Yellow jersey Rohan Dennis was the first to roll out of the neutralised zone on the opening road stage of the Tour de France, as the peloton bade Utrecht goodbye with a lap around the surroundings, being sang a greeting by the dulcet tones of a riverside choir, and going past boats on the river.
When finally the riders reached the Départ Réel, attacks started immediately, led by - unsurprisingly - a Bretagne rider, Armindo Fonseca. He was followed by Jan Barta of Bora, then Perrig Quemeneur of, yes, Europcar and the fourth member of the quartet was the only World Tour rider of the quartet, Stef Clement of IAM Cycling. They got a gap immediately, and within the first kilometre, the break was made as Etixx-QuickStep set the (admittedly slow) early tempo.
By 120 kilometres to go, the pace was high, with several teams pulling on the front to avoid a crash, as the winds started to howl and they started to be hindered by some road furniture. But it was at 103 kilometres left that the real action started.
Froome's Team Sky and Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo split the peloton in two as many riders couldn't stick the pace. Rodríguez, Valverde, Mollema, Martin and Costa were a few of the bigger names in the second group. However, the groups were brought back together by Cannondale-Garmin. By this stage, the break had just 20 seconds.
Jan Barta knew that he was doomed, and in the hope of winning the combativity prize/ winning the intermediate/getting TV time/finding a hill attacked the break, and led on his own. His companions were recaptured by Degenkolb's sprint, and Barta's lead went under 20". They attacked again though, and caught Barta.
With 83 kilometres to go, we had the Tour's first big crash. Winner Anacona, Thomas De Gendt, Wilco Kelderman and Geraint Thomas went down, as Rodríguez had a puncture. All of them were quickly back up and riding. Kelderman was to fall again just a few kilometres later, and the peloton split again, with Pierre Rolland and Laurens Ten Dam getting dropped.
The action was neverending, and Johan Vansummeren went down, causing Adam Hansen to also crash. Péraud, Valverde and Mollema were all dropped into a large second group, along with pre-race favourite Nairo Quintana, in a huge bit of misfortune for the Colombian, who quickly fell 45 seconds behind. More bad luck was reserved for defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, who also fell back, but not quite to that group.
The first peloton itself was splitting, thanks to the frantic riding of Lotto-Soudal. Dennis and Pinot fell back to the Nibali group, which was twenty seconds behind. Nibali himself was panicking, pulling and then attacking, but there was little support for the defending champion and the group was caught by Quintana, Peraud and co. They were just over a minute behind the lead group of 26.
Etixx and Tinkoff were leading the front group, Movistar, Astana and FDJ the second. But disaster! Nibali punctured, and was even further behind. However, he did make it back, but the group lost 10 seconds while slowing for him. Next to puncture was Contador's team mate Bennati...and stage favourite Sagan, though he made it back. Then Nibali's team mate Fuglsang also made a visit to the car for a wheel. What was going on?
Etixx were sprinting on the front now, as they led out the sprint. Cavendish was the first to launch with Greipel on his wheel, but the Manxman began to flag, and Greipel and Sagan came out of his shadow. There were just centimetres in it, but Greipel beat Sagan to the victory as Cavendish faded to fourth, with Fabian Cancellara finishing third taking the four second time, and taking the yellow jersey again! Froome came in seventh, taking four seconds on Contador.
They were followed in by the Nibali group, 87 seconds behind, but Pierre Rolland lost five minutes
Cancellara, Greipel, Froome, Contador, Sagan, Van Garderen, Uran, Barguil
Pinot, Nibali, Quintana, Rolland, Cavendish, Talansky, Dennis, Martin, Martin, Péraud, Bardet...almost everyone.
|1.||Andre Greipel||3hrs 29' 03"|
|6.||Greg Van Avermaet||"|