Gilbert conquers Mont des Alouettes

Philippe Gilbert’s remarkable year continues at the Tour de France. The newly crowned Belgian national champion, with his freshly dyed blond hair, duly fulfilled his favourite status on stage one, deploying his trademark uphill kick to devastating effect on Mont des Alouettes, to claim one of the most impressive victories in his already glittering career, as well as his first yellow jersey.

If this achievement ranks higher than any of the three Ardennes Classics the Omega Pharma-Lotto rider claimed in the spring, then it owes to the burden of his billing as the overwhelming favourite. The expectation and pressure on Gilbert was enormous, yet he appeared completely unfazed.

In the final uphill kilometre, with his team having done an immense job, Gilbert sat, calm and poised, like a lion about to devour its captured prey. When Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) jumped hard with 600 metres to go, Gilbert pounced, hunting down the Swiss and then counter-attacking as Cancellara began to flag.

Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) and Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) led the pursuit of Gilbert, but they could make no inroads as the Belgian sustained his effort to the line to win by six seconds from Cadel Evans (BMC).

“It’s hard to take in what I’m doing,” admitted Gilbert. “Liege-Bastogne-Liege was a childhood dream, [and] today was as well. Winning the stage and getting the yellow jersey – I dreamt about it.”

Gilbert, who said he drew strength from the pressure, added: “With 500 metres [to go] I knew that I could get a gap, then it was like a mini time trial. Before the line I saw that I’d won but I tried to gain as much time as possible. I’m almost sure that I will lose the jersey in the team time trial but I can maybe get it back on the Mûr-de-Bretagne [stage four on Tuesday, which is also Gilbert’s 29th birthday].”

Late crash causes havoc

Sadly for Gilbert, his first stage victory is likely to compete for the headlines with the day’s other main event, which saw the defending champion Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) held up by a crash. He conceded one minute, fourteen seconds to rivals including Evans, Andy and Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek), Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Ivan Basso (Liquigas).

The damage was done as the tightly packed peloton raced towards the finish on roads that were narrower and rougher than the wide open, pan flat Vendée coastal road that featured in the first part of the stage.

In the final 10km, as the 198 riders fought to be close to the front, battling for every centimetre of tarmac, they passed through corridors of spectators and seemed to inhale en masse - or at least those watching did - until, finally, there was a collision.

It happened with 8.5km to go when Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana) clipped a spectator and went down heavily. Since he was close to the front, the domino effect took a terrible toll, wiping out all the riders closest to him. The resulting mass of metal and limbs formed a highly effective roadblock: only around thirty riders got through. The Schleck brothers, Evans, Wiggins and Basso were among the fortunate ones, with Contador and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) the main losers.

Quiet start to the race

Until those final 8.5km it is perhaps fair to say that it wasn’t the first stage the organisers had hoped for.

The peloton appeared afflicted by a strange torpor, though that was maybe understandable given that all most were thinking and talking about was the finishing climb, and the anticipated Gilbert ambush.

You would have got very short odds on the possibility of a rider from the local team being among the first attackers, and featuring in the very first break of the 2011 Tour. And, indeed, it seemed surprisingly straightforward for Perrig Quemeneur, Europcar’s 27-year old from just north of the region, Brittany.

And in bets about the constitution of the first break you might have got equally short odds on the other team to feature: Vacansoleil. The Tour debutants appear determined to make an impact, and to do so by doing what they do best - attacking.

It was the Dutchman Lieuwe Westra who joined Quemeneur, with another Frenchman, Jérémy Roy (Francaise des Jeux), making it a trio. According to one report, the break was established just 53 seconds after the official start. And within 10km, as the three riders committed fully to their bid for freedom - and valuable opening day TV exposure - and the peloton ambled along the coast, they gained three minutes.

The other certainty about the Tour’s opening day is that some one will crash, and the honour of first man down fell to André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto). The German sprinter hit the deck on the treacherous Passage du Gois, the causeway that wrought such carnage on the Tour’s last visit, in 1999. This time the Passage featured during a ceremonial start rather than, as in 1999, as the climax to the stage. And Greipel, nursing a bloody elbow, was back up and in the peloton before the flag had been dropped.

Huge crowds lined the flat roads as the riders embarked on a U-shaped route, taking them inland to the town of Les Herbiers, and the 2.5km, gently rising Mont des Alouettes.

As the leading three riders built a lead that approached seven minutes the peloton showed little interest. There were more crashes with Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Andrey Amador (Movistar), the first Costa Rican to ride the Tour, tumbling early on, and then, more seriously, Jurgen Van De Walle (Omega Pharma-Lotto), who fell heavily.

Intermediate sprint

Yet he too was quick to reappear at the front and report for domestique duties as the team containing both Gilbert and green jersey contender Greipel began to gather at the front, their thoughts turning to one of this year’s main innovations, the big intermediate sprint.

Coming after 87km, this mega sprint has replaced the more numerous intermediate sprints that awarded small quantities of points to the green jersey competition. Now there is just one; and the points on offer - 20 points to the winner, down to one for fifteenth - make it an attractive, perhaps even essential, feature for anyone with designs on green.

It was certainly enough to finally stir the peloton into life. As they approached the five kilometre banner, Mark Cavendish’s HTC-High Road team began to get organised. Then, as Roy took the sprint from his two breakaway companions up ahead, Alessandro Petacchi’s Lampre squad also appeared at the front.

At one point HTC-Highroad occupied one side of the road, Lampre the other, but Greipel and his team were still in the picture, as was Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Cervelo.

And as Cavendish was unleashed, it was Farrar who emerged to take fourth place - and thirteen points – ahead of Greipel. Cavendish, on the other hand, faded badly, as though his heart wasn’t really in it. Certainly the Cavendish who contested this mid-stage sprint appeared a pale imitation of the Cavendish who sprints for stage wins.

After this odd interlude the gap to the break opened again, while Gilbert demonstrated just how relaxed he was by dropping back to the team car for a chat. When he wasn’t talking to Marc Sergeant, he was at the front laughing and joking with the world champion, Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo).

Eventually, though, it was Gilbert’s team that reeled the three men in, finally closing the gap with 18km remaining.

A little over nine kilometres later came the unexpected twist to the day’s plot, with the crash reducing the front group to around 35 riders. BMC and RadioShack, with Andreas Kloden, Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer, Janez Brajkovic and Yaroslav Popovych all in the front split, were well represented. And, when they realised that Contador wasn’t among them, they showed no mercy, driving the group and quickly carving out a forty-second advantage. Behind, Contador seemed isolated.

He conceded another thirty seconds on the run-in, even as a second crash held up Andy Schleck and Wiggins, which meant they finished in the same group as the Spaniard. But because their spill had happened in the final 3km, they were given the same time as the group that came in on the coat tails of Gilbert.

Like 1989

Contador’s disastrous first day carries faint echoes of the 1989 Tour, when his countryman Pedro Delgado, the defending champion, lost 2 minutes, 40 seconds, turning up late for his prologue time trial. From then the Tour resembled a pursuit race for Delgado, but he couldn’t make back the time and eventually finished third in Paris, behind Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon.

Like Delgado, who had tested positive during the 1988 race, but was exonerated of any drugs offence, Contador has started this Tour under his own doping cloud, with his positive test for clenbuterol during last year’s race due to be decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in early August.

Despite that distraction, Contador started this Tour as the big favourite. Yet, as day one demonstrated, the plot doesn’t always adhere to the pre-race predictions - unless your name is Philippe Gilbert.


Full results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto4:41:31
2Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team0:00:03
3Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo0:00:06
4Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 3 - Cell 2
5Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 4 - Cell 2
6Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky ProcyclingRow 5 - Cell 2
7Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShackRow 6 - Cell 2
8Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En LigneRow 7 - Cell 2
9Christopher Horner (USA) Team RadioShackRow 8 - Cell 2
10Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-HighroadRow 9 - Cell 2
11Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Leopard TrekRow 10 - Cell 2
12Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard TrekRow 11 - Cell 2
13Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-HighroadRow 12 - Cell 2
14Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team EuropcarRow 13 - Cell 2
15Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISDRow 14 - Cell 2
16David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-CerveloRow 15 - Cell 2
17Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Pro Team AstanaRow 16 - Cell 2
18Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard TrekRow 17 - Cell 2
19Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La MondialeRow 18 - Cell 2
20Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre - ISDRow 19 - Cell 2
21Egor Silin (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 20 - Cell 2
22Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 21 - Cell 2
23Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep Cycling TeamRow 22 - Cell 2
24Gianni Meersman (Bel) FDJRow 23 - Cell 2
25Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky ProcyclingRow 24 - Cell 2
26Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 25 - Cell 2
27William Bonnet (Fra) FDJRow 26 - Cell 2
28Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 27 - Cell 2
29Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-HighroadRow 28 - Cell 2
30Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En LigneRow 29 - Cell 2
31José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 30 - Cell 2
32Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi0:01:20
33Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling TeamRow 32 - Cell 2
34Rob Ruijgh (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling TeamRow 33 - Cell 2
35Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank SungardRow 34 - Cell 2
36Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling TeamRow 35 - Cell 2
37Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana0:00:06
38Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek0:01:20
39Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek0:00:06
40Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quickstep Cycling TeamRow 39 - Cell 2
41Leonardo Fabio Duque (Col) Cofidis, Le Credit En LigneRow 40 - Cell 2
42Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team EuropcarRow 41 - Cell 2
43Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ0:01:20
44Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre - ISD0:00:06
45Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShackRow 44 - Cell 2
46Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team0:01:20
47Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack0:00:06
48Pavel Brutt (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 47 - Cell 2
49Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling0:01:20
50Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha Team0:00:06
51Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 50 - Cell 2
52Andrey Zeits (Kaz) Pro Team AstanaRow 51 - Cell 2
53Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 52 - Cell 2
54Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team0:01:20
55Jérémie Galland (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:00:06
56Kristijan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Cannondale0:01:20
57Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Lampre - ISD0:00:06
58Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard TrekRow 57 - Cell 2
59Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling TeamRow 58 - Cell 2
60Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling TeamRow 59 - Cell 2
61Danny Pate (USA) HTC-Highroad0:01:20
62Yuriy Trofimov (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 61 - Cell 2
63Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling0:00:06
64Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Leopard TrekRow 63 - Cell 2
65Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi0:01:39
66Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto0:00:06
67Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 66 - Cell 2
68Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ0:01:49
69Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo0:01:55
70Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank Cycling TeamRow 69 - Cell 2
71Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-CerveloRow 70 - Cell 2
72Christian Knees (Ger) Sky ProcyclingRow 71 - Cell 2
73Beñat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 72 - Cell 2
74Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team AstanaRow 73 - Cell 2
75Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra) Pro Team AstanaRow 74 - Cell 2
76Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling TeamRow 75 - Cell 2
77Laurent Mangel (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:00:06
78Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Team RadioShackRow 77 - Cell 2
79Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 78 - Cell 2
80Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 79 - Cell 2
81Julien El Fares (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne0:01:55
82Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team0:00:06
83Romain Zingle (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne0:01:55
84Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Team RadioShackRow 83 - Cell 2
85Vladimir Isaichev (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 84 - Cell 2
86Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur - SojasunRow 85 - Cell 2
87Mark Renshaw (Aus) HTC-Highroad0:00:06
88Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Movistar Team0:01:55
89Rémi Pauriol (Fra) FDJRow 88 - Cell 2
90Anthony Charteau (Fra) Team EuropcarRow 89 - Cell 2
91Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team0:00:06
92Nicki Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard0:01:55
93David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En LigneRow 92 - Cell 2
94George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team0:00:06
95Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack0:01:55
96Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Team Europcar0:00:06
97Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:01:55
98Mickaël Delage (Fra) FDJRow 97 - Cell 2
99John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 98 - Cell 2
100Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling TeamRow 99 - Cell 2
101Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team EuropcarRow 100 - Cell 2
102Amets Txurruka (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 101 - Cell 2
103Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank SungardRow 102 - Cell 2
104Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Quickstep Cycling TeamRow 103 - Cell 2
105Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Saxo Bank SungardRow 104 - Cell 2
106Christophe Kern (Fra) Team EuropcarRow 105 - Cell 2
107Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank Cycling TeamRow 106 - Cell 2
108Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team0:02:10
109Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Procycling0:02:16
110Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Movistar Team0:02:25
111Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling TeamRow 110 - Cell 2
112Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 111 - Cell 2
113Iván Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 112 - Cell 2
114Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Pro Team AstanaRow 113 - Cell 2
115Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Team RadioShackRow 114 - Cell 2
116Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 115 - Cell 2
117Andrey Amador Bakkazakova (CRc) Movistar TeamRow 116 - Cell 2
118Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 117 - Cell 2
119Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJRow 118 - Cell 2
120Joost Posthuma (Ned) Leopard TrekRow 119 - Cell 2
121Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ0:02:33
122Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISDRow 121 - Cell 2
123Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre - ISDRow 122 - Cell 2
124Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 123 - Cell 2
125Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing TeamRow 124 - Cell 2
126Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing TeamRow 125 - Cell 2
127Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 126 - Cell 2
128Jens Voigt (Ger) Leopard TrekRow 127 - Cell 2
129Yohann Gene (Fra) Team Europcar0:02:36
130Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 129 - Cell 2
131Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spa) Saxo Bank SungardRow 130 - Cell 2
132Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 131 - Cell 2
133Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJRow 132 - Cell 2
134Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky ProcyclingRow 133 - Cell 2
135Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 134 - Cell 2
136Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto0:00:06
137Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 136 - Cell 2
138André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 137 - Cell 2
139Matteo Bono (Ita) Lampre - ISD0:02:36
140Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 139 - Cell 2
141David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 140 - Cell 2
142Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:00:06
143Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 142 - Cell 2
144Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar Team0:01:55
145Mikhail Ignatyev (Rus) Katusha Team0:02:54