The rain continued, and the mind games began.
Stage 2 was the first of nine possible days that might end in a bunch sprint, and the sprinters began to flex their (fast twitch) muscles, and wheel out their credentials as amateur psychologists.
Mark Cavendish, THE sprinter of his generation, has spent much of the year laid low with glandular fever; this leaves him as the man most reliant on mind games to tip the scales in his favour.
Cav is not a man used to being on the back foot – in fact he’s never knowingly taken a backward step when the result of a bike race is at stake – but he’s using this unfamiliar vantage point to shrug the pressure off.
“I had two months off,” he explained to ITV4 here in the UK, “and seven weeks to get ready for the Tour. Sometimes as a sprinter you can get lucky…pick the right wheel…get a stage win”
In other words: “nothing to see here…you can’t seriously expect me to win a stage…nah, not gonna happen.”
And on the chances of (probably) his biggest rival Marcel Kittel: “Quick Step are the team that have to take it on. If Kittel doesn’t win A LOT here he’ll be letting his team down.”
So, pressure duly relieved and placed squarely on the shoulders of the German?
Cav is a lot of things, but when it comes to psychology he’s no Sigmund Freud; in fact, maybe he should have gone full Oedipal on Kittel and brought his mum into the equation. At the very least it might have freaked his rival out a little, and diverted his attention from the long, smooth, straightforward sprint finish in Liege, Belgium.
A lot of surprising stuff happens at the Tour, but Freudian mind games would be a first.
As it was, a blanket sprint finish involving all the big beasts of the sprint jungle saw Kittel win, with Cavendish fourth.
The unexpected was provided by a pile up into some road furniture involving Chris Froome and Roman Bardet, among others (no harm done), and the glorious sight of everyone’s favourite American art-house cyclist – Taylor Phinney – in a break from start to very, very nearly finish.
And he swept up the King of the Mountains points in the process.
Taylor Phinney in the polka dot jersey will be a nice little footnote for the 2017 Tour.
(Brain Image: Pixabay.com)