Tour de France 2018: Chris Froome tumbles into ditch as Fernando Gaviria wins Stage 1
Britain’s Chris Froome left the road and Nairo Quintana suffered a costly puncture in a hectic conclusion to the opening stage of the Tour de France, expertly won by the Colombian Fernando Gaviria in a reduced bunch sprint.
Team Sky’s Froome, the defending champion targeting a record-equalling fifth Tour win, was edged into a ditch after a clash of shoulders with Rick Zabel of Katusha-Alpecin at the business end of the 201km stage from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile to Fonteney-le-Comte in the Vendee.
But the trio conceded 51 seconds to the stage winner Gaviria of Quick-Step Floors to lose valuable time to the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida), Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) and other general classification favourites.
And yet there was even worse news for the hotly tipped Quintana (Movistar) who was victim of a late puncture which cost him a further 24 seconds.
Gaviria held the Slovakian world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) at bay to draw first blood and snare the first yellow jersey of the 105th edition of the race. The 23-year-old became the first rider to win a stage on his Tour debut since Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara in 2004.
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) and Frenchman Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) completed the top five after an initial crash in the peloton some 11km from the finish split the pack and dashed the hopes of Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ).
Britain’s Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) avoided the spills but was poorly positioned and unable to add to his tally of 30 wins on the Tour in a chaotic finale to an otherwise sedate stage in north-west France.
THREE-MAN BREAK: Kevin Ledanois (Fortuneo-Samsic), Jerome Cousin (Direct Energie) and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) attacked from the outset to build up a maximum lead of four minutes in bright sunshine and temperatures that pushed thirty degrees Celsius.
Cousin led the French trio through the intermediate sprint with a two-minute gap over the pack as Gaviria set the tone behind, mopping up maximum green jersey points for fourth place ahead of the likes of Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Demare and Sagan.
Meanwhile, Lawson Craddock (EF Education First-Drapac) nursed his wounds from an earlier crash in the feedzone; the American cut his forehead and looked to have badly damaged a shoulder.
POLKA-DOT PRIZE: Youngster Ledanois capped a memorable opening day of his maiden Grand Tour by taking the solitary KOM point over the summit of the Cat.4 Cote de Vix inside the final 30km to secure the first polka dot jersey of the race.
The 24-year-old then dropped back and was first to be caught by the pack, from which Belgian Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale) had attacked with 18km remaining.
Cousin, Offredo and Naesen picked up the bonus seconds at the new bonus sprint with 13.5km remaining before the race blew apart with a series of incidents that ensured the 2018 Tour would get off to a dramatic start.
FRANTIC FINALE: With 11km remaining and the escapees swept up, a mini pile-up near the front of the pack saw Demare hit the deck and held up a number of big-name riders – most notably Porte and Yates.
Team Sky’s debutant Egan Bernal – the youngest rider on the race – then hit the deck when the road narrowed and the pace increased. By now there were numerous groups all over the road and the atmosphere was tense – setting the scene perfectly for Froome's big scare.
Riding on the edge of the road around a sweeping bend, Froome clashed shoulders with Zabel with 5km remaining and came off second best – the impact sending the reigning Tour, Vuelta and Giro champion sprawling into a field and dangerously close to a bollard.
Froome, 33, was able to join a chasing group alongside his former team-mate Porte after the Australian was caught out in the earlier Demare incident.
Adding yet more intrigue, Quintana then punctured just outside the 3km zone. The 28-year-old was marooned on the side of the road during a slow wheel change from the neutral support motorbike as the select chasing group agonisingly zipped by.
Twice runner-up to Froome in the Tour, Quintana finished alongside Movistar team-mate Andrey Amador and compatriot Bernal some 1’15” minutes behind the superb Gaviria and the main field.
“We have to keep going. It is what it is,” Quintana said after his opening day disappointment. “The only consolation is that Chris Froome also lost time. We have to stay ahead and try to recover what I lost today.”
For his part, Froome remained stoic following his scare. “We always knew the first few days were going to be tricky – it’s part of the game, unfortunately. But that’s bike racing. I’m just grateful I’m not injured in any way.”
With bonus seconds taken into account, Gaviria leads Sagan by four seconds on GC with Kittel in third a further two seconds back. Defending champion Froome is 61 seconds down alongside both Yates and Porte while Quintana is 1'25" down.
GAVIRIA GLORY: Having won four stages in his maiden Giro d’Italia last year, Gaviria continued his ascendancy with an assured win over Sagan, whom he leads by four seconds in the early overall standings and by 26 points in the battle for green.
“It really is an amazing day for me and it’s really good for my team,” said Quick-Step Floors talisman Gaviria after becoming only the second Colombian to don the maillot jaune after Victor Hugo Pena in 2003.
" We were set up for this and ready to succeed. The yellow jersey is something everyone wants to wear and to get in on the first day is truly amazing. We’ll try and keep it as long as we can. It was a tricky arrival and we knew that some of the big riders were behind us. But my team did well – we had a clear plan and we managed to get a victory."
COMING UP: Sunday’s 182.5km Stage 2 from Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to La Roche-sur-Yon is largely pan-flat but includes an early Cat.4 climb which should suit an early raid for polka dot points. A fast finish will give Gaviria the chance to double up and will see the battle for yellow and green intensify.