LIÈGE, Belgium (VN) – Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) both saw their GC chances go flat with late-race punctures in Sunday’s first stage at the 2012 Tour de France.
Both riders, who punched into the top-12 in Saturday’s prologue, punctured with about 10km to go and lost important time on GC.
Froome ceded 1:25 to slip from 11th to 84th at 1:41 back while Velits dropped from 12th to 98th, now at 2:09 back.
“I punctured just at about 10km to go, at the worst possible time because the race started to split to pieces. Even with a couple of teammates to help me, it made it hard to come back,” Froome told VeloNews. “If that’s all I lose in the first week, then I think I will be happy.”
Froome said his puncture came just as the race dipped into the valley at the Meuse River.
“First you have to wait for the car, and that takes about 30 seconds. Then you have to start from zero when the rest of the peloton is going 65-70kph,” he said. “It was just a bit of a time trial to try to get to the finish. That’s just one of those things. That’s bike racing.”
Both Froome and Velits are their respective team’s second GC options, with Kenyan Froome riding behind Bradley Wiggins and Velits slotting in behind Levi Leipheimer at Omega Pharma-Quick Step.
Both have finished second at the Vuelta a España, with Velits being promoted to runner-up to Vicenzo Nibali in 2010 following the doping positive of Ezequiel Mosquera and Froome losing last year’s Vuelta by just 19 seconds.
Holm high on Levi
Despite a bit of a rough start for Levi Leipheimer, Omega Pharma-Quick Step is still bullish on his GC chances.
Leipheimer ceded time in the opening two stages, finishing off the best times in Saturday’s prologue and giving up 17 seconds Sunday on the uphill finale at Seraing to exit the weekend 45 seconds off the yellow-jersey pace.
The team’s sport director Brian Holm said Leipheimer could be a contender in the coming weeks if he can stay within striking distance.
“I think it’s good for Levi, but we cannot say he is a top favorite,” Holm told VeloNews. “Right now, he’s not even a top-five favorite, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be surprised if he can finish on the podium.”
Leipheimer bounced back from an accident in early April that left him with a broken leg to finish third in the Tour de Suisse last month.
Third overall in 2007, the veteran American should see solid support at the Belgian outfit. At the Tour, he will share GC duties with Velits.
“Levi is our GC rider and we have a bit of a dark horse with Peter Velits. We shall see,” Holm said. “With the long time trials, why not? Levi is about hanging on as long as possible when we get into the big mountains. If he loses five, 10 seconds, I would not stress too much about that.”
Holm said the team is not putting pressure on world time trial champion Tony Martin for any sort of GC results.
Martin, who crashed early in Sunday’s stage, has all but given up hope of trying to fight for the Tour podium. Instead, the big German will focus on time trials at the Tour and the Olympic Games.
“With Tony Martin, we tried a few years ago with GC. It looks like he doesn’t recover good enough. So we will try in the time trials,” Holm said. “It’s not worth fighting for the top-10 when he also has the Olympics. Maybe he can have a good day in the mountains, he can have a go. We have to take it step by step.”
The jerseys: Peter the Great
Stage winner: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) wins in first road stage of Tour debut
Yellow jersey: Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) retained his seven-second lead to Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)
Green jersey: Cancellara continues to lead the points competition with 55; Sagan climbed to second with 49
Polka-dot jersey: Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) earned first KoM jersey of 2012 Tour by winning three of the day’s five rated climbs
White jersey: Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) defended the best young rider’s jersey
Crash at 10km: Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Sharp), cuts to right shoulder; Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), cuts to left wrist and arm
Crash at 22km: Thibaut Pinot (FDJeux), cuts to left wrist, hip; Anthony Roux (FDJeux), trauma to left wrist, possible fracture in hand, X-rays to come
Crash at 169km: Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), cuts to right arm; J.J. Rojas (Movistar), cuts to right buttock
Andriy Grivko (Astana), Francis de Greef (Lotto-Belisol); both fined 50CHR for “comportement incorrect” Art. 12.1.040.29
DS Davide Bramati (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) fined 200CHF for “circulation of vehicles” Art. 12.1.040.25
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) and DS Maurizio Piovani both fined 30CHF for “mechanical aid that damages the image of cycling” Art. 12.1.040.37bis
Weather: More mild temps
Mild weather continues for Monday’s second stage, with highs in the upper 60s Fahrenheit, with 15-20kph winds from the south, southwest, under partly cloudy skies.
Monday’s stage: First shot for sprinters
The pure sprinters should have their first chance at victory in Monday’s 207.5km second stage from Visé to Tournai. The rolling stage through Belgium serves up one fourth-category climb at 82.5km.