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Tour de France Stage 2 Preview: Marvels of Modern Science!

It's a dash across some of civil engineering's greatest hits.

Stage 2: Utrecht -- Zeeland, 166km

The 2015 Tour de France catches its breath a bit after a hectic first day for a flat sprinters' stage to the edge of the European continent in Zeeland. Actually the racing will be anything but relaxing, given that it's the first week of the Tour -- always a nervous time -- and that it's a stage through densely populated sectors of Holland, including downtown Rotterdam. Expect tricky roads and say a little prayer to the Cycling Gods for the peloton's safe arrival.

About Zeeland

I'm sure the little towns and cities along the Tour route are lovely and all, but how many times does the parcours include one of the Seven Wonders of the World? That's how the Zeeland Delta waterworks are described (by the American Society of Civil Engineers) and that's what stage 2 will show off at its conclusion. The race actually ends in the vicinity of the Neeltje Jans Deltapark, a small island located along the chain of dams saving the Dutch coast from the ravages of the North Sea. Or its own rivers, really: the area is a confluence of estuaries of the Schelde, Meuse and Rhine Rivers, draining some massive chunk of Europe in a small area, and flooding is an historic problem on a large scale -- hence the famous dykes. But sh-t got real in the 1950s dams were built in a ring around the dike areas of Zeeland, controlling the influx of seawater to mitigate the rise of river levels and at least reduce the risk of catastrophic floods. The works are concrete dams with carefully controlled gates and, for our purposes, a road on top that is more than large enough to host a bike race.

AmyBC's food and wine pairings:

Beer:  Lots of non-wine beverages to start the Tour this year. I did my best with these, but I am sure there are some great options not available in mylocal shops. De Molen Hel & Verdoemenis is an imperial stout that translates as Hell & Damnation. Aged in Bordeaux barrels. How could I resist? Very dark in color, like black coffee. And it tastes kind of like coffee and bitter chocolate.

Food: Edam Since we went for Gouda for stage 1, Edam seemed the right choice for today. I think we should all visit a cheese market.

Stage Details

Another awesome Dutch profile.

Zeeland stage profile

And less sarcastically, an actually awesome Dutch map:

Zeeland stage map

The weather calls for hot sun and very little wind, so the dreaded crosswind effect will have to wait for another day.

Course Analysis

We often talk of Dutch road furniture -- concrete features meant to organize traffic in this very organized country -- being a bad mix with the chaos of a bike race. Tour de France stages are the worst, given how nervous the peloton is and how fast the pace tends to be. When these two forces come together, riders go down. Hopefully this is not a tricky course -- certainly the Waterworks roads are very big and straight, and one hopes that Le Tour has done its best to avoid dangerous roads. I have some questions about what happens as the race passes through Rotterdam, a huge city, where you can probably find even more hazards, like tram tracks. But such problems are not inevitable, and hopefully we won't see any.

Still, perceptions of hazards are just as big a problem. If 15 race directors start shouting at their guys to get near the front because they are worried about a nonexistent crash potential, then it's just as dangerous as an actual crash potential. In the end we can most certainly expect a bunch sprint, and with a little luck everyone will be invited.


General Classification

Maillot Jaune Tour
If everyone stays upright, the stage will have no implications on the GC. Rohan Dennis of BMC currently has a five-second cushion on Tony Martin of Etixx-Quick Step, not a guy who is likely to attempt to steal seconds back.

Points Competition

Maillot Vert
Here be points! I know I picked Peter Sagan of Tinkoff-Saxo for the competition, but for the time being the race will be controlled by the pure fastmen, with an intermediate and stage-ending sprint where nobody will be excluded. All the sprinters will be involved, while Green contenders like Sagan and Alexander Kristoff will try to stay as close to the top as possible.

King of the Mountains

Maillot a Pois
There are no KOM points awarded on this stage, so current holder Joop Zoetemelk of Gan-Mercier will retain his leadership in the classification.

Young Rider

Maillot Blanc
Same as GC -- Dennis has the jersey and nobody is likely to take it from him.

Stage Favorites

Mark Cavendish of Etixx-Quick Step will be looking for his 26th stage victory, which would put him alone with the third-most wins, two behind Bernard Hinault (28) and eight off Eddy Merckx's all-time mark of 34 stage wins. I say he gets it. But among the guys not laying down for him will be Arnaud Demare (FDJ), André Greipel of Lotto-Soudal, John Degenkolb of Giant-Alpecin, Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEdge, Cofidis' Nacer Bouhanni, and Tyler Farrar of MTN-Qhubeka.