Argos-Shimano's Marcel Kittel is the first wearer of the maillot jaune in the 100th edition of the Tour de France following chaotic scenes towards the end of the opening stage on Corsica, with a crash with around 5km to go taking out the big favourite for the stage, Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, as well as Cannondale's Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel of Lotto-Belisol.
The crash, which took place as organisers desperately tried to move the Orica-GreenEdge bus which had been stuck under the finish line arch, also held up overall contenders including two-time winner Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff and BMC Racing's Tejay van Garderen, winner of the best young rider's classification last year.
Early reports of casualties include Tony Martin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, said to have broken his collarbone and to have lost consciousness inside the team bus after the stage, plus Team Sky's Geraint Thomas, reportedly taken to hospital for an x-ray.
Garmin-Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal had crashed shortly beforehand, with advertising banners billowing into the road towards the end of the 213km stage from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia causing a series of chutes, but shortly after the stage finished organisers ASO confirmed that all riders would be given the same time today.
Race favourite Chris Froome of Team Sky – whose Tour got off to an inauspicious start when he fell and had to change bikes while the race was still neutralised – managed to avoid the carnage, as did team-mate Richie Porte, although another Sky rider, Ian Stannard, did come down in one of those crashes.
It was a frantic end to a stage that had been expected to end with Cavendish, winner of the points jersey in the Giro d’Italia last month and the British road championship in Glasgow last weekend, become just the third rider from these shores to have led all three of cycling’s Grand Tours, the others being David Millar and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Today, the first visit of the Tour de France to Corsica, presented the first opportunity in nearly half a century for an out and out sprinter to take the maillot jaune on the first day, and while Cavendish will have another opportunity in his mother’s home town of Harrogate in 12 months’ time, he will be cursing his luck today.
He avoided hitting the deck – others, including Sagan, were less lucky – but there was no chance of him rejoining a small front group that fought it out for the stage win, Kittel prevailing over Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff, with Danny van Poppel of Vancansoleil-DCM third.
The frantic finale to the stage showed the value of race radios to communicate to the riders what was happening at the finish after the Orica-GreenEdge bus became stuck on the line; at one point, it looked as though the end of the stage would have to be moved forward for safety reasons.
Even so, there was still evident confusion in the peloton about exactly what was happening - stage winner Kittel said he had no idea about the bus beinb stuck, while Lotto-Belisol's Greg Henderson said on Twitter afterwards that he believed the finish line had been moved to 3km from the end of the stage.
The opening road stage of any Tour de France is stressful enough as those seeking to contest the win, as well as the GC hopefuls, look to stay near the front of the peloton to keep out of trouble, but there’s little doubt that the reports coming back from the finish line would have added to the peloton’s nervousness as it headed towards the finish.
The start of the Tour’s first ever stage on Corsica had been greeted with azure skies and bright sunshine, and until that chaotic finale had run true to the predicted script, with an early break that would never be given too much leeway before being brought back by the sprinters’ teams.
Those five riders who made up the day’s break had got away almost immediately after the flag dropped to signal the start of the three-week race, the move initiated by Europcar’s Jerome Cousin.
He was joined by the ever combative Juan Antonio Flecha of Vacansoleil-DCM, Euskaltel’s Juan Jose Lobato, the Saur Sojasun rider Cyril Lemoine, and Lars Boom, sporting the new Belkin kit after the team formerly racing as Blanco secured new sponsorship this week.
There was just one climb counting towards the mountains classification on today’s stage, the Category 4 Côte de Sotta, crested just 45.5km into the stage, and it was Lobato who took the solitary point on offer to ensure he will be wearing the polka dot jersey tomorrow.
The two men riding for Dutch teams went head to head for the intermediate sprint which came with 63km left to ride, Flecha launching the initial attack, Boom responding and passing the Spaniard to take the maximum 20 points.
Behind, the first volleys were fired in the green jersey competition proper, André Greipel taking the sprint for sixth place – and with it, 10 points – from Cavendish and Sagan, who got 9 and 8, respectively.
Predictions had been that those three would be the men most likely to battle for the stage win today, and with it the right to wear the maillot jaune tomorrow, but the carnage late on saw Kittel emerge as stage winner and race leader on the first day of what is shaping up to be a memorable Corsican debut for the Tour.
Tomorrow’s Stage 2 covers 156km from Bastia to Ajaccio and even this early in the race is expected to provide a tough test – and potential hazard – for those with ambitions of standing on the podium in Paris in three weeks’ time, including a Category 2 climb as the race heads from the west coast to the east one across Corsica’s interior.
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.