It was disappointment for Britain’s Mark Cavendish who was delayed by a crash in the final kilometres of a chaotic first stage of the 2013 Tour de France, won by Team Argos Shimano’s Marcel Kittel.
Cavendish and his team looked to be in control of the day's stage before a series of late crashes and a tour bus lodged under the finishing gantry plunged the race into chaos, scuppering Cavendish's chances and seeing British riders Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas (pictured above) both crash.
Even before the last minute anarchy, general classification favourite Chris Froome’s 2013 Tour de France campaign had a nerve-wracking start. A minor crash in the neutralised zone meant a bike change and a chase back on, flanked by his Team Sky lieutenants. It was a non-issue in the grand scheme of things but unsettling nonetheless; Froome no doubt relieved to finish the day’s stage alongside his general classification rivals.
Stage one saw the 100th Tour de France take to the roads of Corsica for the first time in Tour history. The first of three Corsican stages, the 2013 prelude began in Porto Vecchio, taking riders south on a hilly loop into the island’s craggy interior before heading north along the east coast to Bastia. With a distance of 213km, the opening stage had just one 4th category climb and a run in that favoured a sprint finish.
An early break saw Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Lars Boom (Belkin), Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) go away. With a golden opportunity for the sprinters’ teams to secure a stage one win and with it the yellow jersey, the quintet’s chance of staying away until the finish was always slim.
Thanks to a controlling ride by Omega Pharma Quickstep throughout, the breakaway advantage was never allowed to extend beyond five minutes. Cavendish, wearing his recently acquired British national champion’s jersey, nestled into the line of blue, black and white clad teammates setting the pace at the head of the peloton for much of the stage.
As the day’s only intermediate sprint at San Giuliano approached, the sprinters’ teams began to show en-masse at the head of the peloton. With five riders up ahead, the big guns were only sprinting for minor points but nonetheless first blood in the green jersey competition went to Andre Greipel of Lotto Belisol, the big German pipping Cavendish and Cannondale’s Peter Sagan to the line. With 37 kilometres to go the breakaway was caught and the stage was set for the bunch finish.
Yet is was the teams of the general classification rivals who took over from the sprinters’ teams at the front of the peloton, Team Saxo-Tinkoff, Team Sky and BMC Racing Team keen not to find themselves on the wrong side of a potential split in the nervous run-in to Bastia. The dangers became evident as first Jonny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil DCM) crashed followed by a bunch pileup involving Ian Stannard, the Briton injuring his hip but recovering and rejoining the fray. Then chaos well and truly struck as with less than 15km to go, the Orica GreenEdge team bus became stuck beneath the finish gantry...
With the race bearing down on Bastia rapidly, race organisers frantically tried to remove the team bus, eventually dislodging it with just a few kilometres remaining, having contemplated finishing the stage at the 3km to go point. Then more drama; a crash at the front of the peloton saw Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel amongst many riders either hitting the deck or delayed, leaving the door open for Kittel to claim victory. Cavendish narrowly avoided falling but was caught behind the pile-up, wrecking his chance of pulling on the maillot jaune that so far eludes him.
All the British contenders rejoined to finish the stage, race organisers giving all riders the same time due to the confusion and the late crash.
Following the stage, ITV caught up with Mark Cavendish, who looked visibly relieved to have finished the stage in one piece:
“We heard on the radios with literally 5km to go that the finish was in 2km! Then 1km it was like, no it’s at the finish. It was just carnage you know.”
When asked to reflect on his disappointment Cavendish was philosophical:
“I wasn’t the only one – a lot of favourites for today’s stage were caught up. I’m lucky I didn’t come down. I was behind it but my teammates were a lot worse off. Tony Martin is in a bit of a state, so I can count myself pretty lucky.”
In an interview with ITV, Team Sky Principal Sir Dave Brailsford spoke of the impact of stage one on Team Sky:
"Ian Stannard went down and hurt his hip, Geraint Thomas has probably come off the worst; he's gone off for an X-ray, so we'll see, we'll get some news from that later. But all in all, we managed to cross the finish line.
"There was chaos at the end there. With the bus at the end there, one minute everyone was finishing at 3km and then they're finishing at the finish line. It's always chaotic in these races - you've got to be ready for it.
"It's part of the Tour de France - you dust yourself down, you count how many men you've got on the bus for tomorrow and off you go again."
Chris Froome, with a bloodied knee from his early crash, also spoke to ITV following the stage:
“There was a bit of a tricky corner there but I got through the rest of the day unscathed. If that’s the only crash I have this Tour I’ll take that.
“I don’t think any of us expected it was going to be plain sailing today but there were some pretty brutal crashes in the final there – another reminder that this Tour is about so much more than having the form. It’s about staying out of trouble and actually looking after ourselves in the peloton at the same time.
“I felt like guys were crashing all around me but I managed to pick my way through and chase to get back on just in time for the final but I think the organisers will give everyone a bunch time there.”
On Geraint Thomas’ condition, Froome added:
“G’s gone off to have some X-rays, just to check up. He looks okay but better to be on the safe side.” An update on the Sky Procycling team website later confirmed that Thomas had suffered no fractures and was given the all clear to continue racing.
The one British beneficiary of the calamity in Corsica was Garmin Sharp's David Millar who emerged from the drama to contest the sprint alongside Kittel, eventually finishing fourth, a bizarre end to an incredible opening day for the 2013 Tour.
1 KITTEL Marcel Team Argos - Shimano 04:56:52
2 KRISTOFF Alexander Katusha Team ,,
3 VAN POPPEL Danny Vacansoleil - DCM ,,
4 MILLAR David Garmin - Sharp ,,
5 TRENTIN Matteo Omega Pharma - Quick-Step ,,
6 DUMOULIN Samuel AG2R La Mondiale ,,
7 HENDERSON Gregory Lotto Belisol Team ,,
8 ROELANDTS Jurgen Lotto Belisol Team ,,
9 ROJAS GIL Jose Joaquin Movistar Team ,,
10 BOECKMANS Kris Vacansoleil - DCM ,,
41 FROOME Christopher Sky Procycling ,,
58 CAVENDISH Mark Omega Pharma - Quick-Step ,,
62 KENNAUGH Peter Sky Procycling ,,
165 STANNARD Ian Sky Procycling ,,
183 THOMAS Geraint Sky Procycling ,,