Alessandro Petacchi hasn’t been to the Tour de France since 2004 but in his comeback race, he’s a winner almost immediately. Yes, he was quick enough to win the sprint but the real trick was to survive the crashes in the finale. The first, with two kilometers to go took out Mark Cavendish and Oscar Freire. That put Tyler Farrar in the driver’s seat… until he and hundreds of others were caught up in an accident in the final straight. The analysis will begin straight away, blame tendered here and there but in the meantime we know one thing for sure: Alejet blasted back into prominence in the Tour today.
The Progress Report
The 223.5km first stage of the 2010 Tour de France, from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to Brussels in Belgium began at 12.22pm. There were 195 riders at the sign on: Cardoso (FOT) and Frank (BMC) didn’t start after crashing in the prologue. After a brief official ceremony in which race director Christian Prudhomme joined the Mayor of Rotterdam Ahmed Aboutaleb to cut the ribbon on the Erasmusbrug, the peloton made its way to the site of the official start. There were no climbs on this day in the low-lands of Holland and Belgium. The intermediate sprints were in Zeeland Neeltje Jans (at 73km), Putte, Belgium (149.5km) and Ekeren (158.5km).
Boom Attacks Immediately
As soon as the flag fell to signal the beginning of racing, Lars Boom (RAB) sprinted ahead of the peloton. He was chased and caught by Perez Lezaun (EUS) and Wynants (QST). There was no reaction from any other riders and by 4km, the three escapees had an advantage of 4’00”. This grew quickly, and by 17km the trio was ahead by 7’10”. Saxo Bank led the peloton and then received support from Garmin and HTC-Columbia riders around the 28km mark. The three teams were content to let the escapees linger out front, with the maximum advantage being 7’30” at 50km.
Millar and Basso Caught Up In Incident With A Dog
Adam Hansen (THR) crashed at 40km but rejoined the peloton about 5km later. Later, his team doctor (Helga Riepenhof) said that he suspected a broken collarbone but that the idea was for him to finish the stage and then attend the hospital in Brussels.
Later, at 55km, a dog ran in front of the peloton and caused another accident – this time the victims were Millar (GRM) and Basso (LIQ). They quickly remounted their bikes and rejoined the bunch. Basso swapped a bike during the pursuit but didn’t appear to be too badly injured by the crash.
At 67km, the RadioShack, Liquigas and Astana teams moved forward in the peloton but Saxo continued to dictate terms. As the race arrived near the coast, with the wind blowing hard from the right, the pace increased significantly and, by the 80km mark, the deficit of the peloton to the escapees had dropped to 3’40”. The average speed for the second hour was 37.5km/h. Once out of the feedzone, the riders enjoyed a tailwind and the average for the third hour was 47.km/h.
Setting Up A Sprint
As the peloton left Holland behind, Hansen moved to the front of the peloton and, together with Cervelo, Garmin and Saxo Bank riders, they steadily pulled the escape back. At the border, the deficit was 3’00”, with 60km to go 1’30”… the sprint teams then remained at the head of the peloton keeping the escapees in check. The average speed for the fourth hour was 42.5km/h.
With 32km to go, Wynants was the first to attack the lead group. It didn’t last. He went again two kilometers later and opened a good gap. At 27km to go, Boom and Perez were caught by the peloton just after Pliuschin attacked. With 25km to go Wynants was caught by the Moldavian champion and the two led by 25”. Pliuschin did most of the work in the lead, building up a lead of 1’00” with 15km to go. Garmin, Milram and HTC-Columbia led the peloton. The escape was over with 8.5km to go. Wynants was voted winner of the Fighting Spirit award.
Carnage In Final Kilometers
With the escapees caught it was time for the sprinters to weave their magic. But just as they started to prime themselves for the rush to the line, crashes became the order of the finale. The first, on the last turn of the stage, took out Cavendish (THR) and Freire (RAB). Then Garmin was in command of the peloton in the final straight but with about 800m to go, another accident halted the progress of all but about 40 riders. Petacchi started his sprint with 200m to go and was trailed in by Renshaw and Hushovd. It is the Italian’s fifth stage win in the Tour de France, following his collection of four in the 2003 race. It’s his first appearance in the Tour since 2004.
Cancellara was caught up in the last major crash but as it happened within the final three kilometers he didn’t lose time and will wear the yellow jersey in stage two.
Not since 2004 has Alessandro Petacchi started the Tour de France. A year before that he won four stages and then abandoned. The Italian sprinter is back. He’s still fast. And even if the crashes halting what could have been a pure bunch sprint didn’t happen, he believes he still would have beaten all his rivals.
“It was a very special final, with the crash in the last corner. I have not seen the fall, but I saw that everyone went into the turn extremely fast, and nobody wanted to brake. So inevitably, there was real confusion in the final, but I decided to attack from afar. There was still a strong man to beat in Mark Renshaw, and when I accelerated, I realized that this would be very difficult with this uphill. But I’m hooked on this feeling, and I think I made a great sprint.
“For seven years I did not win on the Tour, and to do so here is always very different from other victories. This morning at the start, I was pretty nervous, but during the day I started to revive as a Tour rider. Now I am relaxed.
“I do not think it was an unexpected victory, because I came here to sprint and win. Now I hope that another situation will present itself, with all the other sprinters. But I’m not sure that Cavendish could beat me today if he had been there, because I really did a good sprint.”
After a great time trial on day one, Tony Martin turned into a domestique deluxe for day two of the 2010 Tour de France. Clad in the white jersey, he was part of the lead-out train for Mark Cavendish… but a good result wasn’t possible. Now he’s concentrating on holding onto his white jersey and is realistic about stealing the yellow off Cancellara.
“The preparation for the sprint was close to perfect but in the end we couldn’t deliver Mark to the line. We lost Adam Hansen. He’s one of the men for the lead-out and so we had one man less and it was maybe not totally perfect but when we realized that Mark was in the front we thought we could make a good result today.
“For a while I thought that Adam had withdrawn from the race but then he came up to the front of the bunch and worked for the team; I was really surprised and happy to see that he is more or less okay. He has a strong character and he’s a really good rider and it was impressive to see that he found the will to continue.
“On a day like this, it was pretty clear that Fabian could hold the yellow jersey so we didn’t focus on trying to take that. There was nothing that put his lead in danger and if there are no more big crashes, I think that he’ll keep the jersey for maybe 10 days.
“Tomorrow is again a day for the sprinters. The road is not so hard that Fabian could not follow so there’s no point in me trying to take back 10 seconds in order to take the yellow jersey.
“I’m looking at the race on a day to day basis, I want to keep the white jersey as long as possible. I’ll see how I can go over the cobbles and then see what happens after that. In the mountains, I don’t know how long I can hold onto it.”
He finished 130th in the stage but placings mattered little for Fabian Cancellara. Only a few men escaped the carnage of the crashes in the finale of the long, flat and hot stage from Rotterdam to Brussels. The winner of the prologue is still the leader of the general classification.
“In the beginning of the stage I was able to enjoy the yellow jersey a bit but then I had to really focus and concentrate for the 223 kilometers. It was nervous and stressful. It was so crowded. It was incredible. I mean, it was beautiful for cycling – for the sport – but for us riders it’s really dangerous. Even when we came into Belgium, on the small roads, there were so many people and they’re excited. That’s nice but in the end… well, I wouldn’t say that’s what caused the crashes but riders get so nervous and everything is so stressful, then the crashes come easier.
“I was also involved in the crash but luckily nothing happened. I’m hurting a bit, but that’s normal when you crash. You jump over all these people who are lying on the ground…
“When the crowd is so big, the road gets smaller. The people want to see us, they want to see the race and you’ve got to fight for your position. In the end, everyone wants to stay at the front because no one wants to crash – especially the riders for the general classification.
“Before the last corner, I was in a good position and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a good spot – stay calm, go safely to the finish.’ But then there’s a crash and I went straight into it.”
Although numerous riders came down in the finale, Fabian Cancellara will keep his yellow jersey. He was caught behind the crash in the final straight but as it happened inside the final three kilometers he won’t lose any time.
The winner’s time is 5 hours, nine minutes and 38 seconds for an average speed of 43.3km/h. The top this is: 1. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) LAM 2. Mark Renshaw (AUS) THR 3. Thor Hushovd (NOR) CTT
Not to take anything away from Petacchi’s win but the first stage of the 2010 will be remembered for the crashes in the final kilometers. It ruled out well over half the peloton and there are riders now walking to the finish.
Petacchi has survived the carnage and taken his first stage win at the Tour since 2003.
Cavendish is not going to win today. He’s gesturing to the camera ’that’s life’ and he’s rolling in behind the bunch which is now less than 1km from the line.