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Tour de France 2012: Stage 1


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:

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

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.

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189km remaining from 198km

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

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,

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

Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) is a prominent figure in the white jersey of

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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. 

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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

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

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 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

81km remaining from 198km

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

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:

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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

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

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

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

38km remaining from 198km

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

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.

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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

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 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

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

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.

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Liquigas-Cannondale have a real presence near the front too, shepherding both Vincenzo Nibali and Peter Sagan.

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Andre Greipel is the man pulling on the front for Lotto Belisol. Jelle Vanendert might fancy his chances on this finale.

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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.

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George Hincapie paces Cadel Evans up the outside of the peloton and back towards the front as they enter the final 3 kilometres.

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Albasini sits in third wheel, followed by Evans, Sagan, Nibali, Boasson Hagen, Van Den Broeck and Vanendert.

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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.

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Boasson Hagen chases alone, but Cancellara and Sagan have daylight over the peloton.

1km remaining from 198km

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.


General classification:

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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