AJACCIO, Corsica — Behind Jan Bakelants, the Belgian who rode with guts and guile to win Stage Two at the Tour de France, there were other smaller but no less impressive victories Sunday that don’t get so widely noticed — by the race’s riding wounded.
In other circumstances, logic would prescribe rest, recovery and TLC for the likes of Geraint Thomas, who was among the more badly beaten up of the dozen or so riders who slammed into the tarmac in a vicious high-speed pileup a day earlier in the frenetic end of Stage One.
But the moving circus that is the Tour waits for no man, even those with deep cuts, evil bruises or, like Thomas, teeth-grinding pain in his left hip that made it difficult for him to walk, let alone hold his place in the world’s toughest bike race.
In other sports, players who pick up knocks generally get at least a few days to heal before the next game. But the Tour’s injured are afforded no such luxury. For them, the choice is either to soldier on with their aches and pains, hoping for a better tomorrow, or be among the first to quit. Which, for many of them, isn’t much of a choice at all.
So a whopping 17 minutes and 35 seconds after Bakelants gave the chasing pack the slip and got the stage win that, for now at least, also secured him the race leader’s yellow jersey, Thomas hauled himself across the finishing line.
“It feels a bit like a win in itself,” said the 27-year-old Welshman who rides for Sky, the team of Chris Froome, this year’s favorite.
At 97 miles, the stage from the east to the west coast of Corsica, from Bastia to Ajaccio, both of them ports, was one of the shortest of this 100th Tour. But for Thomas, it felt “like an eternity.”
Bakelants got to celebrate on the podium and share his joy.
“It’s fantastic,” the RadioShack team rider said.
Thomas just got to fight — make that suffer — for another day. From the field of 198 riders, just two finished behind Thomas. The other 195 were ahead.
He said Saturday’s pileup is a bit of a blur.
“I remember just flipping straight over and, you know, just landing straight on my back,” he said.
Froome’s most dangerous rival for overall victory, two-time former champion Alberto Contador, was another of those caught in that crash. The Spaniard said he, too, was sore on Sunday, although he rode well — staying in the main pack that finished one second behind Bakelants.
“It was difficult to start off. There is pain in your whole body,” Contador said. “You feel bad here, here and here,” he said, pointing to his shoulder and elbow and hip.
Froome and other candidates for overall victory also were in Contador’s group. So going into Monday’s stage, the third and last on Corsica before the Tour crosses back onto the French mainland, the main contenders remain on an equal footing.
Froome, however, looks particularly fresh and strong. On the road into Ajaccio, the Briton made an impression and maybe scored a few psychological points by sprinting away from the pack for a while. It was a tactical move that perhaps would have impressed Ajaccio’s most famous son, Napoleon Bonaparte, the wily military and political leader of France born there in 1769.