CALVI, Corsica — A funny thing about the Tour de France is that it can give competitors the most fabulous terrain on which to ride, but it cannot force them to race.
Instead of being the tricky day full of traps and surprises that Tour teams feared and organizers hoped for, Monday’s Stage 3 of the 100th edition proved a bit of a dud.
Yes, there was some of the most riveting coastal scenery ever visited by the 110-year-old race. Drama, however, was in short supply. Corsica may be France’s “island of beauty,” but the riders were just as happy to whiz past it.
“Twisty roads like that along the coast, stunning scenery, and I’m sure it made for great shots from the helicopter,” race favorite Chris Froome said. “But that’s not what we were interested in.”
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On a day when most riders wanted only to get from Point A to Point B without mishap, Australian sprinter Simon Gerrans held off a late charge by Slovokian Peter Sagan to win by less than half a wheel. Belgian rider Jan Bakelants did enough in the sweltering heat to keep the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Bakelants will wear it again for at least another day during Tuesday’s team time trial. Teams will race against the clock, heading off one after the other in aerodynamic helmets on a pancake-flat, 15-mile course in Nice, along its famous beachside avenue, the Promenade des Anglais.
It will more than likely be Bakelants’ last day in the leader’s jersey. There are 71 riders just a second behind him in the standings.
“It will be tough to keep the jersey, but I’ve already had it two days and that’s special,” the 27-year-old said. “It’s extraordinary to have worn it.”
This was the Tour’s first visit to Corsica. Both came away happy. Christian Prudhomme, the race director, said television ratings in France are the highest they’ve been in a decade.
That is why Corsica paid the Tour to come this place: to make it look good. The island gave close to $4 million to the Tour’s owners for the right to host the first three stages, and paid another $2.6 million in other expenses, said Paul Giacobbi, who heads the regional government.
Froome and the other contenders were happy simply to head back in one piece to the French mainland, where the Tour will be decided in the Pyrenees and Alps.
“I’m quite relieved to be heading off Corsica now,” Froome said. “Hopefully, the race will settle down a little bit.”