Team Sky are still fighting for the Critérium du Dauphiné title on two fronts as Geraint Thomas survived the hangover from his prologue crash and Michal Kwiatkowski safely defended his leader's yellow jersey on the first road stage.
Both riders, in fact, animated proceedings in what was a chaotic finale in Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert, where Daryl Impey sprinted to victory from a reduced peloton.
Thomas turned up to the start of the stage in Valence with a bandaged left elbow and road rash visible on both knees. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, he felt it was nothing too serious but knew he'd need confirmation after a night's sleep and, more importantly, a stage in the legs.
That he got, after finishing in a peloton that had been thinned to 65 riders by the late category 4 climb of the Côte du Barrage de Grangent.
"I've had a lot worse," Thomas said outside the Team Sky bus in Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert. "Once you get going it's OK. Obviously, I'm just stiff and sore or whatever – the usual."
Though it ended with a large bunch finish, it was hardly an ideal recovery day, with no fewer than seven categorized climbs on the 179km route. A three-man breakaway was kept on a short leash for much of the day but the race ignited on a finishing circuit that twice took the riders up the Côte du Barrage de Grangent, a 1.3km climb at a gradient of 4.5 per cent.
The second of the ascents topped out four kilometres from the line, and when Dylan Teuns (BMC) and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) went on the offensive, Thomas and Kwiatkowski jumped on board. At one point they had a gap but all the overall contenders came back together, even if the peloton thinned considerably.
"It was a really hectic final 25km on the circuit," Thomas said. "Luckily I managed to stay up front out of trouble. Coming into that sprint I was just like 'please get me home in one piece'. Luckily it was OK but it was just bikes and bodies going everywhere.
"I was kind of just trying to follow [on the climb] – just go deep and see where you are over the top. We had a little gap but I wasn't going to risk it on the descent to keep that going. If someone else wanted to, I'd try and go with them.
"All things considered, it was a good day."
Having taken the yellow jersey on Sunday, Kwiatkowski was hoping for two quiet days before the general classification battle ignites with the stage 3 team time trial and then four back-to-back mountain stages. However, his presence on the turbo trainer in Valence that morning suggested he was braced for a tricky day, with not just a hilly finale in store but a hilly start, too, the category 2 Col de Leyrisse rising from the gun.
After controlling the peloton in the early phases, Sky came back to the front on the finishing circuit, with Tao Geoghegan Hart guiding Kwiatkowski up near the front. The Pole showed a spring in his step as he went after Alaphilippe on the climb, and he tried his hand in the uphill drag of a sprint – where bonus seconds awaited the top three – but could only manage fifth place.
"We knew already from the profile and from our meeting on the bus that it would be chaotic. If there's a category 4 climb so close to the finish then you know there'll be some guys who will try," said Kwiatkowski in his race leader's press conference.
"Alaphilippe went pretty hard, and with the wet roads and the technical circuit, it was a really nervous finale. In the end, nothing serious happened. I was in the front the whole time. We were in the right position when necessary. Before the bottom of the climb, we took control. I was trying in the end to do the sprint but I couldn't respond to the acceleration of Daryl."
Tomorrow is the only other day that, in theory, isn't decisive in terms of the general classification. There's more hilly terrain, with five minor climbs on the menu, but the last one tops out some 30km from the line.
"It's the last chance for fast guys to win a stage. For sure, guys like Coquard or Boasson Hagen will try to do it once again. I expect the teams with fast guys will take control," Kwiatkowski said.
"Let's hope we can see a sprint and myself and the team can relax a bit ahead of the team time trial, which is very important."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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