Live coverage of stage 1 of the Tour de France, 198km from Liège to Seraing.
The opening road stage of the Tour de France is a trek through Liège-Bastogne-Liège country and a stage that was designed with one man in mind - local hero Philippe Gilbert. Gilbert, as journalists are legally obliged to point when writing about his chances at La Doyenne, was born a mere stone's throw from the route, and he won't be lacking in motivation today. The stage finishes atop a 4th category climb in Seraing, not altogether unlike last year's stage finish at Mont des Alouettes. Twelve months ago, Gilbert was all but unbeatable on such a finale, but 2012 has been a difficult year for the Belgian, and he will face stiff opposition this afternoon.
It's a mild 18 degrees in Liège's Place Saint-Lambert, as the peloton rolls away and begins the 7.5km neutralised zone out of the city. Officially, the flag is due to drop at 12.35 local time.
Today's stage heads southwards into the Ardennes before looping back towards Seraing, on the outskirts of Liège. There are five 4th category climbs on the agenda: the Côte de Cokaifagne (42km), the Côte de Francorchamps (49km), Côte de Lierneux (94km), Côte de Barvaux (139km) and that final haul up to the finish line at Seraing.
Tour routemaster Jean-François Pescheux noted that "we could have made the stage tougher, but we wanted to spare the riders seeing as it's the opening stage." The sprinters won't be happy mind. It's the third time in the last five editions that the Tour's opening road stage has had an uphill finish, and it has been becoming increasingly difficult for one of their number to enjoy a spell in yellow in the Tour's first week. Incidentally, the day's lone intermediate sprint is at Érezée after 116.5km.
Speaking of the yellow jersey and opening week trends of recent Tours, Fabian Cancellara won his 4th prologue (and 5th opening day time trial - at 15.5km, 2009's test in Monaco was too long to be classified as a prologue) yesterday and starts the day in the maillot jaune.
The top 10 on GC overnight was as follows:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 0:07:13
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 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
7 Patrick Gretsch (Ger) Argos - Shimano 0:00:12
8 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:13
9 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
10 Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team 0:00:15
Bradley Wiggins was the best of the overall contenders in yesterday's prologue, opening the throttle after a cautious start to proceedings to finish second at 7 seconds. Although he missed out on yellow, Wiggins gets to keep the green jersey warm for Cancellara today. The same obligation befell Cadel Evans this day last year, after he came second to Gilbert on stage 1.
Wiggins and his Sky teammates are also riding in yellow helmets today, to denote their leadership of the teams classification. It somewhat diminishes the menacing effect of their all-black kit, so it's probably just as well they have all those other marginal gains to compensate.
Attempts to promote the teams classification are nothing new, of course, but this is the most visible attempt since the organisers handed out yellow, Ryobi-sponsored caps in the 1980s.
198km remaining from 198km
After the peloton was briefly blocked by a passive protest in the neutralised zone, the flag is dropped and stage 1 of the Tour de France in underway.
The attacks start almost immediately and a six-man group has opened out a 20-second advantage over the peloton. RadioShack-Nissan are trying to figure out who's up there.
194km remaining from 198km
The six men up the road are Yohann Gène (Europcar), Pablo Urtasun (Euskatel-Euskadi), Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) and Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), and they currently hold a 20-second lead over the peloton.
189km remaining from 198km
After initially keeping tabs on the sextet, RadioShack-Nissan opt to sit up and let them go. Their advantage stretches out accordingly - 9km in, the break has 2:10 on the peloton.
As one would expect, Michael Mørkøv was the best-placed of the early escapees in yesterday's prologue, and the Dane is the maillot jaune virtuel. Mørkøv was 51st at 24 seconds on Saturday.
The race is currently chugging southeast out of Liège. When the Tour came here at the end of the opening week in 1995, the race travelled in the opposite direction and entered Liège by this very road. Miguel Indurain famously surprised Tony Rominger and Evgeni Berzin by attacking on Mont Theux in the finale and moving to within striking distance of the maillot jaune ahead of the next day's time trial. The peloton passes through Theux after 23km today.
As Robert Millar put it, Indurain "out-psyched Rominger by racing on a day when he didn't need a skinsuit." Only one Johan Bruyneel could follow Indurain over the top of the climb, and he sat on the Spaniard all the way to Liège, before cheekily coming around him to take the stage even though he was already assured of the yellow jersey. An early manifestation of the "you might as well win" philosophy. Of course, having stretched the validity of that coarse maxim to (beyond?) its acceptable limits as a directeur sportif, Bruyneel is a notable absentee from this year's Tour de France...
173km remaining from 198km
Miguel Indurain was compared to a TGV when he powered clear at Theux 17 years ago, and the as the break reaches the town, their progress is halted at a level crossing. To their frustration, they lose 45 seconds as they wait for the train to pass.
Their lead of 2:30 is reduced to 1:10, and to add insult to injury, the peloton has not been halted by the commissaires as compensation, as the level crossing is considered part of the race.
It hasn't always been thus - in 2001,
, the peloton was duly forced to stop for two minutes to allow the pair restore their advantage. Not that it made a blind bit of difference in the grand scheme of things, as Erik Zabel beat world champion Romans Vainsteins in the bunch sprint at Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Meanwhile, there have been a number of crashes in the peloton. Anthony Roux (FDJ-BigMat) and Bram Tankink (Rabobank) both hit the deck but are safely back in the peloton. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is reported to have fallen after 11km, and he seems to be in a little more difficulty. While still in the peloton, the German has been in repeated consultation with the race doctor.
163km remaining from 198km
After digesting the level crossing incident, the six escapees have restored and indeed increased their original advantage. They now have 2:40 in hand on the peloton.
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) is a prominent figure in the white jersey of
after he finished a very impressive 4th in yesterday's prologue. As far as we are aware, the last American to lead this classification was Christian Vande Velde in 1999, although the classification was not denoted with the white jersey that year (it would return in 2000). Andy Hampsten in 1986 may have been the last American to actually wear the white jersey, but perhaps one of our readers can think of a more recent example.
158km remaining from 198km
The average speed for the first hour of racing is a steady 39kph, and the break has a lead of 3:45 on the peloton.
The break is currently on the slopes of the category 4 Côte de Cokaifagne (2.9km at 5.1%), and we can expect the beginning of a day-long battle for the king of the mountains points.
It looks as though our duellists for the afternoon will be Nicolas Edet and Michael Mørkøv. Edet attacked on the climb in a bid to take the point, but instead, Mørkøv came around him to take provisional hold of the polka dot jersey.
145km remaining from 198km
The break's lead over the peloton now stands at 4:00.
Mørkøv and Edet will resume hostilities almost immediately, as there isn't much respite ahead of the Côte de Francorchamps (1.1km at 6.4%), which comes at the 49km marker.
RadioShack-Nissan are continuing to patrol the front of the peloton, but more through obligation that any real conviction for now. They're happy to allow the break some breathing space, and Bouet, Mørkøv, Urtasun, Edet, Delaplace and Gène now have 4:50 in hand on the bunch.
149km remaining from 198km
Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi) wins a very hard-fought sprint for the point atop the Côte de Francorchamps, with all six riders seemingly keen to enjoy a spell in the polka dot jersey. So far, the score reads Urtasun 1, Mørkøv 1.
Cadel Evans had a solid outing in the prologue yesterday and showed at Mont des Alouettes and Mur de Bretagne last year that he is well capable of being competitive on hilly stages such as today. Speaking at the start this morning, however, Evans said that his main objective was not to lose any time. "We’re getting more and more of these kind of stages in the Tour. It’s classics style with small roads and shorter climbs and so on. If there’s an opportunity there, sure I’d like to go for it, but mainly it’s a day for guys like Sagan," said Evans, neglecting to mention his teammate Gilbert. "For us we’ll try and get through safely. You can lose the Tour anywhere, that’s the thing. So we have people like George, Burghardt and Quinziato in the team to help keep me in good position."
145km remaining from 198km
The pace has increased slightly in the peloton, and the break's advantage falls to 4:20.
While Peter Sagan is many people's fancy for today's stage, his Liquigas-Cannondale leader Vincenzo Nibali was one of the most impressive overall contenders in yesterday's prologue. The Sicilain lost just 11 seconds to Wiggins and was hot on Evans' heels in 14th place. "It was the start that I wanted," he told Gazzetta dello Sport. "I didn’t save myself and I was very clean around the corners, I didn’t make any mistakes. I was very consistent throughout, seeing as I’m not a specialist in such short tests."
130km remaining from 198km
Word reaching us that Tony Martin hurt his wrist in his fall after 11km, but the injury does not appear to be serious. The German's prologue challenge was ruined by a most untimely puncture, but his comments afterwards showed where his priorities lie, at least in 2012: "I'd rather have a puncture in the prologue of the Tour de France than in the Olympic time trial in London.”
The six escapees have a lead of 3:45 as they leave the province of Liège and cross into the (Belgian) province of Luxembourg, not to be confused with the independent Grand Duchy. Although of course, we're not very far from Frank Schleck's homeland and there are plenty of flags on the roadside to remind us of that fact.
122km remaining from 198km
There are plenty of Movistar riders grouped near the front of the peloton, with Alejandro Valverde safely ensconced among them. The Spaniard returns to the Tour this year following his belated suspension for his rapport with blood doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes.
Yaroslav Popovych and Jens Voigt set the pace at the front of the peloton, with yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara sitting at the back of the RadioShack-Nissan line. Behind him comes a string of yellow helmets from Team Sky, including green jersey Bradley Wiggins.
The skies have been largely grey for the day so far. Every now and then the sun pokes through the clouds, but there is still the lingering threat of rain later in hte afternoon.
Rain played a significant role in the Tour's last visit to Wallonia in 2010. When Andy Schleck took a tumble on the descent of Stockeu, his teammate Cancellara led a controversial go-slow in protest at the conditions that allowed Schleck to get back on. Sylvain Chavanel took stage honours and the yellow jersey in Spa.
116km remaining from 198km
The gap between the peloton and the break has dropped to 2:45, but RadioShack-Nissan won't want to come much closer than that for now.
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) drops back to sort out a mechanical problem, and his gregario in chief Danilo Hondo waits to help him back up to the peloton. After a slow start to 2012, Petacchi showed some form by winning three stage of the Bayern-Rundfahrt in May, but competition will be fierce in the sprints here.
The sun has come out once again, but there are still some rather leaden clouds on the horzion. Jens Voigt clips along at the front of the peloton, but there is no particular urgency to his pursuit of the break.
Nicolas Edet is in conclave with the Cofidis team car as the gap drops to 2:25. The team enters this race with a new manager, with Yvon Sanquer, seemingly the Winston Wolf of cycling, drafted in to replace Eric Boyer a week before the start.
112km remaining from 198km
Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is the next man to confer with his team car. The former VC La Pomme man takes a look at the map and rejoins his companions.
Tony Martin bears the marks of his earlier crash on his left elbow and knee, and the German is again off the back of the peloton. He doesn't seem in undue distress, but these repeated trips back to the car aren't altogether encouraging.
106km remaining from 198km
The break is now on the Côte de Lierneux, and all six are looking to grab the point on offer at the top.
Edet sets the pace with 1km to go to the summit of the climb (2.1km at 5.1%).
The narrow road causes some confusion as the peloton hits the climb, but while a number of riders slow almost to a halt, it doesn't seem that anyone has taken a tumble.
Up front, Delaplace attempts to steal a march ahead of the summit, but Urtasun is quick to shut him down.
104km remaining from 198km
Michael Mørkøv takes the sprint atop the climb and takes the outright provisional lead in the mountains competition. The Dane is also our virtual yellow jersey as the break leads the peloton by 3 minutes.
Our own Brecht Decaluwe caught up with Lotto Belisol manager Marc Sergeant at the start this morning, and he fancies the chances of one of his former riders this afternoon. “This stage seems to be made for men like Sagan and Gilbert,” he said. “Gilbert rode a fantastic prologue which maybe brings more into his reach. If you think about it then you quickly figure out that BMC might finally do something for Gilbert.”
99km remaining from 198km
Lotto Belisol's Jurgen Van Den Broeck lost more time than most of the overall contenders yesterday, but the Belgian climber insisted that he was not unduly concerned.
The peloton cruises through the feed zone at Baraque de Fraiture, 3:30 down on the break.
Maxime Monfort is the régional de l'étape, and the RadioShack-Nissan rider is duly allowed to drift off the front through the feed zone to salute friends and family.
As Jens Voigt rifles through the contents his musette, there is a temporary truce called in the peloton, and the break's lead stretches out to four minutes.
93km remaining from 198km
The skies have darkend once again over the past few kilometres, and a few chilling drops of rain are beginning to fall. If conditions are slippery later on, there could be carnage in the finale.
The rain is beginning to fall quite steadily as the break rides along a lenghty tree-lined stretch of road after the town of Manhay.
Conditions are always hugely changeable in the Ardennes, and while the peloton rides grimly through some steady drizzle, the break is already back on dry roads.
Sky’s yellow helmets are unsurprisingly all grouped around Bradley Wiggins. His teammate Michael Rogers believes that the finale could be a tricky one to negotiate. “It’s going to be a nervous stage as it always is in the first week of racing,” Rogers said. “There’s a hard little finish too but we can expect a lot of attacks in the final kilometres. I think the majority of the sprinters will get through, maybe not all of them because it’s that hard. The tailwind will make things hard too. For the GC guys it’s going to be a mess so I’ll be making sure that Bradley is kept out of trouble.”
82km remaining from 198km
The break is now approaching the day's intermediate sprint at Érezée.
81km remaining from 198km
Gène takes the sprint for 20 points ahead of Edet. Like last year, there are points on offer to the top 15 riders, and the pace is ratcheting up in the peloton.
Lotto Belisol are leading things out for the sprint for 7th place and the 9 points on offer.
Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) wins the sprint for 7th ahead of no less a figure than Mark Cavendish (Sky). The world champion has insisted that the green jersey isn't a goal this year, but there's no harm in hedging his bets. Greipel came across the line in 9th.
76km remaining from 198km
Such was the ferocity of the Lotto Belisol lead-out that the bunch shaved over 30 seconds off the break's lead, but now they have spread out across the road once again and the gap has stretched back out to 3:30.
France Television's moto has made a beeline for the Sky team car to ask Sean Yates why Mark Cavendish had contested the sprint if the green jersey wasn't an objective. "You never know what can happen over the course of three weeks and he didn't need to use up too much energy to contest the sprint, so it was worth going for it," Yates explained.
The result of that intermediate sprint was as follows:
1. Yohann Gène (Europcar) 20
2. Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 17
3. Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) 15
4. Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) 13
5. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) 11
6. Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank) 10
7. Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) 9
8. Mark Cavendish (Sky) 8
9. André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) 7
10. Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) 6
11. Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) 5
12. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) 4
13. José Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) 3
14. Borut Bozic (Astana) 2
15. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 1
68km remaining from 198km
RadioShack-Nissan is happy to let the break's lead drift at around the four-minute mark for now. Inside the final 40km or so, they will expect some help from the likes of Liquigas-Cannondale to peg the sextet back before the finish.
63km remaining from 198km
There is a discernible increase in the urgency of the RadioShack-Nissan pursuit on the approach to the day's penultimate climb, the Côte de Barvaux, and the margin has come back in to 2:50.
Urtasun attacks on the climb, bringing Morkov with him, although presumably they'll situp and wait for their breakaway companions at the top.
59km remaining from 198km
The TV cameras were blocked behind and unable to get a view of the sprint, but a grinning Morkov gives a big thumbs up to confirm that he will be wearing the polka dot jersey tomorrow.
Morkov and Urtasun wait for the remainder of the break over the top, but there's a problem for Yohann Gène, who needs to make a quick bike change. The Europcar man snakes between the team cars and latches back on without any undue difficulty.
With a lead of just over two minutes and with 54 rolling kilometres still to come, the six escapees must know that there is a grim inevitability about their fate.
51km remaining from 198km
Yaroslav Popovych is setting the tempo on the front of the bunch for RadioShack-Nissan and they're chipping away at the break's lead. 1:40 the gap.
So far, no other team has lifted a finger to help RadioShack-Nissan and Popovych and Voigt have a brief chat to discuss their options.
As the race loops back in the direction of Seraing, the wind is at their backs. While that will ensure a rapid run-in to the finish, it might also see a larger than anticipated peloton still in contention on the final climb to the line.
46km remaining from 198km
Anthony Delaplace is keen to keep breathing life into this breakaway group, and the six still have 1:40 in hand on the bunch.
We're still waiting for a real injection of pace into the pursuit behind. The peloton is currently riding through a crosswind section, with RadioShack-Nissan fanned across the road in an echelon.
Bradley Wiggins has spent the entire stage within sight of the front end of the peloton, glued to the wheel of Christian Knees. A feature of Wiggins' winning ride at Paris-Nice in particular, but also at the Tour de Romandie and the Dauphine, was his positioning on the flatter stages, and he is looking to continue in the same vein at the Tour.
40km remaining from 198km
A smattering of orange and blue Rabobank jerseys are beginning to assemble near the front of the peloton. The word from the start this morning was that Mark Renshaw would be leading out Luis Leon Sanchez on the final climb to the line at Seraing today.
38km remaining from 198km
The break's lead is now dwindling a little above the one minute mark, but the peloton doesn't want to bring them back this soon.
For a firm idea of the finale of today's stage, check out @cyclingthealps preview of stage 1 from Liège to Seraing. Explore the route on a Google Map, with a Google Earth Tour or cycle it virtually. Watch profiles, Street View tours, detailed Google Earth tours and a lot more of each climb.
33km remaining from 198km
The peloton is spreadeagled across the road, with no team willing to make a formal declaration of intent and take up the pursuit in earnest. The gap is currently 1:10.
BMC are marshalling Cadel Evans towards the front. Unusually for the opening road stage of the Tour, the racing has yet to really ignite, but that should all change in the final 30 kilometres.
31km remaining from 198km
Delaplace comes through for another long turn at the head of the break. The six up front have maintained a steady collaboration throughout the day and are continuing to do so, but it won't be enough.
29km remaining from 198km
After three hours of racing, the average speed was 37.8kph, but the pace will be significantly higher in the finale.
The peloton is still playing a waiting game in regards to closing down the breakaway, but a couple of rows off the front, there's a real scrap for position among the teams of the overall contenders. With a fresh peloton, some narrow roads and tricky climbs, there is real potential for splits, crashes and lost time on the run-in.
26km remaining from 198km
Maxime Bouet tries to shake a bit of vigour into the break once again, and their lead extends slightly to 1:11.
Thomas Voeckler is sitting near the rear of the peloton, flanked by a couple of his Europcar teammates. The team has begun the race under a cloud after it emerged on Thursday that they have been placed under investigation by France's OCLAESP following allegations of the use of intravenous solutions of vitamins and corticosteroids in the team.
23km remaining from 198km
A crash in the centre of the peloton, with a handful of riders hitting the deck, including Michael Rogers of Team Sky, Vladimir Karpets and Jose Joaquin Rojas.
A Rabobank rider also went down heavily and has yet to remount. It appears to be Luis Leon Sanchez.
While Rogers chases back on alone, there has been another crash in the peloton 500 metres further up the road. Julien Simon (Saur-Sojasun) was among those to go down, but he is quickly back on his bike. That second crash appears to be have been caused by a spectator with a camera on the roadside.
178km remaining from 198km
Luis Leon Sanchez was the Rabobank rider who went down in the initial crash. He is gingerly chasing back on, but his hopes of stage victory today have surely vanished.
The relative tranquillity in the peloton may have contributed to those crashes, as the riders were tightly packed together rather than strung out in a line. Those incidents have had the collateral effect of jolting the peloton into life and the pace has increased visibly, with a number of splits in the bunch. The gap to the break is down to 26 seconds.
There are two small groups dangling just off the back of the peloton, but it doesn't appear that any of the main overall contenders have been caught behind.
Bernhard Eisel (Sky) is now leading the peloton on a tree-lined descent, while Wiggins and Evans are both safe and prominent near the head of the bunch.
16km remaining from 198km
Alejandro Valverde was caught behind the second crash and is part of a group desperately trying to latch back on to the bunch.
Jean-Christophe Peraud was also caught behind, but a delegation from Ag2r-La Mondiale has brought back into the bunch. Maxime Monfort was another man held up, and he is chasing on alone.
14km remaining from 198km
BMC have taken up the pace-setting at the front of the peloton, working for Evans and perhaps also for Gilbert.
13km remaining from 198km
Monfort makes it back on to the rear of the peloton.
Liquigas-Cannondale have a real presence near the front too, shepherding both Vincenzo Nibali and Peter Sagan.
11km remaining from 198km
Bouet makes one last effort to try and extend the lifespan of this break, but the peloton is just 15 seconds behind.
10km remaining from 198km
A sharp right bend sees a bottleneck in the peloton. Nobody goes down, but plenty of riders lose position. Orica-GreenEdge is now setting the pace. Fabian Cancellara is still up there, but has no RadioShack-Nissan riders alongside him.
9km remaining from 198km
The peloton sweeps up the break. Bouet and Edet make one last attempt to rage against the dying of the light, but Lotto Belisol snuff out their resistance.
7km remaining from 198km
The peloton is strung out under Lotto Belisol's impetus. Mark Cavendish is still in the peloton, tucked on to Peter Sagan's wheel. Wiggins, who had dropped back, is now picking his way up through the bunch.
Andre Greipel is the man pulling on the front for Lotto Belisol. Jelle Vanendert might fancy his chances on this finale.
5km remaining from 198km
The road narrows and climbs inside the final 6km, which will wreak havoc on the peloton. Greipel is still stringing things out.
Vinokourov punctures and loses contact with the peloton. Lotto Belisol continue to drive on the pace, in spite of the road furniture that litters the roads.
4km remaining from 198km
Jurgen Roedlandts leads Van Den Broeck and then Vanendert at the head of the bunch. Orica-GreenEdge are lined up behind them, followed by Oscar Freire and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
3km remaining from 198km
Sagan and Nibali are also both well positioned for Liquigas.
George Hincapie paces Cadel Evans up the outside of the peloton and back towards the front as they enter the final 3 kilometres.
2km remaining from 198km
O'Grady takes over in front for GreenEdge as the final climb to the line begins.
Albasini sits in third wheel, followed by Evans, Sagan, Nibali, Boasson Hagen, Van Den Broeck and Vanendert.
2km remaining from 198km
Mark Cavendish is dropped as the climb bites.
Sylvain Chavanel attacks with 1800 metres to go, Albasini digs in to follow.
Sagan, Cancellara, Evans, Wiggins, Van Den Broeck and Dan Martin are still in contention.
1km remaining from 198km
Cancellara attacks just as the road flattens briefly and brings Peter Sagan with him...
Boasson Hagen chases alone, but Cancellara and Sagan have daylight over the peloton.
1km remaining from 198km
Cancellara considered looking for help from Sagan inside the final kilometre, but he keeps driving.
Boasson Hagen latches on and it's between this trio with 500 metres to go.
Cancellara leads out the sprint and Sagan tries to come around him.
Sagan comes around Cancellara and wins the stage.
Tactically spot-on from Sagan, who bided his time on Cancellara's wheel and refused to panic when Boasson Hagen came across.
Sagan had the time to sit up and celebrate that win, but it was Cancellara who towed him to the line. Boasson Hagen came home third, just ahead of the closing peloton.
Philippe Gilbert was battling to close the gap in the final 100 metres, and he looks to have taken fourth, possibly ahead of Gesink.
Bauke Mollema took 5th, ahead of Valverde, Gesink, Dan Martin, Hesjedal and Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
Evans and Wiggins were also both in that leading group. In spite of their work in the finale, Lotto Belisol come away empty-handed.
A cheeky hands on the hips celebration from Sagan as he crossed the line, who continues his remarkable recent run of form. After dominating at the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse, the Slovak will wear the green jersey tomorrow.
In spite of his defeat, that was an ominous show of strength from Cancellara, particularly with London 2012 in mind. That said, once again, the Swiss rider found himself in driving a winning break by himself, with nobody willing to lend a hand. For Matt Goss in San Remo, read Peter Sagan in Seraing. With 800 metres to go, Cancellara attempted to wave Sagan through, but the Slovak smartly calculated that yellow jersey would plough on regardless and tow him to the win.
Cancellara does have the consolation of maintaining (though not extending) his overall lead, but he also comes away pondering the rebus of how to convert his repeated shows of strength into victories.
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
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
This is of course the prodigious Peter Sagan's Tour de France debut, and given his achievements to date, it's no surprise that he has marked it with a win. It's a scene we may get used to in the years to come. Terrifyingly, the Slovak is just 22 years of age.
Thanks for joining us for today's live coverage, we'll be back for more tomorrow on stage 2 on the road to Tournai. You can see a full report, results, pictures and video highlights of today's action here, and stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the news and reaction from Seraing.
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Mavic and Romain Bardet combine forces to raise money for Australian bushfire reliefSpecial Tour Down Under edition Mavic Comete road shoes
Tour Down Under: Riders pose with animals and hit the stage for teams presentation - GalleryA selection of photos from the event in Adelaide on Saturday evening
Egan Bernal aiming for freshness after doing 'too many kilometres' before Tour de France last yearColombian 'focused 100 per cent' on winning a second yellow jersey in 2020
Tour Down Under offers up first Viviani versus Bennett sprint clash'I don't want to be the first sprinter not to win with Deceuninck-QuickStep' says Irishman
Greipel starts Tour Down Under with hopes of rediscovering old formStage-win record holder says he wants to 'enjoy racing and riding the bike'
Rohan Dennis: A full kit overviewWe take a look at the world time trial champion's kit from head-to-toe. Featuring Castelli, Kask, Giro and Garmin