Forecast fretting flops as ‘farmer’s son’ collects unexpected yellow

An opening Tour de France day that rained on almost everybody's parade apart from Yves Lampaert.

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All week, Copenhagen locals had warned that the sunny, humid weather was rare. Usually, they only get one week of pure summer, and it usually comes in August.

That solitary week arrived early and came to an abrupt halt soon after Frenchman Jeremy Lecroq (B&B Hotels) rolled out of the start hut to begin the 2022 Tour de France, as the heavens opened and the rain started to fall.

Looking at the start times, all of the main contenders for the stage and the overall were unusually packed into the first half of start hut roll-outs as teams tried to predict the weather forecast. Yet the rain came early and put paid to plans for their leaders to undertake dry efforts against the clock.

Stefan Bissegger (EF Education EasyPost) was the first of the contenders for stage victory to set off and fell three times in an ominous warning to everyone else yet to start. The Swiss rider loves to push it to the limit but this was a step too far, a scowl on his face as he crossed the finish line, wounds clearly on display.

Mathieu van der Poel refused to take those risks, saying it was really tricky to see the corners were in the wet. “I also made quite a big mistake in one corner where I lost a bit of time,” he admitted. “Also on the flat I didn’t have the best legs but I tried.”

Cofidis’ Benjamin Thomas said the key was to set your tyres at a lower pressure, and that you couldn’t help but brake more. “In the recon, you touch [ your brakes] twice and now you touch it ten times at least,” he said.

Despite his caution, Van der Poel held the provisional stage lead until the trio of Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) started in quick succession just as the rain relented a touch.

You needed a lot of luck to keep it upright, Ag2r Citroën’s Ben O’Connor said after his effort, having lost around 45 seconds to the likes of Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič. But the Australian added that despite the slipperiness there were still a lot of areas where you could really push.

Ganna, the world time trial champion, came through first, and despite a puncture, he’d lopped three seconds off Van der Poel’s time and wheeled around soon after the finish line to assume the hot seat. But then Van Aert stormed through, gurning through effort, looking mean. A fist bump exchanged with Van der Poel as they went opposite ways, one to the hot seat and the other to the buses.

Pogačar followed, he didn’t have enough to beat the Belgian but put in a solid effort to reinforce how he’s feeling as he aims for a third yellow jersey, putting eight or so seconds into Vingegaard and Roglič.

After the stage, UAE Team Emirates team manager ‘Matxin’ Joxean Fernández urged calm over the seconds stolen by his rider but agreed the mental victory over his main challengers was crucial after even this early stage.

That looked to be it with all of the heavy hitters finished. And after the drama of the rain and ensuing crashes the roadside fans started to empty slightly as people chose a respite from the wet.

But then Yves Lampaert came across the line, five seconds quicker than Van Aert, condemning his compatriot to yet another second place.

With the final riders safely over the line, Lampaert’s victory was confirmed.

Lampaert is a man of few words. While he may race in an attractive fashion, the passion for cycling doesn’t leak out of him. Yet the emotion woke everyone from their slumber, pouring out as he realised the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France was his.

In the post-stage interview, he was animated, motioning that his head had exploded by what he’d achieved.

“I came with the expectation that a top 10 would be great,” he said of the stage, his voice cracking, a disappointing spring campaign and the pressure of being in a contract year lifted off of his shoulders.

“Now I’ve beaten all the best riders in the world – I’m just a farmer’s son from Belgium, eh?

“To do this, I never expected it. I cannot believe it. I know I’m in good condition but to win a stage in the Tour de France, the first stage? This is something I never could dream have and I did it.”

Tomorrow will see the chance for more dreams to be both made and ended as the peloton tackle the first road stage of the race where crosswinds and a fight for position onto an 18km-long bridge will see nerves jangling for the GC riders.

“If I’d hit the deck today I would have been pretty pissed and I think the team would have been too,” O’Connor said, summing up the feeling amongst all of those overall contenders who emerged unscathed from a rainy opening day. “It’s the same for all the GC guys. You can take as much risk as you want but in the end, all of the major gains are going to be made more in the final TT of this year’s Tour de France. And tomorrow and the day after that. It’s not just one day.”

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