Julien Bernard takes stage victory for the French on day two of men's virtual Tour de France
The Frenchman won a nail-biting sprint finish on the mountainous second stage
They may not be dancing along the Champs-Élysees in celebration tonight, but Julien Bernard becomes the first Frenchman to win a stage of the Tour de France in 2020.
Although many believed Freddy Ovett's (Israel Start-Up Nation) avatar had crossed the finish line first, it was the Trek-Segafredo rider who took the spoils on stage two of the men's virtual Tour de France.
Cofidis' Nicolas Edet came third, while Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling), back from his Paris-Nice leg break, was fourth, and Patrick Bevin (CCC) rounded out the top five.
Former winner Geraint Thomas (Ineos) animated the race in the early stages, but it was Bernard whose presence was obligatory at the post-race press conference and tasked with trotting out the dreaded "the Tour's the Tour" soundbite.
"I'm very proud because a Tour stage is a Tour stage," Bernard said after his victory. "Whether it's virtual, I'm very happy to have won and also for Trek-Segafredo, we worked very well during the break and now we are ready for the real racing."
Thanks to some savvy points-gathering at the intermediate sprint point and getting two riders into the top 10 for the stage, NTT remain in the yellow jersey of the general classification, leading Rally Cycling by almost 40 points ahead of next weekend's stages three and four.
>>> Zwift Virtual Tour de France 2020: Everything you need to know
How it happened
Stage two of the virtual Tour de France presented the first real climbing test for the peloton, with over 600m of elevation in a centrepiece category two climb before a descent and flat run-in to the finish.
Geraint Thomas was leading from the front in the foothills of the climb, with Ineos team-mate Tao Geoghegan Hart in his wheel, the Welshman taking the time to tap out a text message while his feet span the pedals.
Despite putting out over 400W, Van Der Poel was getting dropped on the climb, as Bahrain-McLaren's Domen Novak took out a slight gap at the front, with Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale) going with him.
Thomas was clearly feeling good as he then went on the offensive, taking a few riders with him as the peloton scrambled to catch wheels.
EF Pro Cycling's Michael Woods then took the front, having recovered from his leg break at Paris-Nice, and looking to make a statement ahead of the return to real racing.
Israel Start-Up Nation's James Piccoli led over the summit of the category two climb, with Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), James Whelan (EF Pro Cycling) and Freddy Ovett (Israel Start-Up Nation) following behind.
Whelan, suffering, then started to drop off as team-mate Woods came to the fore once again. The Canadian continued to push on up to the radio tower, with Geoghegan Hart chasing behind.
Nicolas Edet overtook Woods as they reached the summit of the radio tower, before Geoghegan Hart and Freddy Ovett (Israel Start-Up Nation) joined them to make a descending quartet, nine seconds ahead of the chasing group behind.
A large chasing group caught the front four with 7km to go, EF Pro Cycling's Rigoberto Uran and Trek-Segafredo's Giulio Ciccone making the cut.
Geraint Thomas found himself in a group of three just behind the leading group, fighting to get back on terms, as up ahead Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) attacked the front group. Guillaume Martin then countered, stringing the group out, before his team-mate Nicolas Edet also came past, putting his own dig in.
Trek-Segafredo held the numerical superiority in the group of around 15 riders heading into the final 4km. The South African Louis Meintjes (NTT), clad in the yellow jersey, used an invisibility power-up as he came to the front of the group, lining up for the intermediate sprint, which was won by his team-mate Stefan De Bod in the green jersey.
Geoghegan Hart, pipped in the intermediate sprint, then attacked, putting everyone under pressure and looking to thin the group out heading into the final 2km. The Ineos rider led under the flamme rouge as riders battled for position.
CCC's Pat Bevin then attacked, stealing a march on his rivals, before Freddy Ovett led the charge behind, but Julien Bernard won the sprint by three-hundredths of a second in a nail-biting finish.
Men's Virtual Tour de France, stage two: Mountain
1. Julien Bernard (Fra) Trek-Segafredo, in 41-12
2. Freddy Ovett (Aus) Israel Start-Up Nation, at same time
3. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis
4. Michael Woods (Can) EF Pro Cycling, both at same time
5. Patrick Bevin (NZl) CCC, at one second
6. Stefan De Bod (RSA) NTT, at 2s
7. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
8. Louis Meintjes (RSA) NTT
9. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos
10. Gianni Vermeersch (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. NTT (RSA) - 130 points
2. Rally Cycling (USA) - 92
3. Alpecin-Fenix (Bel) - 89
4. Trek-Segafredo (USA) - 87
5. Israel Start-Up Nation - 77
6. CCC Team (Pol) - 61
7. EF Pro Cycling (USA) - 53
8. Cofidis (Fra) - 51
9. Ineos (GBr) - 36
10. Mitchelton-Scott (Aus) - 35
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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