TdF stage 1: Kittel conquers as coach chaos causes carnage

Stage 1: Porto-Vecchio to Bastia, 212km

Marcel Kittel took his first career Tour victory ahead of Alexander Kristoff and 19-year-old Danny van Poppel as the Tour de France visited Corsica for the first time to open its 100th edition. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the tale of an opening stage which delivered as much drama as the whole of last year’s race, and whose result was shaped by an errant team bus.

Stage 1 profile

A five-man break slipped away at the flag to battle it out on the day’s lone climb for the right to wear the polka dot jersey. Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won a hotly contested sprint.

Belkin’s Lars Boom took the intermediate sprint, while Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won the sprint from the peloton for sixth place and ten points, ahead of a half-gas Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).

Nerves in the peloton were already fraying when news came with about 15km remaining that the Orica-GreenEDGE team bus had become stuck under the finish line gantry. The break had been caught early, with 37km to go – the peloton is always a twitchy place when it is all together for long periods – resulting in a long, pacy and fraught run-in.

As frantic efforts to move the bus safely continued, the finish was moved forward to the 3km banner. The sprint teams hastily recalibrated their plans and elbows started to become pointy. As they started to wind up for the revised finish, a crash near the front delayed Cavendish and floored Sagan – it appeared to be caused by a bump of shoulders between Greipel and a RadioShack rider – immediately eliminating half the peloton. Greipel rode on but coasted to a halt shortly thereafter with a mechanical.

Almost simultaneously, news began to filter through that the bus had been moved and the original finish had been restored. In the resultant chaos, OPQS’ Niki Terpstra put in an audacious move inside the final kilometre which threw what was left of the peloton into mass panic. However, Kittel (Argos-Shimano) kept his cool and timed his finish perfectly to overhaul Katusha’s Kristoff and claim not just the stage but also the yellow, green and white jerseys. It ‘s the first time for 47 years a sprinter has won the opening stage.

Several riders limped over the line with injuries of varying severity from the big crash. OPQS’ time trial world champion Tony Martin was concussed and has deep tissue injuries but does not have a broken collarbone as initially reported. Alberto Contador was also in the wars. It was confirmed that all riders would be credited with the same time, but that will be of scant consolation to the injured or to sprinters such as Cavendish and Greipel who have missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to claim the most coveted jersey in the sport.

Video highlights

VeloVoices rider of the day

Image: Vacansoleil-DCM

Image: Vacansoleil-DCM

No disrespect to either Kittel or Kristoff, but our first rider of the day is Vacansoleil-DCM youngster Danny van Poppel who, at 19 years 338 days, is the youngest Tour starter post-WWII and the youngest top-three stage finisher in 82 years. The younger brother of Boy (who is also part of Vacansoleil’s Tour team) comes from good cycling stock: father Jean-Paul had nine victories during his Tour career and won the points jersey in 1987.

On his Tour debut, amidst all the crashes and confusion, to keep his cool and finish third was a remarkable achievement. In his debut year, he has already recorded two second places but third here represents by far his most significant result, at the start of what will hopefully be a long and successful career. Chapeau.

Opinion & analysis

There’s no escaping the fact that two key factors drove the outcome of today’s stage: ‘Bus-gate’ and the decision to move and then restore the finish.

Let’s start with Bus-gate. I understand that protocol dictates that team buses are supposed to seek approval before crossing the line so that the gantry can be raised as required. Clearly this did not happen. Whether this was the fault of the driver, team staff or race officials is unclear at the time of writing. It doesn’t matter. It happened, and it reduced the biggest annual sporting event in the world to a laughing-stock.

The knock-on effect was that race organisers ASO had to make some quick decisions. Moving the finish was an obvious and sensible move, although the new location at the 3km banner came immediately after a narrow kink at the end of a long straight and appeared (on TV at least) to be quite dangerous. This disrupted the organisation of the sprinters’ teams – Kittel himself said he couldn’t hear race radio properly because of the noise from fans, other riders and the TV helicopter – and the chaos no doubt contributed to the crash.

Restoring the original finish probably made sense from the perspective of both road safety and not disappointing the mass of fans at the line, but because it came so late it meant that several teams had already started burning up their lead-out trains in anticipation of the earlier finish, utterly compromising their strategies. It’s like an athlete running a 1,500 metres race being told on the finishing straight that he has to run another lap.

I appreciate the motivations behind restoring the finish and also the pressure the officials were under to make their decisions – it’s easy to criticise with the benefit of hindsight – but regardless of the rights and wrongs this final decision in particular fundamentally altered the finish. That should take nothing away from Kittel, Kristoff and van Poppel, however, and I’m sure I’m not alone tonight in hoping that those injured recover sufficiently overnight to take the start line tomorrow.

Stage 1 result

1. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) 4:56:52

2. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) same time

3. Danny van Poppel (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

4. David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

5. Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

General classification

1. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) 4:56:52

2. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) same time

3. Danny van Poppel (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

4. David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

5. Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

6. Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t

7. Greg Henderson (Lotto-Belisol) s/t

8. Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) s/t

9. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) s/t

10. Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

Green jersey: Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano)

Polka dot jersey: Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

White jersey: Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano)

Link: Official website

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