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.
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.
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.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||4:41:31|
|2||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||0:00:03|
|3||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo||0:00:06|
|4||Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Christopher Horner (USA) Team RadioShack||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Leopard Trek||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre - ISD||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Cervelo||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard Trek||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre - ISD||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Egor Silin (Rus) Katusha Team||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Tom Boonen (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Gianni Meersman (Bel) FDJ||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Manuel Quinziato (Ita) BMC Racing Team||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||William Bonnet (Fra) FDJ||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Denis Galimzyanov (Rus) Katusha Team||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Highroad||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||0:01:20|
|33||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Rob Ruijgh (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Pro Team Astana||0:00:06|
|38||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek||0:01:20|
|39||Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek||0:00:06|
|40||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Leonardo Fabio Duque (Col) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ||0:01:20|
|44||Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre - ISD||0:00:06|
|45||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioShack||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team||0:01:20|
|47||Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack||0:00:06|
|48||Pavel Brutt (Rus) Katusha Team||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling||0:01:20|
|50||Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Katusha Team||0:00:06|
|51||Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Katusha Team||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|52||Andrey Zeits (Kaz) Pro Team Astana||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|54||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team||0:01:20|
|55||Jérémie Galland (Fra) Saur - Sojasun||0:00:06|
|56||Kristijan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-Cannondale||0:01:20|
|57||Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Lampre - ISD||0:00:06|
|58||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Danny Pate (USA) HTC-Highroad||0:01:20|
|62||Yuriy Trofimov (Rus) Katusha Team||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling||0:00:06|
|64||Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Leopard Trek||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||0:01:39|
|66||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:00:06|
|67||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ||0:01:49|
|69||Thomas Danielson (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo||0:01:55|
|70||Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-Cervelo||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|72||Christian Knees (Ger) Sky Procycling||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|73||Beñat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 72 - Cell 2|
|74||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Pro Team Astana||Row 73 - Cell 2|
|75||Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra) Pro Team Astana||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|76||Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|77||Laurent Mangel (Fra) Saur - Sojasun||0:00:06|
|78||Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Team RadioShack||Row 77 - Cell 2|
|79||Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Katusha Team||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|80||Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|81||Julien El Fares (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne||0:01:55|
|82||Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team||0:00:06|
|83||Romain Zingle (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne||0:01:55|
|84||Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) Team RadioShack||Row 83 - Cell 2|
|85||Vladimir Isaichev (Rus) Katusha Team||Row 84 - Cell 2|
|86||Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur - Sojasun||Row 85 - Cell 2|
|87||Mark Renshaw (Aus) HTC-Highroad||0:00:06|
|88||Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Movistar Team||0:01:55|
|89||Rémi Pauriol (Fra) FDJ||Row 88 - Cell 2|
|90||Anthony Charteau (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 89 - Cell 2|
|91||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Rabobank Cycling Team||0:00:06|
|92||Nicki Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard||0:01:55|
|93||David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne||Row 92 - Cell 2|
|94||George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team||0:00:06|
|95||Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack||0:01:55|
|96||Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Team Europcar||0:00:06|
|97||Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:55|
|98||Mickaël Delage (Fra) FDJ||Row 97 - Cell 2|
|99||John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 98 - Cell 2|
|100||Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||Row 99 - Cell 2|
|101||Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 100 - Cell 2|
|102||Amets Txurruka (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||Row 101 - Cell 2|
|103||Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard||Row 102 - Cell 2|
|104||Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Quickstep Cycling Team||Row 103 - Cell 2|
|105||Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard||Row 104 - Cell 2|
|106||Christophe Kern (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 105 - Cell 2|
|107||Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team||Row 106 - Cell 2|
|108||Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||0:02:10|
|109||Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Procycling||0:02:16|
|110||Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Movistar Team||0:02:25|
|111||Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||Row 110 - Cell 2|
|112||Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 111 - Cell 2|
|113||Iván Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||Row 112 - Cell 2|
|114||Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Pro Team Astana||Row 113 - Cell 2|
|115||Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Team RadioShack||Row 114 - Cell 2|
|116||Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing Team||Row 115 - Cell 2|
|117||Andrey Amador Bakkazakova (CRc) Movistar Team||Row 116 - Cell 2|
|118||Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 117 - Cell 2|
|119||Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ||Row 118 - Cell 2|
|120||Joost Posthuma (Ned) Leopard Trek||Row 119 - Cell 2|
|121||Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ||0:02:33|
|122||Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD||Row 121 - Cell 2|
|123||Adriano Malori (Ita) Lampre - ISD||Row 122 - Cell 2|
|124||Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||Row 123 - Cell 2|
|125||Steve Morabito (Swi) BMC Racing Team||Row 124 - Cell 2|
|126||Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 125 - Cell 2|
|127||Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||Row 126 - Cell 2|
|128||Jens Voigt (Ger) Leopard Trek||Row 127 - Cell 2|
|129||Yohann Gene (Fra) Team Europcar||0:02:36|
|130||Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||Row 129 - Cell 2|
|131||Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spa) Saxo Bank Sungard||Row 130 - Cell 2|
|132||Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||Row 131 - Cell 2|
|133||Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ||Row 132 - Cell 2|
|134||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Procycling||Row 133 - Cell 2|
|135||Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 134 - Cell 2|
|136||Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:00:06|
|137||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 136 - Cell 2|
|138||André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-Lotto||Row 137 - Cell 2|
|139||Matteo Bono (Ita) Lampre - ISD||0:02:36|
|140||Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale||Row 139 - Cell 2|
|141||David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 140 - Cell 2|
|142||Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||0:00:06|
|143||Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||Row 142 - Cell 2|
|144||Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar Team||0:01:55|
|145||Mikhail Ignatyev (Rus) Katusha Team||0:02:54|