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With a powerful sprint, Cavendish came around Sagan and held Kittel off to win the first stage and take the first yellow jersey at the Tour de France; Kittel and Sagan completed the podium while Contador crashed

Photo: Brian Hodes/Velo Images










02.07.2016 @ 17:36 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) achieved one of his three big goals for the 2016 season when he rode to a dominant stage win on the first stage of the Tour de France, taking his first ever yellow jersey in his third attempt. Having jumped onto Peter Sagan’s (Tinkoff) wheel in the finale, he easily came around the world champion and held off Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) to win the crash-marred bunch sprint with a big margin. Kittel had to settle for second while Sagan narrowly kept André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) off the podium.


At the start of the year, Mark Cavendish made it clear that he had three big goals for the 2016 season: to win the first stage of the Tour de France, win Olympic gold on the track in Rio and claim a second rainbow jersey in Qatar in October. Among the realistic goals for a rider with his characteristics, only the yellow jersey and the Olympic medal were missing from his palmares.


Cavendish had had two previous shots at the yellow jersey after the 2013 and 2014 editions of the race also kicked off with sprint stages and so it was his third opportunity to get the most coveted jersey in today’s opening stage in the Normandy flatlands. In both previous stages, he had been taken out by bad luck and he was keen on getting his revenge in the 2016 edition.


However, Cavendish had flown under the radar as everybody was talking about Marcel Kittel and André Greipel for the opening stage and so there wasn’t a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders when it all came down to the expected bunch sprint. However, he proved that he still has what it takes to win as he rode to an impressive victory in a direct battle with Kittel.


A brief crosswind attack at the midpoint and a crash for Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) had been the dramatic highlights on a day that was calmer than expected despite the windy conditions. It was always apparent that it was going to be a bunch sprint and things were on track for the big battle when the final two escapees were caught with 5km to go.


Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) lined out the two biggest trains in each side of the road and maintained a hard pace while Sagan latched onto Kittel’s wheel. Dimension Data started to move up next to the Etixx riders when Iljo Keisse and Adam Hansen took over the pace-setting.


The Etixx-QuickStep train got split and this forced them to slow down when LottoNL-Jumbo surged to the front with less than 3km to go. Maarten Wynants and Sep Vanmarcke both took huge turns before dropping Dylan Groenewegen off on the back of the Katusha train which hit the front with Marco Haller, Jacopo Guarnieri, Michael Mørkøv and Alexander Kristoff.


Dimension Data sprinted next to the Katusha riders but it was Lotto Soudal who won the battle, taking control with Jurgen Roelandts, Jens Debusschere, Greg Henderson and Greipel. The two Belgians both took turns before Guarnieri briefly came to the fore under the flamme rouge.


Maximilano Richeze did the lead-out for Kittel and dropped the German off. However, it was a bit too early and he lost position when Mark Renshaw hit the front, without having Cavendish on his wheel. Greg Henderson took over for Lotto Soudal but he had lost Greipel too and instead he had Cavendish behind him.


Cavendish reacted quickly when Sagan launched a long sprint while Kittel had to start from far back. While the German started to pass the world champion, Cavendish stayed out of the wind and then launched his sprint. He easily came around Sagan and as Kittel was fading, he put metres into the German who had to settle for second. Sagan narrowly held off Greipel who came from far back to take fourth.


A big crash in the finale saw Michael Mørkøv (Katusha), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) hit the deck. The incident also took Groenewegen out of contention but the Dutchman didn’t go down.


Cavendish now leads the race with a four-second advantage over Kittel. He won’t have much of a chance to defend his jersey as the riders face the first climbing tomorrow. A lumpy start with three category 4 climbs leads to a flat middle section before the terrain again gets hillier. In the final 10km, the riders first face an uncategorized climb and the category 3 Cote de La Glacerie (1.9km, 6.5%) whose top comes just 1.5km from the finish. Then the road levels out until the road tamps up at 5.7% for 700m.


A flat opener

The 103rd edition of the Tour de France kicked off with a mostly flat 188km stage that brought the riders from the spectacular island of Mont-Saint-Michel to Utah Beach. The riders spent most of the first 100km along the Normandy coast where two early category 4 climbs determined the holder of the first mountains jersey. The terrain was mostly flat and that didn’t change when the riders headed inland to reach the opposite coast which they followed for a few kilometres before they again left the sea for the final part. The last 5.5km followed a long, flat, straight road that led the riders to the finish at Utah Beach.


The riders had windy and sunny conditions when they gathered for the start on Mont-Saint-Michel. There were plenty of nervous faces as they rolled through the neutral zone before they stopped for an opening ceremony on the island. The Lotto Soudal riders were prominent on the front as they started to ride again, ready to control things as soon as the flag was waved.


Three riders get clear

Right from the start, Leigh Howard (IAM) attacked and he was joined by the Bora-Argon 18 pair of Paul Voss and Jan Barta. While Alex Howes (Cannondale) and Anthony Delaplace (Foruneo-Vital Concept) took off in pursuit, the peloton was content with the situation and as they rolled along at a steady pace, the gap went out to 3 minutes in just 8 kilometres.


This was the signal for Etixx-QuickStep and Lotto Soudal to kick into action and it was Julien Vermote and Thomas De Gendt who hit the front to keep the situation under control. Meanwhile, Diego Rosa (Astana) became the first rider to hit the deck in this year’s Tour but he escaped the incident with no injuries.


Voss takes off

The front trio were riding for the mountains jersey and refused to wait for the two chasers who were stuck 15-20 seconds behind the leaders before they started to lose ground. Meanwhile, the front trio were working well together until they were less than 5km from the first KOM sprint.


The fight for the mountains jersey started when Barta launched a first attack. Howard responded immediately but when Voss countered, he had nothing left. The German immediately got a big gap and when he hit the climb, it was already apparent that he would win the sprint. He reached the top with a 40-second advantage over Howard and Barta. De Gendt and Vermote led the peloton over the line 4.45 behind the leader.


Voss takes the mountains jersey

Voss didn’t wait for his chasers and maintained a 40-second advantage until Howes and Delaplace caught Barta and Howard with 160km to go. With Barta sitting on, the rest of the group worked together in a desperate attempt to try to bring Voss back during the next 10km.


At the bottom of the 1km climb, the gap was down to just 15 seconds and Voss had to dig extremely deep to hold on. He made it and so just had to reach the finish to get the first mountains jersey. De Gendt and Vermote led the peloton to the top 4.00 behind the lone German.


Puncture for Cavendish

As expected, Voss decided to wait for his chasers and so a quintet gathered in front for the final 150km. After the hectic chase, they closed down significantly and so the gap dropped to 2.55 during the next 10km.


From there, the gap stabilized and there was no stress while Vermote and De Gendt kept the gap at 2.50. Only Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) had a nervous moment when he suffered a puncture, but Bernhard Eisel easily brought him back.


Cannondale try to split the field

With 100km to go, the gap had dropped to 2.30 and it was still Vermote and De Gendt who did all the work in the peloton. At this point, they approached an exposed section and this created some stress, witg Movistar, Katusha, Cannondale, BMC and Tinkoff moving up next to the Lotto and Etixx riders.


The faster pace reduced the gap to 2.10 as they passed through the feed zone. Moments later, Cannondale made the expected attack in the crosswinds when Sebastian Langeveld and Matti Breschel hit the front. Movistar with Imanol Erviti, Jesus Herrada, Ion Izagirre and Nairo Quintana and Katusha with Marco Haller and Jacopo Guarnieri immediately joined the action. While the front part of the peloton didn’t split, a big group with the likes of Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE), Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) and Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie) lost contact and they immediately lost a lot of ground.


Contador goes down

Even Pierre Rolland (Cannondale) and Quintana took turns on the front before Etixx-QuickStep calmed things down with Tony Martin. However, the fast pace had brought the gap down to one minute and it continue to drop when Movistar hit the front with Nelson Oliveira. Later Martin and Iljo Keisse again took over for Etixx-QuickStep.


With 78km to go, the big drama happened. Tinkoff had taken control with Matteo Tosatto when Alberto Contador slid out in a roundabout, bringing Luke Rowe (Sky) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC) down in the process. The Spaniard was back on his bike immediately but a bike change slowed his chase down. At the same time, Geraint Thomas (Sky) was also forced into chase mode as he suffered a puncture.


Voss sits up

Almost the entire Tinkoff team gathered around Contador and started the chase in a group that also included Daniel Navarro (Cofidis). Luckily, the peloton slowed significantly down which allowed the Tinkoff group to slowly close the gap. Rafal Majka, Michael Valgren, Matteo Tosatto, Oscar Gatto and Maciej Bodnar paced their leader back to the peloton which was led by Movistar and Katusha.


While Contador chased, Voss decided to wait for the peloton, leaving just four riders to press on with an advantage of 45 seconds. Lotto Soudal took control in the peloton before Etixx-QuickStep again came to the fore with Vermote.


Greipel wins the sprint

With 69.5km to go, the front group contested the intermediate sprint where Barta tried a long sprint. However, Howard was in a class of his own, easily coming around the Czech before Howes rolled across the line in third followed by Delaplace.


In the peloton, Etixx-QuickStep did a full lead-out for Kittel but the German was beaten by Greipel. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff), Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Cavendish were next to cross the line.


The break splits up

After the sprint, the peloton again calmed down as Vermote hit the front for Etixx and this gave Contador time to receive medical assistance for his injured shoulder. De Gendt also came to the fore and the two Belgians kept the gap stable at 40 seconds.


The gap dropped to 25 seconds and this was the signal for Delaplace to attack. With less than 60km to go, the Frenchman made his move and only Howes followed him. While they pushed the advantage out to 40 seconds, Howard and Barta were brought back.


Mechanical for van Garderen

De Gendt and Vermote got some welcome assistance from Angel Vicioso (Katusha) as the peloton calmed even more down and they allowed the gap to go out to a minute as they entered the final 50km. However, as they again approached the coast, the nervousness again intensified and so the gap had dropped to 30 seconds with 35km to go.


The big teams again gathered on the front when Etixx-QuickStep, Lotto Soudal, Movistar and Cannondale lined their teams out on the front. Howes and Delaplace were dangling just 15 seconds ahead of the peloton but refused to give up and stayed there for several kilometres. Meanwhile, there was some stress in the BMC camp as both Michael Schär and one of the captains, Tejay van Garderen, had mechanicals. Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida) was involved in a small crash but was back on the bike with no consequences.


Delaplace attacks

Jesus Herrada, Erviti, Izagirre (Movistar), Vermote (Etixx-QuickStep), Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal), Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) and Breschel (Cannondale) rode on the front of the peloton for several kilometres as they turned into a headwind. This slowed the group down and so the escapees managed to push their advantage out to 35 seconds.


With 18km to go, Delaplace tried again but Howes refused to let him go. Instead, the American gave it a go but the pair was still together with a 25-second advantage when they entered the final 15km.


A waiting game

Cannondale disappeared from the front and Vermote got some help from Petr Vakoc but otherwise the waiting game continued for another five kilometres. That gave Jerome Cousin (Cofidis) plenty of time to rejoin the peloton when he was involved in a small solo crash


Impressively, the waiting game continued and the gap was still 20 seconds with 6km to go. However, as they approached the final turns, Gallopin and Vakoc upped the pace and as they passed under the 5km to go banner, the break was caught. Timo Roosen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Angelo Tulik (Direct Energie) hit the deck but that didn’t stop the speeding peloton which prepared itself for the dramatic bunch sprint.



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