The opening road stage of the Tour de France was a 198km affair through the Belgian countryside which was designed clearly for the explosive riders, namely local hero Philippe Gilbert. The course featured five Category 4 climbs, perfect breakaway conditions throughout the day and then some challenging finishing roads and winds that led to a hectic finish.
With 4 climbs en route and another at the finish – this stage was perfect for a long breakaway and an exciting finish.
Pez favorite, Michael Morkov (Saxo-Tinkoff) made the typically French heavy early breakaway from kilometer zero and along with the only other foreigner in the move, Pablo Urtasan Perez (Euskatel) began to dispute the mountains points. I’m sure both Michael and Pablo had done their sums before the race and realized that a win on three of the climbs today should be enough to hold onto the KOM jersey until at least stage 3.
These two duly battled hard on the climbs with Morkov taking climb number 1, Urtasan Perez climb number 2 and then Morkov again winning the sprint for climb number 3. Morkov then put the result beyond doubt with another tight sprint on the fourth climb of the day meaning that the man from Denmark will be our very happy KOM leader tomorrow.
Despite these sprints the break of 6, Gene (EuropCar), Morkov (Saxo-Tinkoff), Urtasan Perez (Euskatel), Bouet (Ag2r), Edet (Cofidis) and Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) worked well together but they were never going to fight for the win today with the RadioShack-Nissan duo of Jens Voigt and Yaraslov Popovych never letting the gap grow high.
In between the mountain sprints one other point that broke the rhythm of the break was the intermediate sprint of the day won by Yohann Gene. This result in itself wasn’t too interesting in the overall scheme of the green jersey but the battle back in the peloton for the remaining points was. Mr, ‘I’m not here for the green jersey’ Cavendish contested the sprint for 7th but was beaten into 8th by Matt Goss (Orica-Greenedge) who most definitely is at the tour for the green jersey. Other notable green jersey favorites that were sprinting it out included Greipel (9th), Renshaw (10th) and Sagan (12th).
With the sprints over and the finish in Seraing approaching the hammer went down in the peloton and the gap to the breakaway tumbled. The timegap wasn’t the only thing falling though as a series of nervous crashes rocked the peloton but with no serious GC favorites going down.
With 9km remaining the break was swept up by the peloton and the teams with interests in the stage took over from RadioShack. Changes of direction, strong winds and nervousness in the peloton led to a hectic finale but at the front end of affairs Wiggins and Evans were well placed amongst the stage favorites of Gilbert, Gerrans, Sagan and Boasson Hagen as GreenEdge took control of affairs with 3kms remaining.
As the climb started the back end of the peloton exploded but all the favorites were still up the front when Sylvain Chavenel fired out the front of the peloton. Just like yesterday though, this wasn’t going to be Sylvain’s day as it was none other than the yellow jersey himself, Cancellara who attacked next cancelling Chavenel’s efforts and getting a gap over the top of the climb. Cancellara defended his jersey in the best possible way with a superb attack but unfortunately he had a big problem with his back wheel – namely he had Peter Sagan (Liquigas) attached to it. Sagan may be young but he’s smart and he knew that Cancellara would tow him to the line so he refused to do a turn.
Despite a late bridge by Boasson Hagen (Sky) in the last 500m, Sagan continued to refuse to work with Cancellara letting Spartacus do it all – which he duly did (echos of Milan San Remo anyone?). The following sprint was then duly won by Sagan who easily accounted for Cancellara and an exhausted Boasson Hagen. Local favorite Phillipe Gilbert (BMC) showed a welcome return to form leading the peloton home hot on the three’s heels in 4th with all the big GC men safely ensconced in the small peloton.
Stage 1 Results:
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 4:58:19
2 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan
3 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
4 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
5 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
8 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin – Sharp
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin – Sharp
10 Dries Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
General Classification After Stage 1:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 5:05:32
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
4 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 0:00:11
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:13
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:17
9 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18
10 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin – Sharp