The Tour de France 2018 has already become a very special race for New Zealand.  Stage 2 has seen Dion Smith make New Zealand cycling history as the first Kiwi in the history of the race to step onto a Tour podium as leader of a classification, taking the lead in the king of the mountains standings.

Heading into stage 2 of the race Dion Smith had already seen a bit of mixed emotions for his Wanty-Groupe Gobert team.  Stage 1’s chaotic finish had brought trouble to the team’s GC hope – Guillaume Martin – although Smith was able to stay out of any issues in the opener.  “Not much happened the first 150km then it all kicked off with a lot of nerves and every team trying to be at the front,” Smith said, looking back at yesterday’s stage.  

“Our GC man, [Guillaume] Martin, lost 50 sec after getting caught in one of the many crashes but on the grand scheme of things could have been worse.  I managed to stay out of it all and helped our 2 sprinters until 5k to g.”

Today’s stage then was an interesting one.  The Wanty-Groupe Gobert rider infiltrated what became a three-man breakaway with Michael Gogl of Trek-Segafredo and Sylvain Chavanel of Direct Energie.  They were given freedom to go up the road, but then another move from the peloton threatened the breakaway and Dion’s chances of challenging for the king of the mountains climb.  That move contained Kevin Ledanois of Fortuneo-Samsic the overnight leader in the king of the mountains classification.

The battleground for the king of the mountains contenders would be the Côte de Pouzauges, a 1km slope averaging just 3.9% gradient.  Fortunately for Smith, Ledanois didn’t get on board with the break, but that still meant that at best Smith could only even the score with Ledanois to 1 point each.  From there he’d have to ensure that he ended the day higher on the general classification than Ledanois to ensure that he became the new leader of the king of the mountains classification.

After taking the point in the sprint for the line, Dion wisely sat up, knowing that the battle was only half won if he was to make New Zealand history and become the first Kiwi leader of a classification at the Tour de France.  In the closing kilometres he stayed in the peloton, and despite one or two crashes disrupting the final kilometres, Smith maintained his GC position ahead of Ledanois to ensure he took over the king of the mountains lead.

Afterwards Smith reflected on what pulling on the jersey meant to him.  “It’s pretty special to be on the podium,” Smith said in a post-race interview. 

“I’m the first Kiwi for the polka dot jersey. To represent the country and Wanty-Groupe Gobert this way, it’s very big.  The plan this morning was to get the jersey or at least score a point, then sit up and wait for the bunch to save some energy for the coming days.”

Smith is guaranteed to keep the jersey tomorrow as long as he completes the stage, with stage 3 being the team time trial in Cholet.  From there stage 4 has just one category 4 climb in it, so there’s every possibility that Smith could keep the polka dot jersey until stage 5 where 5 climbs feature en route to the finish.

“For sure I’ll keep it tomorrow after the team time trial and the next stage I should keep it too,” Dion said.  “Whatever happens from there, we’ll see. We have a GC rider, Guillaume Martin, so the team time trial is pretty important for the team. The objective is to have everyone as fresh as possible. That’s the main reason why I came back to the bunch. It was a difficult decision but it was a team order and for sure I do agree with them.”

 

Dion Smith takes king of the mountains lead, Sagan wins stage 2

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