The first two stages, plus the upcoming Massif Central bits, have made for a most unusual first week, devoid of the long flats that pretty much everyone hates. Also, Tour director Christian Prudhomme has announced his satisfaction with an opening stage, instead of a prologue. Could we be seeing Prudhomme, in his third stint as director, making his mark on the race? If it sticks, the opening road stage will likely be associated with Prudhomme for some time. As for the complex finales, I can only speculate about why they're happening and whether they're by design. Finishing towns are chosen with profits and sponsorship in mind as much as anything else. So it could simply be that Saint-Brieuc bags a finish, and happens to sit on a hill. But there are two distinct benefits to some closing climbing. First, it tends to stretch out or break up the field, which reduces the chances of a high-speed pileup at the worst moment -- a problem that has dogged the Tour since forever. It also lends a little more panache to the green jersey. Calling it the "sprinters' classification" isn't quite complete; it's to honor the guy who can get to the line through thick and thin. This year, it's been a little thick so far.
Damiano Cunego crashed today, inside the 3km limit for time gaps. No consequences, apparently, though he finished on one of his teammates' bikes.
Apparently it's official: Gert Steegmans is going to Tinkoff. Over at CN, Lefevre is blaming those wealthy Russians for outbidding him... a wry retort for a guy who's bought a raft of talent in his time. Steegmans gets out from Boonen's shadow, while also making room for Wouter Weylandt at the #2 sprinters' spot on Quick Step. Honestly, this seems good for everyone, particularly Steegmans who's earned a captaincy.
Smart money on the overall is now all on Alejandro Valverde. Not so much because of his win yesterday and near-win today, but because clearly Spaniards are going to win every sports title on the planet this year. First the Euro, then Wimbledon, and a fair number of cycling palmares along the way this year too. Surely the maillot jaune is next.