Tour de France 2021
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme admitted that Saturday’s opening stage of the Tour de France had been designed with Julian Alaphilippe in mind – and the French world champion duly delivered with an astonishing win to secure the yellow jersey in Landerneau.
Alaphilippe darted out of the wheel of Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Dries Devenyns with 2.3km remaining to open up a gap over his rivals on the steepest part of the final climb, the Cote de la Fosse aux Loups.
And despite last year’s yellow jersey protagonists – the Slovenian’s Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic – leading the chase, Alaphilippe’s bold early move paid off as the 29-year-old added another huge win to his swelling palmares, days after becoming a father for the first time.
The Australian Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) led a small chase pack over the line eight seconds down ahead of Jumbo-Visma’s Roglic, as Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman since Bernard Hinault in 1981 to win the opening stage of the Tour de France while displaying the famous rainbow bands.
After bonus seconds were factored in, Alaphilippe leads Matthews by 12 seconds at the top of the general classification with Roglic, last year’s runner-up, two seconds back in third. Matthews will don the green jersey on Sunday’s second stage, Dutchman Ide Schelling will be in polka dots after the Bora-Hansgrohe debutant starred in the day’s breakaway, while defending champion Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) will be in white after taking a solid sixth on a day of drama.
Two huge crashes tore through the peloton in the final hour of racing. The first incident occurred after a careless spectator inadvertently knocked Germany’s Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) off his bike, while the second devastating pile-up happened inside the final 10km and all but ended the hopes of four-time winner Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation).
Making his return to the Tour after three years on the sidelines, Froome was one of scores of riders to hit the deck at high speed as a horrifying incident played out at the business end of the 198km stage. Froome eventually finished the best part of 15 minutes in arrears, while Martin came home a further three minutes back.
Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) conceded five minutes on his Tour debut and Canada’s Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) a whopping nine minutes, while Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) was another GC casualty after crossing the line 1’49” down on the stage winner. Three riders were forced to abandon: Germany’s Jasha Sutterlin (Team DSM), Lithuania’s Ignatas Konovalovas (Groupama-FDJ) and Frenchman Cyril Lemoine (B&B Hotels p/b KTM).
A breakaway of six riders formed after a feisty opening half hour of racing in Brittany. French duo Frank Bonnamour (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) and Anthony Perez (Cofidis), the Spaniard Christian Rodriguez (Total Energies), Dutch duo Shelling and Danny van Poppel (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), and Englishman Connor Swift (Arkea-Samsic) combined to carve out a maximum lead of around three minutes.
Alaphilippe’s QuickStep teammate Tim Declercq led the chase in the peloton alongside the Czech rider Petr Vakoc, who was paving the way for his Alpecin-Fenix teammate Mathieu van der Poel – hotly tipped to star in his first stage on the Tour de France.
Schelling sounded the death-knell for the break after galloping clear on the fourth of six categorised climbs with 84km remaining. Behind, the peloton swept up the remnants of the breakaway before Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) kicked clear of Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the intermediate sprint.
It was shortly after Schelling trousered the single point over the top of the fifth climb that secured him the polka dot jersey that the stage was turned on its head following Martin’s collision with a careless spectator brandishing a cardboard cut-out.
The incident occurred on the front of the peloton and caused a huge split as scores of riders hit the deck and fell into a roadside ditch, with eventual winner Alaphilippe one of many to come off his bike.
After the resulting go-slow in the pack, Schelling was eventually caught with 20km remaining before tensions rose ahead of what promised to be an exciting finale. But in the event, it was an uphill sprint only really contested by one rider after Alaphilippe pre-empted all the moves from a small group of leaders that emerged unscathed by the second pile-up to rock the race.
With 7.5km remaining, Frenchman Lemoine looked over his shoulder, lost control and hit the deck at speed – causing utter devastation in his wake as three-quarters of the pack were involved in – or held up by – a sickening crash. Most notably, four-time Tour winner Froome, who was assessed by medics before eventually getting on his way.
By the time Froome was back on his bike, Alaphilippe had kicked clear – sparking a reaction by compatriot Pierre Latour (Total Energies). Following Latour – albeit tentatively – were Slovenian duo Pogacar and Roglic, last year’s two best riders eventually sitting up to let their rivals lead the chase.
But it was too late. Alaphilippe emerged from the steepest part of the climb with a huge gap and was able to savour the moment as he secured the sixth Tour stage win of his career.
Matthews pipped Roglic for second place in a small chasing group that also included Pogacar and his fellow former Tour winners Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo). The hotly tipped Van der Poel, making his Tour debut for Alpecin-Fenix, could only take 20th place while his big rival Wout van Aert, the Belgian champion from Jumbo-Visma, took 24th after coming off his bike during the Martin incident.
The Tour continues on Sunday with the 183.5km Stage 2 from Perros-Guirec to Mur-de-Bretagne where a similar punchy uphill ramp should give Alaphilippe’s rivals a chance to bite back – or see the fantastic Frenchman double up in Brittany.