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Victor Lafay on Winning Stage 2: “I told myself, ‘Allez, allez, allez’ and held faith until the end.”

By Monica Buck

After a 15-year wait, Cofidis was lifted by Victor Lafay, who clinched the second stage victory at the Tour de France in San Sebastian. His triumph was down to a perfectly orchestrated attack under the flamme rouge, amidst a spectacularly intense final hour of the race.

A visibly disappointed Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) clenched his handlebars in frustration after securing second place in a sprint, out of a select group that formed over the Jaizkibel. Meanwhile, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) captured the time bonus for third place, adding to the eight seconds he had gained earlier, after defeating Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) on the final ascent.

Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) finished among the leading pack of 25, successfully retaining the yellow jersey. However, Pogačar emerged as the real winner among the contenders, moving up to second place in the Tour de France standings. His total of 12 seconds’ worth of time bonuses throughout the day leaves him only six seconds behind Adam Yates.

The story of the day unfolded on the last climb of the Jaizkibel, a classic setting in San Sebastian. Here, Pogačar and Vingegaard continued their ongoing rivalry as they fought for bonus seconds at the summit, just 16km from the finish line.

The duo broke away from the group, starting the descent with a 15-second lead. Yet Vingegaard refrained from riding with Pogačar, mindful of his teammate Van Aert’s strong chance for a stage win. Consequently, the final stage honors were contested by a group of 25.

Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) were notable absentees from the leading group, losing 58 seconds and 2:25 respectively by the day’s close.

Wilco Kelderman set up Van Aert in the final stretch, but the Belgian himself intercepted late surges from Tom Pidcock (Ineos) and Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek).

When Lafay sprinted off with one kilometer left, Van Aert chose not to react. Lafay, who had already demonstrated his strength by keeping pace with Pogačar and Vingegaard on stage 1’s Côte de Pike, accomplished a flawless coup du kilomètre to gift Cofidis its first Tour stage win since Sylvain Chavanel’s triumph in 2008.

“I wasn’t preoccupied with winning when I made my move, I was just concentrating on giving my all,” Lafay explained. “I could see the countdown – 500m, 400m – and noticed my power starting to dip. I told myself, ‘Allez, allez, allez’ and held on to my belief till the end.”

Already having claimed a stage victory at the Giro d’Italia in Guardia Sanframondi two years prior, Lafay showcased a marked improvement in his performance in the spring of 2023. His ascendancy was further solidified when he seized his moment in San Sebastian.

“Yesterday, I was caught in the crossfire of the favourites’ battle. Today, I benefitted from it,” Lafay stated. “I noticed that Jumbo had exerted themselves in the finale and I figured it would be a good time to make my move with a kilometre left. Wout wouldn’t challenge me then.”

UAE Team Emirates directed much of the day, setting the pace primarily to defend Yates’ yellow jersey, but also with the intent to prepare Pogačar for his attack on the Jaizkibel. Yates guided the Slovenian on the climb, helping Pogačar accrue enough bonus seconds to elevate him to second place overall, only six seconds behind the yellow jersey. Simon Yates (Jayco-Alula) holds the third spot with the same time, while Vingegaard ranks sixth, 17 seconds behind.

“In the end, we geared Tadej for the bonus seconds, and overall, I think our strategy worked well. It all came down to the bonus seconds and the final,” said Adam Yates. “If Tadej had won the bonus and the stage, he would’ve surpassed me, but we managed to retain the yellow jersey as a team.”

Tour de France Stage 2 results

1. LAFAY Victor (Cofidis) 04:46:39
2. VAN AERT Wout (Jumbo-Visma) + 00
3. POGACAR Tadej (UAE Team Emirates) + 00
4. PIDCOCK Tom (INEOS Grenadiers) + 00
5. BILBAO Pello (Bahrain Victorious) + 00
6. WOODS Michael (Israel-Premier Tech) + 00
7. BARDET Romain (Team dsm-firmenich) + 00
8. TEUNS Dylan (Israel-Premier Tech) + 00
9. HINDLEY Jai (BORA-hansgrohe) + 00
10. CRAS Steff (TotalEnergies) + 00

Tour de France GC after stage 2

1. YATES Adam (UAE Team Emirates) 9:09:18
2. POGAČAR Tadej (UAE Team Emirates) + 00:06
3. YATES Simon (Jayco-AlUla) Same time
4. LAFAY Victor (Cofidis) + 00:12
5. VAN AERT Wout (Jumbo-Visma) + 00:16
6. VINGEGAARD Jonas (Jumbo-Visma) + 00:17
7. WOODS Michael (Israel-PremierTech) + 00:22
8. SKJELMOSE Mattias (Lidl-Trek) Same time
9. HINDLEY Jai (Bora-Hansgrohe) Same time
10. LANDA Mikel (Bahrain Victorious) Same time