One of the favorites for the title in 2008, Alejandro Valverde (GCE) proved that his reputation is warranted by winning the opening stage, taking the yellow and relegating some of the other major general classification contenders to the minor places. On a course that many suggested would suit the strong sprinters who can also climb, the first Spanish winner of la Fleche Wallonne bolted past this yearâ€™s champion of the Ardennes Classic, Kim Kirchen, in the final 200m and into the lead to claim his second Tour de France stage win.
The Progress Report
The 197.5km first stage, from Brest to Plumelec, began at 12.29pm. There were 180 riders at the sign on. The opening day boasted four category-four climbs: the cote de Ty-Jopic (at 29.5km), cote de Kerivarcâ€™h (at 48.5km), the col de Toullaeron (at 85.5km) and the cote de Guenerve (at 146.5km). There were three intermediate sprints: in Plonevez-du-Fauo (at 62km), Gourin (90.5km), and Remungol (157km). The weather was cool with the temperature at the start 18 degrees Celsius but the roads were dry and the threat of rain never eventuated. There was a strong wind, with gusts up to 50km/h, blowing from the south west.
Eight-Man Escape Group
The first attack of the 2008 race was from Lilian Jegou (FDJ) at the 3km mark. He was joined by Perez (EUS), Voeckler (BTL), Schroder (MRM), De La Fuente (SDV), Arrieta (ALM), Lequatre (AGR), and Auge (COF). At 10km, their advantage was 2â€™20â€ť and it grew rapidly. At the summit of the first climb, the advantage of the eight was 8â€™15â€ť. This was the maximum gain of the escape. Voeckler attacked on the cote de Ty-Jopic but was outsprinted by Schroder at the top. An array of teams â€“ primarily Liquigas, Credit Agricole, Rabobank and Caisse dâ€™Epargne â€“ led the peloton for most of the day.
The average speed for the first hour was 43.1km/h. At the second climb the peloton was 6â€™55â€ť behind. The advantage diminished relatively quickly and, by the third climb, the bunch was behind by 4â€™55â€ť. The average speed for the second hour was 40.4km/h.
In the feedzone (with 100km to go), Duclos-Lassalle (COF) crashed and fractured his left wrist. He was the first to abandon the 2008 Tour.
The third hour was raced at an average of 42.5km/h. The advantage continued to drop slowly: with 60km to go 3â€™55â€ť; 3â€™10 with 45km to go, etc. De La Fuente led Schroder and Voeckler over the final categorized climb meaning the German and Frenchman were equal on points, so the best placed in the stage was awarded the polka-dot jersey. There was a crash involving Popovych, Chavanel, Casper, F. Schleck and a number of others with about 55km to go in the stage. All quickly remounted and rejoined the peloton. At the third sprint, Lequatre, Perez and Jegou claimed the points and their group was just 2â€™05â€ť ahead of the peloton.
The attacks in the lead group began with 36km to go when the peloton was just 1â€™30â€ť behind. With 30km to go Jegou and De La Fuente found themselves in the lead by 20â€ť. The others were caught by the peloton with 26km to go, when the two leaders had an advantage of 1â€™25â€ť but it would diminishâ€¦ 35â€ť with 15km to go; 15â€ť 10km from the line; and all over with 7km to go. Soler (BAR) was involved in a crash. He would suffer the biggest losses of the day.
Columbia dominated the head of the peloton in the closing kilometers and set Kirchen up to launch an attack on the final climb. He built a good lead but was caught by Valverde after the final turn. The Spanish champion outsprinted Philippe Gilbert on the Belgianâ€™s 26th birthday to take the win, his second after victory at Courchevel in his Tour debut in 2005.
He made a name for himself by taking the yellow jersey after being part of an escape group a few years ago and Thomas Voeckler returned to the Tourâ€™s podium again today. This time it was to collect the polka-dot jersey. For the moment, heâ€™s the King of the Hillsâ€¦ but heâ€™s realistic about his chances in the mountains.
"The escape was not for nothing. I am a little disappointed with the outcome, perhaps just because I expected a little more from this escape. There were eight of us and we had the wind in our favor, and if there had been a little hesitation in the peloton we could have done better, because anything is possible in such a situation. I know that it is with small steps such as these that I can try to get a win because I will not have a chance when we get to the big mountains. There are several other stages that will now be controlled by the sprintersâ€™ teams so today was the ideal circumstance to try to create a winning situation.
â€ťI’m now glad to wear the polka-dot jersey, although I know it will be difficult to keep it. I had to fight with SchrĂ¶der for it, and I knew he had a better peak speed than me. I still had a good advantage of this final climb, one that I know well, to control it. "
He instigated an escape group at the start of the stage and insisted with his effort for 190km but for the local rider Lilian Jegou there are rewards other than victory. He was voted the most aggressive man in the opening stage.
â€śIt was a stage in which you could hope for a victory. Of course there was also the added bonus of taking a serious coup of taking the yellow jersey. Over the final 50 kilometers, which are near my hometown of Vannes, I was riding on the roads that I know by heart; itâ€™s where I go training all the time. Alas, it was not enough. Iâ€™ll still cherish the memory of the day because of the encouragement we received. Anyway, I donâ€™t regret having tried my luck. Iâ€™m aware that thereâ€™ll be other steps to take in my career.â€ť
He came to the Tour with great form after victory in his last two major tests: the Dauphine Libere at the start of June and the Spanish national championships at the end of the month. Now Alejandro Valverde has added another victory to his resume... and claimed the yellow jersey as well to prove that his status as a race favorite is justified.
â€śMy first impression of this Tour is the best possible one. My team did phenomenal work for me today and it soon became obvious that the finish was suited to my strengths. I had Gutierrez leading me all the time to help me avoid any crashes.
"On the final hill I calculated the distance well. It was exactly right to attack with 300 meters to go.
"I already had plenty of confidence but this is a real boost. Itâ€™s early to take the leader’s jersey but it will last as long as it can. Weâ€™ll try to defend it over the coming days but the important thing is to have the yellow jersey in Paris.
â€śI confess, itâ€™s true that the time trial has never been my strongest discipline but I have been able to improve it over the years. The crowds at the Dauphine Libere in June saw this already."
The first stage of the 2008 Tour de France has been won by one of the favorites for the title. The top five is:
1. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) GCE
2. Philippe Gilbert (BEL) FDJ
3. Jerome Pineau (FRA) BTL
4. Kim Kirchen (LUX) THR
5. Riccardo Ricco (ITA) SDV
Alejandro Valverde has won his second stage of the Tour de France and earned the right to wear the yellow jersey for the first time. His average speed was 42.92km/h. He beat Philippe Gilbert to take the victory.
Alejandro Valverde has won the stage after catching Kirchen in the final 200m.
Can Schumacher maintain the tempo all the way to the line? He has a lead of about 100m on the peloton which has Valverde and Kirchen near the front.
Feillu of the Agritubel team has attacked but he’s been passed by Schumacher.