By John Wilcockson
Warm sunshine, a favorable breeze and a completely flat stage Monday are all the ingredients needed for a stage of record speed. And for Tour stages longer than 200km that means the 48.764 kph average of 1998’s stage of 205.5km from Tarascon to Le Cap d’Agde won by Tom Steels. The absolute Tour stage record speed is the 50.355 kph set by Mario Cipollini on the 194.5km stage from Laval to Blois in 1999.
Cipollini is, unfortunately, not at this year’s Tour, but Steels is. Ordinarily, Mapei-Quick Step’s big Belgian would be the favorite to win Monday in his own country, but on Sunday he showed some weaknesses on the hills, and came in 5:45 down.
The question is: Has Steels fully recovered from the chronic fatigue syndrome that kept him from racing in the spring? If he has -– and he did win a stage of May’s Tour of Germany -– then expect to see the Mapei train in action as they head for the fast finish in Antwerp. If not, then expect Erik Zabel to win again, although the long, flat finish is not ideally suited to the Telekom sprinter’s best qualities.
Jaan Kirsipuu, with the carrot of taking over Christophe Moreau’s yellow jersey, will be in the mix. But the most likely scenario on this 220.5km stage from Calais (2km longer than scheduled because of road work on a section of the course in Belgium) is a perfect team showing by Domo-Farm Frites, ready to set up Sunday’s runner-up Romans Vainsteins for the win.
DETAILS OF STAGE 2: Calais to Antwerp, 220.5km.
Intermediate sprints at Dunkirk (41km), Knesselare (133km) and Stekene (186km). No climbs.