Never switch off: The art of staying in overall contention in the Tour's first week

You can't win it here, but there's a certain skill to staying in touch as a GC contender in the Tour de France's opening week, with more riders seeing dents to their overall aspirations after stage two of the 2016 edition

(Image credit: Watson)

You'll know the clichés by now: the Tour de France is the Tour de France, riders take it one day at a time, there's a long way to go until Paris.

The expressions on Alberto Contador and Richie Porte's faces as they crossed the finish line in a charmless part of Cherbourg at the end of Sunday's stage suggest otherwise.

For the third year in succession, GC contenders have lost time to their rivals on the first Sunday of the race.

>>> Geraint Thomas: ‘The Tour de France hasn’t been as stressful as previous years’

Unfortunately for Contador and Porte, the odds on them winning the Tour overall now look as tempting as a meal in the Buffalo Grill restaurant a few metres after stage two's finish line.

Ahead of them (48 seconds in Contador's case, a sizeable 1-45 for Porte), Chris Froome led the way when it comes to the real yellow jersey contenders, riding alertly on the throughout the duration of the third-category Côte de La Glacerie to finish 10th.

3 July 2016 103rd Tour de France Stage 02 : Saint-Lo - Cherbourg-en-Cotentin CARUSO Damiano (ITA) BMC PORTE Richie (AUS) BMC POZZOVIVO Domenico (ITA) ag2r - La Mondiale Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

103rd Tour de France, Stage 02 :PORTE Richie (AUS) BMC Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

For somebody who, as recently as the start of last July, was doubted by many experts as lacking the qualities needed to get through the sometimes arduous, often nervy opening week in the Tour, this is as remarkable a turnaround as him even becoming a GC contender at all in 2011.

And while Oleg Tinkov was celebrating Peter Sagan's stage win (and seemingly forgetting about Contador's travails) with some choice language and BMC's team manager Jim Ochowicz brushed off Porte's time loss by claiming one good day eliminates those 100-plus seconds, recent history suggests that both riders are out of the running now.

In 2012, Bradley Wiggins sat ahead of his GC rivals for the whole Tour. That's only one day more than Vincenzo Nibali in the 2014 edition, while Froome placed above his main challengers in the 2013 and 2015 Tours from stages four and three respectively. Strike early, strike hard.

Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage two highlights

Video footage shows Contador was at fault for his stage one crash; his front wheel slipping as he navigated a right-hand turn. We've all been there. Every cyclist will have had a puncture throughout their riding life, too, although the timing of Porte's (and the subsequently slow wheel change offered by the neutral service) were unfortunate.

But in this modern era of the Tour, a time when the days of having sprint finish after sprint finish in week one seem a lot further away than the early 2000s, there is no hiding place.

If the 2014 Tour had replicated the route from 2000, Froome may have got away riding with an injured wrist for a lot longer than he did.

Any recovery Alberto Contador makes from his two crashes thus far is likely not going to come fast enough, either: Wednesday's stage to Le Lioran, which again features a third-category climb in sight of the finish, represents another potential time loss. (It's also worth noting that there are two tough second-category ascents in the final 40 kilometres, too).

Perfecting the opening week of a Grand Tour has now become an art in itself. In Wiggins and arguably Froome's case, it seemingly took race-ending crashes in 2011 and 2014 respectively to get the message across.

Sunday's top 30 also included Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet (all of whom lost time in the crosswinds in 2015), Tejay Van Garderen (who lost time across the cobbles in 2014), Thibaut Pinot and Pierre Rolland (lost seconds into Sheffield two years ago, and crosswinds last year).

Ride at the front. Ride with teammates. Never switch off. Get lucky.

3 July 2016 103rd Tour de France Stage 02 : Saint-Lo - Cherbourg-en-Cotentin QUINTANA Nairo Alexander (COL) Movistar Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA

103rd Tour de France Stage 02 QUINTANA Nairo (COL) Movistar Photo : Yuzuru SUNADA
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

The latter is easier said than done, it's even harder to explain its distribution. Contador's one of the best Grand Tour riders of this generation, he led a stage race as recently as June. He knows what it takes to win the sport's biggest event, yet has crashed in the last three editions.

Porte, on the other hand, seemingly started the race in a leadership battle with a teammate (BMC are clearly fond of these, it appears). His puncture today was reminiscent of 2015 Giro d'Italia problems en route to Forli, albeit without Simon Clarke's assistance and the hefty punishment from the commissaires.

“It was a disaster but what can you do?” said the Australian post-stage. Screaming “why me?” may have been an option, Richie.

>>> Five talking points from stage two of the 2016 Tour de France

Remember that Froome rolled into a concrete barrier during the neutral zone on day one of the 2013 Tour; “I got away somewhat unscathed,” read his subsequent tweet.

Speaking after Sunday's stage about Contador and Porte's troubles, the defending champion said: “It comes with the territory in these kind of stages.

“That's why we make big efforts to be upfront, [having] guys like Ian Stannard and Luke |Rowe up there protecting me on days like this, giving me the best chance of staying out of trouble.

“All in all I'm happy to have stayed upfront and not lost anytime.”

He didn't sound like he was getting too carried away. After all, there is a long way to go before the peloton arrives in Paris.

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