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Reigning in the rain

Froome, Contador take early edge over other rivals

The pack rides in the rain during the second stage of the Tour de France cycling race in the Netherlands on Sunday. (Associated Press)
The pack rides in the rain during the second stage of the Tour de France cycling race in the Netherlands on Sunday. (Associated Press)
Jerome Pugmire Associated Press

NEELTJE JANS, Netherlands – In ferocious winds and thunderous rain, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador managed to use the conditions to their advantage on the second stage of the Tour de France.

That gave them the early leg up on main rivals Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana.

While it’s too soon for anyone to gain a decisive advantage in the race, British rider Froome and the Spaniard Contador are certainly on the front foot in what is widely touted as a four-way Tour battle.

They’re more than a minute ahead of defending champion Nibali and Quintana after both rivals fell behind when the peloton split up in the heavy winds.

“We knew that in stages like today there might be even more differences made than in the mountains,” said Contador, who is bidding for a third Tour title. “I was speaking to Froome and (Tejay) Van Garderen and I told them that these are the kind of opportunities you have to take.”

They certainly did.

Froome crossed the line in seventh place, 1 minute 28 seconds ahead of Nibali and Quintana, while Contador gained 1:24 on those two after placing 13th.

The action-packed trek swept along the spectacular Dutch coastline, with Andre Greipel winning a sprint to clinch a seventh Tour stage victory. The German rider trumped an all-star cast featuring three-time defending Tour sprint champion Peter Sagan, four-time world time trial Fabian Cancellara, and 25-time Tour stage winner Mark Cavendish.

The 34-year-old Cancellara’s smile beamed as brightly as the sunshine that finally pierced through the clouds late in the afternoon as he pulled on the leader’s yellow jersey – 11 years after wearing it for the first time.

But the day also belonged to Froome, the 2013 Tour winner who crashed out early in last year’s race, and to Contador.

Froome, 10th overall, is now 1:21 ahead of Nibali and leads Quintana by 1:39.

With the exception of Van Garderen – the American rider is four seconds ahead of Froome in eighth overall – none of the others in the top 10 is a threat for the Tour victory.

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