Julian Alaphilippe wins crash-marred Stage 1 of Tour de France

3 Comments

LANDERNEAU, France — The mass return of Tour de France fans coincided with chaos and crashes while world champion Julian Alaphilippe avoided most of the carnage to win the opening stage with a punchy attack.

The Frenchman was involved in the first pileup caused by a fan that took down a large part of the peloton but he remained on his bike. He surged ahead of the main pack in the final steep climb leading to the finish in Landerneau, crossing the line with an eight-second lead over Michael Matthews. Last year’s runner-up, Primoz Roglic, took third.

With France coming to life again and nearly all coronavirus restrictions lifted, the Tour got underway from the western port city of Brest in a festive atmosphere, returning to its traditional slot in the calendar after last year’s edition was pushed back to September because of the pandemic.

Throughout the day, enthusiastic fans took to the streets of picturesque villages and thousands of them lined the verdant roads of the Brittany countryside. But some were also careless.

The first big spill was caused by a fan who brandished a cardboard sign and leaned into the path of veteran rider Tony Martin, who fell off his bike and took many others down in his slipstream. The Tour cautioned fans to “respect the safety of the riders” and “Don’t risk everything for a photo or to get on television!”

The second pileup involved dozens of competitors – including four-time Tour champion Chris Froome – riding at full speed near the finish.

“It was stressful,” former Tour champion Geraint Thomas said. “I was just concentrating on staying on my bike basically. Happy to get through it.”

The battle for the stage win started just afterward in the Fosse aux Loups, a three-kilometer ascent that includes a 14% gradient. On a ground perfectly suited to his punchy style, Alaphilippe was untouchable.

He made his move with two kilometers left to leave behind odds-on Tour favorites Roglic and defending champion Tadej Pogacar.

“I can already say that my Tour is a success,” Alaphilippe said.

He became the third French world champion to take the yellow jersey on the opening day of the race after Georges Speicher in 1934 and Bernard Hinault in 1981.

Alaphillipe wore the yellow jersey for 14 days two years ago and had it for three more stages last year. He recently became a father and put his thumb in his mouth in celebration as he crossed the finish line.

“It’s huge to share that with my family. I miss them,” he said. “I did my best for them and to enjoy the moment myself. Swapping the rainbow jersey for the yellow jersey.”

Thanks to the time bonus, Alaphilippe has a 12-second lead on Matthews in the general classification, with Roglic in third, two seconds further back. Pogacar is in sixth place, 18 seconds behind Alaphilippe.

“I’m glad the first day is over and we’ll hope for a calmer stage tomorrow,” Pogacar said after claiming the white jersey for the best young rider. “But after what we saw with all the crashes there’s not much to celebrate.”

Thomas finished the stage in 10th place and limited his overall losses to 18 seconds but two of his top aides, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richie Porte, were held up by the first crash and were caught up in the second. Porte dropped 2 minutes, 26 seconds, while Geoghegan Hart was 5:43 down.

The first stage was a 198-kilometer (123-mile) trek.

A minor crash involving two riders marred the start of the stage before six riders formed the first breakaway. With 100 kilometers remaining, the sextet led the peloton by about two minutes.

Ide Schelling surged away from the leading group and prolonged his effort to build a small gap over his former breakaway companions. They were reined in by the peloton with 68 kilometers left as the Dutch rider rode alone at the front.

Schelling seemed to enjoy the experience, all smiles as he pedaled through the village of Brasparts surrounded by the loud cheers of buoyant fans.

Schelling was first at the top of the Cote de Saint-Rivoal and raised his fist in celebration. Behind, the peloton’s chase was abruptly stopped when Martin, an experienced teammate of Roglic, fell off his bike after hitting the cardboard sign brandished beside the narrow road.

Martin’s crash caused a massive pileup involving half of the peloton. Once the confusion was cleared up, Jasha Sutterlin of Germany was the first rider to retire and Martin was bloodied but riding.

Deceuninck-Quick Step riders reignited the chase with a fast tempo to catch an exhausted Schelling about 28 kilometers from the finish.

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

4 Comments

ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

5 Comments

ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”