- The race 2011
- All about the race
It was his destiny: Philippe Gilbert was touted as the absolute favorite for the opening stage of the 2011 Tour de France and he promptly scored the victory many expected him to get. Not only did he escape numerous crashes, he also had the power to hold off a late charge from his former team-mate and a two-time runner-up in the Tour, Cadel Evans.This is a day that will be remembered for two things: Gilbert’s domination and the decimation caused by crashes. There were several small incidents on the road from the Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes but it was a massive pile-up with nine kilometers to go that decimated the peloton and allowed only 27 riders to sneak through in an attempt to take on the recently crowned Belgian champion. After the ‘flamme rouge’ Alexandre Vinokourov surged but his attack didn’t last long before Fabian Cancellara put in his bid for glory on day one (once again)... but not even ’Spartacus’ could do anything to hold off a phenomenal performance by Gilbert. The Omega Pharma-Lotto rider bolted into the lead in the final 500 meters and onward to a sensational victory that earned him the yellow, green and polka-dot jerseys.
The Progress Report
The opening stage of the 98th Tour de France began at 12.20pm with a 13.5km neutral zone before arriving at the start of the Passage du Gois where an official opening ceremony took place. The official start was at 12.58pm.
There were 198 riders from 22 teams at the sign on this morning. The 191.5km stage from Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes had one intermediate sprint – at Avrillé at the 87km mark – and only one categorized climb, the one to the finish just above the town of Les Herbiers. The conditions were fine and warm for the start with a temperature of around 25 degrees Celsius.
The moment that Christian Prudhomme waved the flag to signal the start of the stage there was a strong attack by several Europcar riders. The peloton allowed a trio to quickly gain an advantage. The successful escapees were Jérémy Roy (FDJ), Perrig Quemeneur (EUR) and Lieuwe Westra (VCD). They built a maximum gain of 6’30” at the 12km mark before riders from Garmin-Cervélo, HTC, Astana and Omega Pharma-Lotto lifted the pace of the peloton. The average speed for the first hour was 42.3km/h. The advantage was held steady at around five minutes for the next hour.
At the 63km mark, Vanendert (OLO) crashed near the head of the peloton and caused a few others to fall. Riders caught up included Arroyo (MOV) and several others but all involved quickly remounted and rejoined the peloton. The average speed for the second hour was 40.1km/h.
Farrar Rules The Intermediate Sprint
With 5km to go before the Avrille sprint, Lampre sent its troops to the front of the peloton that was 4’05” behind the escapees. There was a concerted lead-out by HTC, Omega Pharma and Lampre but it was Farrar who scampered ahead to take fourth place points 2’35” behind Roy’s trio. Five kilometers later, there was a discussion at the front of the peloton between Gilbert (OLO), Tosatto (SBS) and Hushovd (GRM)… in a matter of moments the advantage of the leaders was back up to 4’30”. With about 65km to go, Garmin-Cervélo joined Omega Pharma-Lotto riders at the front to control the pace setting duties while the leaders enjoyed an advantage of 5’15”. The average speed for the third hour was 38.5km/h.
Gerdemann (LEO) was involved in a crash with about 55km to go; it was caused by a Europcar rider. All involved remounted their bikes and rejoined the peloton.
The escape was caught 18km from the finish.
Gilbert Wins… Ahead Of Crash Carnage
Gilbert’s team-mates were on the front of the bunch at the time of capture but were replaced by riders from Europcar, Leopard-Trek and RadioShack. Omega Pharma-Lotto never dropped far behind but they gave the responsibility of the pacesetting to other formations. He may have been the absolute favorite but he never looked like he would be beaten… not only did he win the stage but he gained considerable time on riders who might otherwise have been in the mix had it not been for a crash with 9km to go. That wasn’t the end of the accidents either as there was another significant pile-up with 3km to go.
Contador And Many Others Caught Up In Crashes…
There was a touch of wheels in the middle of the peloton with 9km to go and it caused a ricochet to surge through the bunch and take out all but 27 riders. Many favorites were caught up and no matter what they did they could not close the gap. Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, Ivan Basso and other big favorites for the overall title tried to limit his losses but he is one of many to finish 1’21” behind the stage winner…
Philippe Gilbert took his first Tour stage win, three years after finishing second in the opening stage. He will wear the yellow jersey in stage two but he also leads the points and climbing classifications.
He knew that the chance of staying ahead of the peloton to the finish was slim but local rider, Perrig Quemeneur never hesitated: given the chance to race the Tour de France near his home, he seized the chance to attack…
“I never knew what it was like at the Tour and I’ve just had a wonderful first day. This morning we expected that anyone of us would be in the breakaway because this is the nature of our team. So I said I’d go and I raced out of the peloton in the first kilometer. Then I spent the day with two good riders but [Lieuwe] Westra wasn’t exactly convincing with his turns of pace. We did not have enough of a gain to ever consider the victory.
“I live in La Roche-sur-Yon and I’m very familiar with these roads so I knew we would have to fight on wide, straight and exposed roads. It was a bit doomed but I still spent the day enjoying the encouragement from the public. I had a great time.”
Geraint Thomas picked up the prize jersey that Philippe Gilbert couldn’t attain – simply because he’s too old for the youth classification. There are 29 riders within six seconds of the lead of general classification and the team time trial puts the young Welshman in with a chance to swap the white he earned on the Mont des Alouettes with a yellow one in Les Essarts after the team time trial of stage two.
“The first week is always madness. It can be really sketchy with lots of crashes… everyone wants to be at the front and, especially today with the yellow jersey on the line, there was a lot of fighting for position going on. But fortunately most of our team managed to get up there into the final three kilometers relatively unscathed. I think Brad [Wiggins] got caught up in the second crash [just inside the final three kilometers] but I think he should be okay time wise.
“I felt great today as well, so it’s nice to have a prize jersey.
“For me personally, the team time trial is what I enjoy. It’s like what I’ve been doing on the track – it’s very similar to the team pursuit – and I can’t wait for it. Obviously we’ve got a great team for it and we just want to get out there, give it our best, ride it well and hopefully that’ll be enough to win the stage. We’ve got a great chance. There are a lot of good teams out there and it’s going to be hard but if we ride it really well, we’ll be close.”
Nothing can stop him. Since April, Philippe Gilbert has won every race he’s contested since 13 April – including one of cycling’s ‘monuments’, two Classics, the overall title of two stage races, and the Belgian national championships. Not even the heavy weight of favoritism could spoil his phenomenal winning run.
Three days before his 29th birthday, he has won his first Tour de France stage and taken three prize jerseys – yellow, polka-dots and green.
“I dream of winning big races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne but to win here in the Tour de France is something special. It is another dream. I’ve never won any stages. I’ve never had this yellow jersey before so, for me, it’s a very good day.
“Yesterday evening I was talking with my room-mates and saying that, on the steep part of the hill with a little more than one kilometer to go, we would have to pull very hard and that I’d need somebody there with me. We knew that Cancellara would go there because it was a perfect place for him – with his big power, he can come from behind – and it’s exactly what happened. I was ready to react and I never panicked. I just moved near to him and rode behind for a moment. When he stopped his effort I told myself, ‘I cannot hesitate any more.’ I had to go then. It was still a long way away, about 500 meters but I thought, ‘No I have a small gap and I have to go – full gas!’”
The favorite has won. The top 10 in stage one of the 2011 Tour de France is: 1. Philippe Gilbert (BEL) OLO 2. Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC 3. Thor Hushovd (NOR) GRM 4. Jose Rojas (ESP) MOV 5. Jurgen van den Broeck (BEL) OLO 6. Geraint Thomas (GBR) SKY 7. Andreas Kloden (GER) RSH 8. Rein Taaramae (EST) COF 9. Chris Horner (USA) RSH 10. Tony Martin (GER) THR
The speed of the lead group was so fast that not even the defending champion of the Tour could get close after being caught up in a crash. Contador finished 1’21" behind Gilbert.
Each time he races, Philippe Gilbert seems to win. He was the absolute favorite for the win today and he didn’t choke under pressure. Instead he appeared to be a level above the rest of the peloton but he had to maintain the tempo all the way to the finish to hold off a late charge from Cadel Evans.
The Belgian champion has beaten his former team-mate Cadel Evans to win the opening stage of the 2011 Tour de France.
With 700m to go, Cancellara has attacked and is chased down by Gilbert who is now racing on to win the stage!