After what was a calm and controlled start to the day, the opening stage of this year’s Tour de France came down to a hectic finale with crashes in the closing kilometers of the day splitting the field and creating early gaps in the General Classification.
The race started on the island of Noirmoutier and saw three riders go clear inside the first 5km of the 201km course before heading onto the mainland with an advantage that was nudging over the four-minute mark.
With a bunch sprint expected in Fontenay-le-Comte, the sprinters’ teams soon took control at the front of the peloton and brought the leaders’ advantage back to 2’30” heading into the second half of the race.
Porte, who had been protected by his BMC Racing Team teammates all day, was in the first half of the main bunch approaching the day’s only bump in the road, the 700m long category four Côte de Vix, which came with 28km to go.
The sprinters’ teams continued to increase the pace and brought the leaders back to inside one minute at the KOM, before eventually catching the last two riders with less than 10km to go.
At the same time, a crash in the middle of the bunch saw splits form and while Richie Porte was not involved, he was caught up behind the crash and forced to stop momentarily.
His teammates responded quickly around him and were able to get him into the chasing group while up ahead, Greg Van Avermaet sat in the first part of the peloton.
More crashes only added to the chaotic nature of the finale with various groups spread out along the road as a heavily-reduced bunch sprint, won by Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), was launched.
Van Avermaet was BMC Racing Team’s first rider across the line, finishing with the same time as the stage winner, while Porte eventually finished in a group 51 seconds behind alongside some of his main General Classification rivals including Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT).
Quotes from the Finish Line:
“It was pretty nervous there. It was not ideal but I think Quintana (Movistar Team) has probably lost more [than me], Froome (Team Sky) was there, and Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT) was there. That’s the Tour. I was pretty close to coming down. I sort of rode Damiano Caruso, my teammate, into the ground and that softened the blow. I don’t really know what happened to be honest, it’s just one of those things. It’s all ok and the next thing, there’s a crash in front. There were a few more crashes after that.”
“There were other guys there, some worse off than me. It’s the first day of the Tour and it’s not ideal. But there’s a long way [to go] and it’s just nice to finally start the race. It’s definitely swings and roundabouts, this race. Guys took time today but who’s to say the same doesn’t happen to them tomorrow. The guys were good around me today and it’s a shame but we’ll see how the next days go.”
Greg Van Avermaet:
“It was a typical first stage of the Tour de France. It’s hectic and we expected that but it was too bad that the guys were caught behind the crash and Richie lost some time. The good thing to come out of this day is maybe that Froome and some other GC guys also lost time and luckily Richie didn’t go down in the crash. I was up at the front and I tried to keep going and be up there for the bonus sprint but the three seconds were gone. We will see how it goes over the next days.”
Sports Director, Fabio Baldato:
“There was a narrow passage in the village and the sprinters were already nervous to stay in position and there was a crash in front of Richie, in front of many other GC riders. He was not at the back, he was around 30th position. It was not enough. The first stage, everyone nervous, the yellow jersey [on offer] if you win the stage, and this put a lot of pressure on everybody. The good thing is that Richie is not hurt, he is fine. Some leaders are in the front, some leaders with us. Now, we need to go even faster in the team time trial to come back with the leaders who are in front of us.”