Every metre seemed to take a mountain of effort, but as Jan Bakelants crunched out those final metres before the finish line in Ajaccio, one couldn't help but smile, writes Al Hinds.
Twisting and writhing all day, breaks in the field will be inevitable, and technical riders will be rewarded, particularly as fatigue and lapses in concentration open the way for crashes late in the race.
Bakelants detached himself from the likes of Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Phrama-QuickStep) and Juan Antonion Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) in the technical Corsican finale before eeking out every ounce of energy in his body to keep the peloton at bay. It was a display, archetypal of the Tour de France, a surprise winner to be sure, but a victory from a man that's been knocking on the door for quite some time, and one we'll hear more of in the future.
A winner of the Tour de l'Avenir, arguably the most prestigious races for youngsters, Bakelants comes from good stock, but his excitement at the finish was incredibly infectious. Here's what he said:
"You give everything now and you might just stay away. I put it in my 11 (tooth), it didn't look pretty, but I was going fast. It was a little bit down and then 1km flat. I thought of the Jensie, my room-mate. I thought, 'Just pedal, I don't want to have any regrets'. I made it. I had to wait five years. But I made it."
Irizar or Bakelants?
Sadly for Bakelants, for much of the last kilometre the Belgian was mistaken by commentators from the official feed for his team-mate Markel Irizar. It was a mistake that need not happen, but for the reliance even in 2013 of commentators on reading bib numbers from afar. Joe Lindsey bemoaned the sport to get with the 21st century in a well-penned discussion of the confusion and the mis-identification problem here. Give it a read.
Froome-dog off the leash
Finally, in what marks a change from last year's mono-tactical masterclass from Team Sky, Chris Froome seems happy to throw the cat among the pigeons whenever he's given the opportunity. The Brit had a little dig on the last climb of the day, surprising even his team-mate Richie Porte. Read into it what you will in terms of form, it's still a welcome change in direction from 2012.
What's on the menu for Stage 3
Race director Christian Prudhomme calls this stage the "rally of a 1000 bends", and he's not far off. There's rarely a moment today where riders won't have to be alert, narrow roads on, at times, uncertain surfaces. This stage won't be for the faint of heart.
Starting at yesterday's Stage 2 finish in Ajaccio, the Tour snakes its way north along the western Mediterranean coast of Corsica before some 145km later finishing in the small town of Calvi. Like a day in the Ardennes, or perhaps more akin to the Flandrian classics, the peloton will be single file as much from the pace as the practicalities of slipping through roads even a Fiat 500 would struggle to navigate.
Twisting, writhing breaks in the field will be inevitable, and technical riders will be rewarded particularly as fatigue and lapses in concentration open the way for crashes late in the race. Rated as a GC stage the four categorised climbs on the stage don't look much, but it's the sheer frequency that even the unmarked ones come that will cause a natural attrition in the main field.
The big test will come over the Col de Marsolino (Cat. 2), which could prove a springboard for the GC men to come out to play. A 3.3km and 8.1 per cent description is a misnomer as the climb actually heads up for more like 8km before the summit at 13.5km to go.
What to expect
Worth staying up for? Absolutely. While yesterday's stage was rated by many as a stage that could surprise, the final 70km allowed too much road for the peloton to freshen up before the finish in Ajaccio. Today, however will offer no such relief.
This is a stage that will examine not just who has form, but who is really an all-round bike rider. Stages like these aren't where the Tour will be won, but it could be where the Tour is lost. Cadel Evans (BMC), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), who the parcours really suit, will almost certainly test the mettle of their rivals, but it might just be a day for a break staying clear. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) would love a taste of yellow, and this is about as close to it as he's likely to get. Expect fireworks on the Marsolino.
History & The Tour in numbers
3 - It was the third stage of the 1985 Tour de France that the La Vie Claire team established its hegemony at the French Grand Tour by winning the Fougeres team time trial. While the team was captained nominally by superstar Bernard Hinault, it was Greg LeMond that upstaged his more storied team-mate by doing the lion's share of turns to guide La Vie Claire to the win. It would prove the start of a difficult personal relationship between the two riders, but successful sporting partnership that delivered the team consecutive Tours de France in 1985 and 1986.
On offer for the riders on Stage 3
Green Jersey - 20 points at the intermediate at Sagone and 30 points at the finish in Calvi.
Polka Dot Jersey - In order as they appear on course, the Category 4 Col de San Bastiano, the Category 2 Col de San Martino, the Category 3 Côte du Porto, and the final Category 2 Col de Marsolini. A total of 10 points on offer.
Yellow Jersey - 93 riders are separated by just one second, but if Jan Bakelants keeps himself fresh in the finale there's no reason why he can't keep yellow into Nice.
Stage 3 will be streaming live through the SKODA SBS Tour Tracker from 2030 AEST. Live broadcast on SBS ONE and SBS HD begins at 2200.