe for the past week suggested the weather gods were feeling generous, but it wasn’t to be.
And so as we’ve seen in the past few years, within the first few days of the world’s biggest bike race, some of the Tour’s big names are in seriously trouble.
Last year of course the early stages proved too much for a number of riders, none more significant than Chris Froome. He abandoned after several crashes before he’d even reached the much-feared cobbles on the French-Belgian border in Stage 5.
As you may have read elsewhere on The Roar, Stage 2 isn’t the only one likely to cause problems for the contenders before we reach the high mountains in Stage 10.
Stage 3 has a difficult uphill finish, Stage 4 features cobbles, Stage 6 promises more coastal carnage, Stage 8 ends on a hill and the Stage 9 Team Time Trial also concludes with a climb.
It promises to be totally unpredictable and dramatic and if all the big names make it to the first rest day unscathed, both physically and in respect to their General Classification position, it’ll be fantastic.
We all want that of course, but as we saw last night that’s unlikely to be the case.
Last year on Stage 2, Vincenzo Nibali was riding into yellow and establishing a stranglehold on the Tour de France with victory in Sheffield.
Last night, Nibali and his teammates spent the last 50km trying (and failing) to chase back a break that formed in the wind and rain that lashed a significant part of the stage.
Last night, he lost 1:27 to the race winner Andre Greipel but worse, Nibali could well have lost the Tour de France.
Nairo Quintana also failed to bridge across with Chris Froome and Alberto Contador when the break formed.
Last night, he could well have lost the Tour de France.
The podium placegetters from last year Jean Christophe Peraud and Thiabot plus Alejandro Valverde were also caught out, as were Richie Porte and Simon Gerrans.
Rohan Dennis surrendered the yellow jersey, but the important thing for BMC was that team leader Tejay van Garderen was in the break.
Sadly too, Adam Hansen’s quest to complete 12 consecutive Grand Tours looks in serious doubt, following a crash during the storm.
Hansen rolled home around eleven minutes after Greipel and co, and when we saw vision of him clutching his left shoulder, we can only hope that the Queenslander is not too badly injured and can start tonight’s Stage 3.
So, when we consider what we witnessed last night, it’s fair to ask are the race organisers are denying the Tour the finish it deserves by making the early stages too hard?
Most of you would say of course not, but sometimes it’s just nice to ease into something.
Looking back at several Tour parcours in the early 2000s particularly before Christian Prudhomme took over from long time race director Jean Marie Le Blanc, the opening six-nine stages tended to be much different.
There’d generally be Time Trials for both individuals and teams, but aside from that, the opening salvos of the first week was really all about the sprinters.
When not in time trial mode, the peloton would let the day’s break establish and the sprinter’s teams would chase it down and contest the bunch sprint finish.
Given Robbie McEwen and Stuart O’Grady were two of those sprinters and in their fast men prime, the finishes were often dramatic. You looked forward to each stage. You couldn’t always say the same about the rest of the stage though, which while not boring, felt extremely formulaic.
That’s not the case these days with Prudhomme in charge, and while we have already seen Nibali and Quintana suffer serious blows to their title hopes, I would much rather watch this generation of Tours de France than those from a decade ago.
Stage 2 was just magic to watch.
Here’s to more twists and turns on the roads to the Mur de Huy.