Marcel Kittel takes Tour opener as Cavendish and Gerrans crash

Kittel won the opening stage of the 2014 Tour, too. Again he lasted just one day in yellow.

by Matt de Neef

Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) has started the 2014 Tour de France in the same manner he started last year’s race, sprinting to victory on stage 1 after a crash-marred finale in Harrogate. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), one of the pre-stage favourites, crashed heavily with roughly 400m to go after coming into contact with Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), who also crashed.

The opening stage of the Tour’s 101st edition started in front of a massive crowd in Leeds and after a 20km neutral zone the race proper got underway. No sooner had the flag been waved than Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing) was off, establishing the day’s early breakaway with Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne-Seche Environment). The trio worked well together to quickly establish a gap which the peloton kept in control at roughly three minutes.

Huge crowds lined the first climb of the race — the fourth category “Cote de Cray” with 123km remaining — with the single KOM point taken by Edet.

The lead trio’s advantage grew to roughly four minutes as they approached the intermediate sprint in Newbiggin, 114km from the finish. Voigt leapt away from his two companions in search of the maximum 20 sprint points on offer … then kept going, embarking on a solo breakaway with 113km to go.

Hard work from the ever-popular German saw him pull more than five minutes clear of the peloton by the time there was 95km left to race, while Edet and Jarrier gave up their chase behind and started drifting back toward the main field.

Voigt pressed on solo over the “Cote de Buttertubs” taking the two KOM points on offer while Edet and Jarrier continued their backward slide, separately, towards the peloton. Huge crowds lining the roadside on the Buttertubs saw the peloton funnelled into just a few lines, with riders at the back forced to stop in the traffic jam.

Jarrier was caught with 83km to go as Lotto-Belisol started to pick up the pace for Andre Greipel, and 9km later Edet too was caught. While Voigt still had roughly three minutes ahead of the peloton, riders had been split off the back of the main field as well, due to the congestion on the Buttertubs climb.

Huge crowds again waited for the riders on the final climb of the day, the “Cote de Griton Moor”, and when Voigt hit the summit with 61km to go, he had just 50 seconds on the chasing peloton. Again riders at the back of the peloton were forced to put their feet down as the road narrowed and the crowds thickened near the top of the climb.

Voigt’s solo breakaway came to an end with 59km to go, but not before he crested Grinton Moor, securing another two points in the KOM classification.

Behind the peloton a group of riders — including Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) — were riding hard to catch back on after being split on an earlier climb. And when the Lotto-Belisol-led main field sat up slightly with around 50km to go, they were able to join the peloton once more.

With the breakaway caught and a sprint finish looming, there was somewhat of a lull as the teams of the sprinters started to make their way to the front. Lotto-Belisol was the most visible, as they had been all stage, while Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Tinkoff-Saxo were also in the mix.

A narrow left-hand bend with 20km to go saw a couple of riders overshoot the corner, but there was little damage done. And as the final 10km of the race approached, the pace in the peloton increased significantly. Lotto-Belisol continued their watchful vigil on the front of the field while a number of other teams made their bid for a position on the front of the peloton.

With 5km to the finish in Harrogate Lotto-Belisol had the peloton strung out, thanks to the efforts of Australia’s Adam Hansen, who is riding his ninth consecutive Grand Tour. But then, on a short rise 4km from the finish, the Omega Pharma-QuickStep train powered past, with no-one looking able to catch them.

Roughly 1.6km to the finish the Cofidis train did manage to move past OPQS, sprinting up the right-hand barrier, but their move was shortlived as they were swamped by Giant-Shimano, the Dutch squad joining Omega Pharma-QuickStep at the front.

On a short rise 1km from the finish Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) dashed up the right-hand side and quickly opened up a small gap. He was brought back inside 500m to go and shortly afterwards, on a slight bend in the road, Mark Cavendish and Simon Gerrans collided, sending both to the ground. Cavendish appeared to be leaning on Gerrans with his head, but when Bryan Coquard (Europcar) came up on the other side of Gerrans, he seemed to disrupt the balance of the two jostling riders, sending Gerrans and Cavendish to the ground.

Ahead of the crash, Marcel Kittel was powering away to victory at the head of a small group of four riders. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) crossed the line second while Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) rounded out the podium.

It’s being reported that Mark Cavendish has not broken his collarbone and is hopeful to start stage 2. Cavendish was in great distress by the roadside, clutching his right shoulder and needed to be pushed on his bike across the finish line. Simon Gerrans appeared to be okay after the stage and told journalists outside the team bus, “I won’t be going to hospital. I’ll be stiff and sore tomorrow. I lost a bit of skin but I’m all in one piece”.

As he did last year, Marcel Kittel goes into stage 2 of this year’s race wearing the yellow leader’s jersey. He also leads the points classification while Jens Voigt will wear the red polka dots of the KOM classification leader and Peter Sagan will wear the best young rider’s jersey.

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