July 02, 2011
Stage 1: Gilbert win brings early Tour chaos
For a long time, Saturday's Stage 1 looked like a parade, with three drum majors leading the team floats on a quiet (if speedy) processional. Sure, there might have been a Shriner or two who tore their fez, but everyone would stay in line, there would be a quick performance for the stage win, and we would move on to the Stage 2 Team Time Trial for the first blows in the overall competition.
Late in the stage, though, we discovered it was really the parade from Animal House, with Alberto Contador and Sammy Sanchez among the hapless ROTC cadets mowed down by 10,000 marbles, the early unveiling of Leopard-Trek's Fabian “Spartacus Deathmobile” Cancellara, and a swashbuckling appearance from Philippe “Sen. John Blutarsky” Gilbert.
It was Jérémy Roy of FDJ, Perrig Quemeneur of Europcar, and Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoleil who built a gap that, at times, stretched out to more than 6:00, but were pulled back by long leading pulls by riders from Garmin-Cervelo, Omega Pharma-Lotto, and finally Quemeneur's own Europcar team.
The first appearance of the mid-race intermediate sprint meant that American Tyler Farrar was the first true sprinter to score green jersey points ahead of Andre Greipel, with green jersey favorite Mark Cavendish putting his team on the front but not effectively competing in the sprint.
After the leading trio were absorbed with about 19k in the stage, the pace remained high to the finish. With less than 9 kilometers to ride, an Astana rider trying to widen the narrow French road met up with a spectator trying to widen the quaint French roadside, and the resulting pileup left most of the GC contenders riding in a group of around 40. Caught behind were Alberto Contador, Sammy Sanchez, and Garmin-Cervelo all-rounders Ryder Hesjedal, Christian Vande Velde, and Tom Danielson.
Radio Shack and BMC immediately moved to the front and lit the afterburners, but Contador's former DS, Radio Shack's Johan Bruyneel told reporters after the stage he didn't know Contador was gapped. A further crash inside of 3 kms to the line made a gumbo of the stage standings, with riders caught in the later crash given the time of the group they were with at the time, and riders caught in the earlier crash losing time picking through the later crash.
Cancellara launched a fierce attack with about a kilometer to ride, but the favorite for the day, Omega Pharma's Philippe Gilbert followed the move he later said he had expected, and pulled away from Cancellara over the last 500 meters, with BMC's GC hope Cadel Evans closing the gap off the front of the field. At the line, Gilbert finally took his first Tour stage, Evans was second, showing he's brought great form to the race, and world champion Thor Hushovd of Garmin-Cervelo took third.
In the end, Contador and Sanchez are 1:20 back on the Tour's very first day. That isn't so much for an unheralded rider, who might sneak into a break and make up a handful of minutes, but Contador is the overall favorite, and can't make a move without 10 very strong shadows. Unless Saxo Bank has an unbelievable team time trial tomorrow, Contador will have to make this time up in the mountains.