Riders play it safe as tougher tests lie ahead

07/02/2013 12:00 AM

07/02/2013 7:51 AM

CALVI, Corsica – A funny thing about the Tour de France is it can give competitors the most fabulous terrain on which to ride, but it cannot force them to race.

Instead of being the tricky day full of traps and surprises that Tour teams feared and organizers wanted, Stage 3 of the 100th edition proved a bit of a dud.

The coastal scenery was some of the most riveting in race history, but drama was in short supply. Corsica may be France's "island of beauty," but the riders were just as happy to whiz past it.

"Twisty roads like that along the coast, stunning scenery, and I'm sure it made for great shots from the helicopter," race favorite Chris Froome said. "But that's not what we were interested in."

In a three-week test of endurance, not every stage can be a classic. There are days, such as Monday, when the peloton decides the priority is to get from A to B safely, get back to the hotel, massage, eat and sleep. To have success in the Tour, survival comes first.

"The race is always what the riders make of it," Tour director Christian Prudhomme said.

Jan Bakelants was happy. The Belgian started the day in the yellow jersey he won with a clever and gutsy spurt of riding Sunday. He will wear it again for at least another day during today's team time trial. The teams will race against the clock, heading off one after another in aerodynamic helmets, on a flat 15.5-mile course in Nice, past the coastal town's airport and along its famous beachside avenue, the Promenade des Anglais.

With that technical and quick ordeal awaiting them, and because coastal head winds slowed the riders, none of the 21 other teams could be bothered Monday to really try to take the lead from Bakelants.

His RadioShack teammates did a grand job protecting him. They rode much of the stage at the front of the pack, not letting breakaway riders get too far ahead and discouraging other teams from any thoughts of making a concerted assault. Their management of the stage helped make for dull racing, but it kept Bakelants in the overall lead.

"We never panicked," he said. "We managed the gaps."

But today likely will be his last day in the yellow jersey. Seventy-one riders are just a second behind him. One of them on a team that performs better than RadioShack in time trials will be in yellow.

"We have good riders but haven't really trained for the team time trial," Bakelants said. "It will be tough to keep the jersey, but I've already had it two days, and that's special."

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