Slovak sensation Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale has claimed his debut Tour de France stage win on his very first road stage, attacking with maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara on a brutal final climb to the finish of Stage 1 of the 99th edition in Seraing and biding his time before nipping out from the RadioShack-Nissan rider's slipstream just before the line. Only Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky was able to bridge across to the lead pair, but the Norwegian, winner of two Tour de France stages last year, had to be content with third today. The chasing group immediately behind contained the favourites for this year's race, defending champion Cadel Evans of BMC Racing, Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins and Saga's team mate, Vincenzo Nibali. Meanwhile Tony Martin is reported to have broken his collarbone which could put him not only out of not just the Tour de France, but also next month's Olympic Games. There has been no update on his condition as of late Sunday evening.
For Cancellara, the finale must have prompted memories of his narrow defeat to Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans at Milan-San Remo in March, with Sagan employing similar tactics to the Australian in sitting back and biding his time to launch his attack once there was no possibility of Cancellara being able to respond.
It was an explosive finale to a stage that had mainly been ridden at a relatively low-key pace until it burst into life inside the closing 25 kilometres, with a couple of crashes as well as crosswinds splitting the peloton and forcing many riders to go flat out to try and get back onto the main group.
Among those who lost time today was Vuelta runner-up Chris Froome of Team Sky, who punctured as the stage neared its conclusion and lost more than a minute.
Ahead of what proved to be the decisive move by Cancellara and Sagan, Sylvain Chavanel had launched his own bid to try and get into the maillot jaune.
The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider, who had two spells in yellow during the 2010 Tour, had been in third place overall this morning after an impressive Prologue yesterday.
This afternoon, he attacked as the front bunch headed up the two-kilometre ascent of the Côte de Seraing, the final climb of the 198 kilometre stage from Liège, which looped around the Belgian countryside almost back to where it began, never straying far from Philippe Gilbert’s home town of Remouchamps.
Chavanel managed to get some daylight over the chasing bunch, but was soon brought back by the group, led by Orica-GreenEdge’s Michael Albasini, whose team had been prominent at the front of the bunch alongside Lotto-Belisol as it hammered along the banks of the Meuse ahead of that final climb.
Once Cancellara and Sagan were off the front, however, they weren't going to be caught, and while Boasson Hagen did get across, his efforts in reaching them meant he had nothing left to challenge for the win.
If the main group were immediately behind as Sagan crossed the line to celebrate his first win on the Tour, it was only because he and Cancellara had eased off the pace in the closing hundred metres or so.
Passing under the 25 kilometres to go banner, a six-man breakaway group’s lead over the peloton had been cut to a little over a minute, but they’d got the job done of getting their team sponsors’ names in front of the TV cameras, and one of its members, Michael Mørkøv of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, had done enough on the day’s four categorised climbs to get himself into the polka dot jersey.
The 27-year-old, more at home on the track than in the mountains, becomes the first Dane to wear the jersey since Michael Rasmussen in the 2007 Tour, the latter being sacked mid-race by his Rabobank team while in the maillot jaune for lying about his whereabouts when training earlier that year.
Inside the final 25 kilometres, two crashes occurred in quick succession, the first bringing down riders including Michael Rogers of Team Sky and Rabobank's Luis Leon Sanchez, who tweeted after the stage that he had fractured the scaphoid bone in his wrist but planned to continue in the race. The second of those crashes was caused by riders swerving to avoid a spectator standing by the roadside after apparently getting through a gap in the barriers so he could take photographs seemingly less costly in terms of injuries, but holding a number of men up.
Also struggling after a crash much earlier in the stage was Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tony Martin, who experienced frustration yesterday after puncturing in the Prologue on a day on which, as reigning world time trial champion, he had been one of the favourites to take the maillot jaune.
Today, the German, who missed a couple of months racing earlier in the season after he was hit by a car while out on a training ride in Switzerland, was involved in a crash some 11 kilometres into the stage, and on several occasions drifted back to the race doctor’s car to have his left wrist looked at. Following the stage, it was reported that Martin had broken his collarbone ad not only out of the rest of the Tour de France, but also London 2012 where he was targetting the time trial. His team said only that he had gone to hospital and that an update would be issued later - as of midnight Sunday Belgian time, no news had been forthcoming.
The day’s breakway was already well up the road by the time that early crash took place, with six riders – Yohann Gène of Europcar, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Pablo Urtasun, AG2R’s Maxime Bouet, Nicolas Edet of Cofidis and Anthony Delaplace of Saur-Sojasun, as well as Mørkøv – in the escape.
It was Gène who took the maximum 20 points on offer at the day’s intermediate sprint, which cam with 81 kilometres still to ride, and behind the leaders the pace in the peloton had been ratcheted up as the first skirmish in the battle for the points classification loomed.
Mark Cavendish has said that the Olympics is his priority rather than trying to defend the green jersey he won in last year’s race but today the world champion, wearing a yellow helmet as all the Team Sky riders did to designate them as the leaders in the team classification, was among a number of big-name sprinters who fought hard to be the first in the peloton across line at that intermediate sprint.
With points on offer to the first 15 riders across and a number of riders harbouring hopes of taking the mailot vert, there was plenty of incentive to scrap for the maximum nine points left once the breakaway had gone through, and it was a quartet former Highroad riders – Matt Goss, Mark Cavendish, André Greipel and Mark Reshaw – who led the bunch across in that order.
As things stand, Cancellara continues to lead the points classification, but of course he will wear the maillot jaune tomorrow, with the green jersey being sported instead for the first time – but by no means the last, we suspect – by Peter Sagan. To celebrate his first Tour de France stage win, Sagan will be riding a new custom bike from team sponsors Cannondale that goes by the name 'The Tourminator.'
First time Tour de France stage winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale):
"I knew it was one of the best chances I’d get, but at the Tour de France you have to compete against the best riders in top form. I didn’t have the best feeling at the start and it was only as the race progressed that I started to feel better and think I might have a chance of trying to win.
"I have to thank the entire team as they got me to the front in the run-in to the finish when the situation wasn’t very easy to manage. First I thought about going on my own on the decisive final climb then decided to mark Cancellara. DS Zanatta and Scirea had advised me in the meeting this morning not to lose his wheel as he would probably attack.
"I’m very happy, also because I was a bit disappointed after yesterday’s prologue; I’d expected something more. Today’s win was a difficult one and it made me understand what’s so special about the Tour compared with other races: so many people at the side of the road cheering you on, journalists from all over the world looking at you, a very high tempo race and you mustn’t ever lose your concentration … well, you can tell straightway that it’s different.
"Now I mustn’t get carried away with all the excitement. I’ve always planned to race this Tour one day at a time and that’s what I’ll do until we get to Paris. The green jersey? It’s a dream; let’s see if I can make it come true."
Maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Nissan), second today:
“There was still something missing but my confidence is growing, especially finishing the way I did today in a hectic finale,” said Swiss champion Cancellara after accepting his 23rd Tour jersey. Cancellara took second place behind a victorious Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale.
“I tried to get Sagan to come through to do some work, I think we could have gained time, but he wouldn’t, just like in Milano Sanremo. During the race I asked him to put a teammate up in the front to pull but he claimed he wasn’t sure he had the legs today. I know how it is in your first Tour de France. It’s always difficult. But attacking and then stopping and ending up somewhere in the back is not my style. When I go, I like to really go and put the hammer down.
“I saw that final after the press conference yesterday, so I knew what was ahead. With the team working so hard all day I wanted to attack I felt that was my best defence. I didn’t want other riders coming over the top of me and leaving me in tenth place. I wouldn’t say I’m happier than I was yesterday, but I will say I’ve gained more confidence. That’s important for these next few stages. A big thanks to the team. When I saw this final I knew it would be perfect for an attack of my kind and I’m happy I finished in the manner I did. Next time I’ll play poker better.”
Dave Brailsford, team principal at Team Sky:
"It was a good effort. All in all it was important that Brad didn't lose any time. He was quite confident. We'd had a look that on the climb he could cruise up. It was easier to move up on a climb than it was on the flat. He just waited for that and moved up very easily on the climb."
"Eddy was always going to go for the stage. I think he bridged across really, really well but by the time he got there I think he just about ran out of legs."
Sean Yates, sports director at Team Sky:
“Bradley was able to stay out of trouble which was the main thing today. It was good to see Edvald up there to take a good result at the finish.
“Froomey was unlucky to puncture just at the wrong moment as we hit the waterfront along the river. It was lined out going 70k an hour. Richie [Porte] waited along with Christian [Knees]. By the time they came back to the convoy riders were getting shelled. It was not possible to get back on. Riders were all over the place.
“Mick [Rogers] also came down but managed to get back for the finish. It was a good effort from the team up to that point. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about bits of bad luck like that.”
Third overall Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step):
"I tried to attack in the steepest part of the climb. I knew that it was more or less impossible to wait for the end for the sprint. Guys like Boasson Hagen and Sagan are better than me in a finish like that. So I tried to attack a bit early.
"When Cancellara jumped on my wheel and attacked, I thought maybe someone else could take the wheel of Cancellara. So I stopped a little bit, but when I started again the race as away. Two guys away, Boasson Hagen was chasing at that time.
"So I decided to stay in the peloton through the end. I arrived near the front, but it was impossible to make the sprint. At the end I am happy because I was 12th. I did my race. I have no regrets about the stage today, it was not my stage. My condition is good and I will try again."
Tweet of the Day:
"How good must someone be to win their FIRST EVER Tour de France road stage?! Amazing ride by Peter Sagan! Happy with how I felt today too." - World champion Mark Cavendish
Reaction to follow
Tour de France Stage 1 Result 1 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 04h 58' 19'' 2 CANCELLARA Fabian RADIOSHACK-NISSAN All at same time 3 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 4 GILBERT Philippe BMC RACING TEAM 5 MOLLEMA Bauke RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 6 VALVERDE Alejandro MOVISTAR TEAM 7 GESINK Robert RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 8 MARTIN Daniel GARMIN-SHARP-BARRACUDA 9 HESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN-SHARP-BARRACUDA 10 DEVENYNS Dries OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 11 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen LOTTO-BELISOL TEAM 12 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 13 GERRANS Simon ORICA GREENEDGE 14 DUMOULIN Samuel COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 15 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 16 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 17 BRAJKOVIC Janez ASTANA PRO TEAM 18 ROCHE Nicolas AG2R LA MONDIALE 19 ROLLAND Pierre TEAM EUROPCAR 20 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM Stage 1 last man home 198 LEVARLET Guillaume SAUR-SOJASUN + 08' 52'' Genaral Classification after Stage 1 1 CANCELLARA Fabian RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 05h 05' 32'' 2 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 07'' 3 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP + 00' 07'' 4 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 10'' 5 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 11'' 6 MENCHOV Denis KATUSHA TEAM + 00' 13'' 7 GILBERT Philippe BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 13'' 8 EVANS Cadel BMC RACING TEAM + 00' 17'' 9 NIBALI Vincenzo LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 18'' 10 CANHESJEDAL Ryder GARMIN-SHARP-BARRACUDA + 00' 18'' Points Classification after Stage 1 1 CANCELLARA Fabian RADIOSHACK-NISSAN 55 pts 2 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 49 pts 3 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING 42 pts 4 GILBERT Philippe BMC RACING TEAM 33 pts 5 CHAVANEL Sylvain OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 23 pts Mountains Classification after Stage 1 1 MORKOV Michael TEAM SAXO BANK-TINKOFF BANK 3 pts 2 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE 1 pt 3 URTASUN Pablo EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI 1 pt Young Riders' Classification after Stage 1 1 VAN GARDEREN Tejay BMC RACING TEAM 05h 05' 42'' 2 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald SKY PROCYCLING + 00' 01'' 3 ESTTAARAMAE Rein COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE + 00' 12'' 4 POELS Wouter VACANSOLEIL-DCM + 00' 14'' 5 SAGAN Peter LIQUIGAS-CANNONDALE + 00' 14''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.