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Analysis: Oh-so-close for David Millar and yellow

Stage 2 was a missed chance for Millar, who took the yellow jersey in his Tour debut. But other chances remain

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AJACCIO, France (VN) — One second might as well be an hour for David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), who came within meters of claiming the yellow jersey in Sunday’s second stage at the Tour de France.

Millar, 36, was poised to snag the jersey after riding with the leaders through Sunday’s lumpy stage across the heart of Corsica. The veteran Scot finished fourth in Saturday’s crash-plagued finale and was the “virtual” yellow jersey as the hilly stage shed the leading sprinters from the front group.

Millar made it safely over the short cat. 3 Cote du Salario, with 12km to go, accompanied by five Garmin jerseys. Tour fate seemed to be shining on Millar.

Things soon became complicated. Six riders pulled clear coming over Salario, among them powerful engines such as Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), with unsung Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Leopard) hitching a ride.

The leading six opened a 10-second gap, but with brisk winds coming off the Mediterranean and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) sitting pretty in the front group, it appeared their effort was doomed.

Garmin put some legs on the front, but Sagan only had Tour rookie Moreno Moser and Alessandro De Marchi (who later faded) to help drive the chase.

With six teams represented in the breakaway, it was largely up to Garmin and Cannondale to shut down the move. They came close — just one second — but couldn’t finish the job.

Millar sprinted across the line 13th, but Bakelants had enough airspace to take yellow by one click of the second hand.

There was no immediate response from Garmin sport director Charly Wegelius or Millar, but Garmin CEO Jonathan Vaughters posted the following comment on Twitter: “Slight hesitation in chasing cost us today. Now — debriefing and keeping the focus on the future, not the past.”

Millar, who told British broadcasters ITV he was “gutted” at the missed chance to capture the Tour’s leader’s jersey, reacted on Twitter.

“Came here to look after our GC guys, today they took care of me. Proud of @Ride¬_Argyle. Not only my team, my friends. Still, 1 second blows,” he wrote. “And I have to say, one helluva ride by Bakelants. He deserved that 100 percent.”

What happened?

First off, Bakelants was clearly very strong. The breakaway gave Bakelants the head start he needed. When he went alone, it was going to come down to the wire.

The main pack seemed to misfire its chase, expecting Cannondale and Garmin to do the heavy lifting of chasing down the move. Other teams were saving their legs for the sprint.

But Sagan said Cannondale burned its matches earlier in the stage, helping to drive the pace over the rated climbs mid-stage and pop green jersey rivals Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol). They didn’t have much left to help Garmin chase down Bakelants.

One observer even suggested that a dog that ran onto the road in the closing kilometers created a slight hiccup in the chase, perhaps tipping the favor toward Bakelants. This prompted a RadioShack staffer to reply on Twitter: “If my auntie had balls, she would be my uncle.”

No matter how you slice it, it was a missed chance for Millar, who took the yellow jersey in 2000, when he won the opening time trial in his Tour debut.

Sunday’s stage might not be Millar’s last chance for the maillot jaune. Bakelants could get dropped on Monday’s 145km third stage from Ajaccio to Calvi, but that presents a difficult hurdle for Millar and everyone else sitting pretty on GC.

The route along Corsica’s rugged west coast is open to the wind, and features narrow roads over four rated climbs, including a short, steep second-category climb with just 12km to go.

That final climb is sure to provoke attacks both from stage-hunters and GC contenders that could splinter the peloton. Millar, who is riding to protect Garmin’s GC captains, might be forced to forfeit his own interests.

If things stay together and the peloton returns to France with Millar retaining his GC position, he could still get the yellow jersey.

Garmin will enter Tuesday’s tricky 25km team time trial stage around Nice as one of the five-star favorites. Garmin would be expected to take one second on RadioShack, but Team Sky, BMC Racing, and even Movistar could take the TTT, and yellow.

In the end, Sunday’s stage was one of those Tour scenarios that could have played out a dozen different ways. Millar needed everything to go right to have a chance for the yellow jersey. The stars almost aligned. Cycling is all about taking risks, calculating efforts, and reacting to a fast-changing canvas.

Fortune favors the brave.