The organizers of the Tour de France promised us a more demanding and dramatic course this year, in part because they wanted to respond to the lack of drama in 2012, but mostly because they wanted to do something special for the 100th anniversary of the race. Three days into the competition and I'd say that the 2013 edition of Le Tour is living up to the hype, offering us all kinds of excitement already. The race has been frenetic at times with some unusual and unexpected moments, all set against the amazingly beautiful backdrop of the island of Corsica, which may be the real winner of this year's Tour since I'm sure there are more than a few people booking passage to visit the place for themselves.
Things got off to a great start on Saturday with a full stage as opposed to a traditional prologue. The day featured a 213km (132 mile) ride from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia that was mostly flat and was expected to be a day for the sprinters to show off the power in their legs. But a couple of nasty crashes near the finish took the big names out of contention and allowed Marcel Kittel of Team Argos-Shimano to claim the stage victory and put on the Yellow Jersey.
The day will go down in the annals of Tour history not because of that surprise result however but because the team bus for Orica Greenedge got stuck while trying to cross under the finishing gate. For a time it looked as if the bus would block the finish and the riders were told they would end at the 3km mark, but the original finish line was cleared in time and the race proceeded as originally planned. Still, the conflicting messages left the peloton confused and may have contributed to the crashes.
Day two brought some tough climbing to the early stages of the Tour, something that hasn't been typical in recent years either. These weren't the big ascents that will come in the Pyrenees or Alps but they were certainly enough to test the legs of the riders and stretch out the Peloton across the course. The 156km (97 mile) route ran from Bastia to Ajaccio through some medium-sized mountains that looked spectacular. Near the end of the stage a breakaway group managed to get ahead of the main group and while the break didn't manage to survive, it did allow Jan Bakelants of Radioshack Leopard to win the stage by a single second, which was enough to put him into Yellow.
Monday's third and final stage on Corsica was a 145.5km (90 mile) ride that included yet more climbing up and down the slopes of the island between Ajaccio and Calvi. For the most part, it was a more by the numbers stage with the riders staying close to one another until the final few climbs, which stretched the Peloton once again. But it was a fast descent to the finish line, which allowed some strategy to come into play as teams worked to get their sprinters into contention. For a time it looked like Peter Sagan, the fast young rider for Cannondale Pro Cycling, would earn his first stage win but he was edged ever so slightly at the line by Australian Simon Gerrans of Orica Greenedge.
Tuesday the race moves to the mainland where the riders will take part in a 25km (15.5 mile) team time trial through the streets of Nice. The short stage will let them get their legs back under them before things start to heat up again on Wednesday. The time trial will give us an opportunity to see where the squads that support the top contenders are standing at the moment and will give us an indication of who to keep an eye on as the race unfolds.
With three days of racing finished, the Yellow Jersey sits on the shoulders of Jan Bakelants. Peter Sagan of Cannondale earned some solid points to put him squarely in the Green Jersey of the sprinters, while Pierre Rolland of Team Eurocar wears the Polka Dots of the King of the Mountain competition. The White Jersey currently belongs to Michal Kwiatkowski of Omega Pharma-Quickstep as the best young rider in the competition.
I have to say, it's sad to see the race leave Corsica. The Tour has never been to the island in the history of the event, but it sure made a great backdrop for the first three days. The setting was simply spectacular and it really was very enjoyable to watch the events unfold long stunning beaches, fantastic mountains and lush fields. I'm looking forward to the sunflower-lined roads of France as well, but Corsica will be missed.
For more from Kraig Becker's Adventure Blog, click here.