There was a party atmosphere in Copenhagen for the opening stage of the 2022 Tour de France, with huge crowds along the 13.2km time trial course and an estimated 500,000 in the city to enjoy the Grand Depart.
The so-called Danish summer: rain, winds and grey skies, could not stop the partying nor deter the crowds but it definitely shook up the racing, sparking numerous crashes, a surprise winner and larger than expected time gaps between the overall contenders.
Most of the big-name riders had opted to start early in the hope of avoiding the worsening weather and expected rain. But the rain came early and came down heavy, soaking and slowing them all.
It meant that all the stage favourites and overall contenders raced in the same terrible conditions, with differences made by the number of risks they were willing to take.
Yves Lampaert started a little later and was given a slight but perhaps significant advantage. The roads were still wet when he raced but the rain had stopped. The Belgian did not hold back when offered the opportunity of his career. He pulled up his aero socks as high as possible, opted against wearing the new Specialized aero helmet and aero head sock, but smashed out the best time of 15:17, finishing five seconds ahead of fellow Belgian and favourite Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) to claim the race's first maillot jaune on the streets of Copenhagen.
Everyone else was spread down the stage results, the first GC and the virtual GC amongst the overall contenders.
2021 winner Tadej Pogačar showed his 2022 intentions with third place, only two seconds behind van Aert and seven down in Lampaert. He is the first leader of the virtual GC and pulled on the white jersey of the best young rider. Pogačar’s daily visits to the podium are already underway.
Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič showed their liking of the rain and their time trial skills to finish eight and nine seconds behind, respectively, their team leadership battle still finely balanced.
Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas were both within 20 seconds of Pogačar, with Thomas cursing his failure to remove his gilet ahead of the race, which would have cost him considerable aerodynamic gains. The rain and pressures of the Tour de France can wreck even the best minds and marginal gains.
The big-time losers were Ben O’Connor, who gave up 54 seconds to Pogačar, Rigoberto Urán, who lost 1:07, while Enric Mas lost 49 seconds and David Gaudu fared a little better, losing 43 seconds to the Slovenian. However, after a flat 13.2km time trial, their Tour de France already appears to be an uphill battle.
They no doubt cursed the rain when the skies darkened at lunchtime and the first drops of rain fell three hours ahead of schedule at around 2:00 p.m and the heavens opened at 3:00 p.m.
The impact of the rain was evident as soon as the riders started.
Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost) had recovered from COVID-19 just in time to race and was hoping to win the stage but his hopes ended when he slid out on the wet roads. A second crash left near the final kilometre only worsened his day and finished 99th, more than a minute from where he had hoped to be.
Other riders went down with regularity, including Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma) and Mikkel Honoré (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl). The other riders slipped and slid through the 18 corners and everyone tried to avoid the puddles and road markings on the road.
Cyclo-cross skills, a lack of fear and superb bike skills were needed to challenge for victory, while everyone else tried to make it home, in one piece and stay inside the tight time limit. Mathieu van der Poel seemed to enjoy it all, knowing raving in cyclo-cross mud is far worse than the summer rain. He finished fifth at 13 seconds but is still within a shot of the yellow jersey.
Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) was a favourite but he could only shake his head after he finished 17 seconds slower than Van Aert, his thousand-yard stare from risking his neck in every corner, perhaps holding him back from venting his anger.
Even world time trial champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) could not outspeed the weather gods. He had to ease off going into the corners and often lacked the grip to accelerate out of the corners at full speed. He was slowed by a slow puncture, losing seven seconds in the second half of the route but refused to make it an excuse.
“With the rain, I didn’t feel at my ease on the corners,” said Ganna. “It was supposed to be dry when I set off, but the roads were already wet and then it started raining. We can’t have any regrets, there were just better riders out there today.”
Ganna started at 5:03 local time, with Van Aert a minute behind him and Pogačar a further minute behind. Their big-name 15-minute pursuit match was the most intense moment of a day of nerves, with Van Aert just winning the battle ahead of Pogačar.
Lampaert started at 5:44. The 40-minute time difference meant the rain had eased and roads were wet but not soaked. High aero socks, no new wacky new aero helmet, a fast low centre of gravity and a hunger to take risks allowed him to make a winning difference.
The crowds cheered when he climbed on the stage and pulled on the first yellow jersey of the 2022 Tour de France. In contrast, there was reportedly some booing for Dylan Teuns of Bahrain Victorious and little sympathy for teammates Matej Mohoric and Luis Leon Sanchez as they appeared near the podium area anti-doping.
There are still grey clouds gathering over Bahrain Victorious as the police investigation rumbles on. The only ray of sunshine of the day illuminated Lampert’s yellow jersey.
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