Alexander Kristoff wins opening stage of Tour de France

Tour de France 2020

Stage 1

Norway’s Alexander Kristoff braved the storm to win a reduced bunch sprint in a dramatic opening stage of the Tour de France in Nice to secure the first yellow jersey of the race.

Kristoff, the veteran sprinter from UAE Team Emirates, held off a late surge from world champion Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and the Dutchman Cees Bol (Team Sunweb) to take a fourth career win on the Tour on the famous Promenade des Anglais.

A huge crash in the finale tore through the peloton and meant that fewer than 30 riders contested the final sprint as Kristoff used his experience to frustrate the likes of favourites Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

Slovakia’s Sagan and Irish champion Bennett completed the top five ahead of Italians Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling), with Frenchman Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) in eighth.

But the huge pile-up on the home straight – the last in a series of incidents which peppered the short 156-kilometre stage on the French Riviera – caused much concern for home fans, with both Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Julian Alaphilippe (Decuninck-QuickStep) among those caught out.

His jersey torn, Pinot, one of the pre-race favourites for the overall win, crossed the line more than four minutes down – although both he and Alaphilippe will receive the same time as the main pack because the incident occurred inside the final three kilometres of what proved to be a hectic curtain-raiser in the delayed 107th edition of the Tour.

Biblical downpours wreaked havoc on the peloton and caused more drama in under four hours than the opening four days of some Tours. The Ineos and Jumbo-Visma teams of GC favourites Egan Bernal and Primoz Roglic will already be licking their wounds following heavy falls to key lieutenants Pavel Sivakov and George Bennett.

As the rain poured and turned the roads to ice rinks, a spate of spills tore through the peloton and forced an informal neutralisation after Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana skidded into a road sign on the third and final descent of the uncategorised Aspremont climb.

Sprinters Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) and Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT Pro Cycling) were also in the wars – the Australian at one point over six minutes in arrears – while Alaphilippe was forced to chase back on after crashing on a wet bend.

Pedersen will swap his rainbow stripes for the green jersey while Bol will be in white for Sunday’s 186km Stage 2, which includes the first big mountains of the race. Frenchman Fabien Grellier (Total-Direct Energie) secured the polka dot jersey after cresting the first passage of the Cat.3 Cote de Rimiez in pole position in the break.

Thibaut Pinot’s teammates speak to him following his crash.

Grellier was part of a leading trio that also included compatriot Cyril Gautier (B&B Hotel-Vital Concept) and Switzerland’s Michael Schar (CCC Team).

The break finally fragmented on the second ascent of the Cote de Rimiez – but by now the race had been ravaged by a number of incidents, with Andrey Amador (Team Ineos), Richie Porte (Trek Segafredo), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) among the lengthy roll call of riders taking a tumble.

Sivakov, riding his debut Tour for Ineos, was just battling back in a group with Alaphilippe when he hit the deck for a second time, the Russian eventually finishing more than 13 minutes in arrears on what would have been a baptism of fire for the 23-year-old.

Despite insisting on a go-slow when Astana pressed on the wet final descent, Jumbo-Visma were also wounded when Kiwi Bennett skidded and landed badly – leading to a frantic chase for the 30-year-old before the finish.

For many, the opening stage of a race we never thought we’d see turned into a grim battle for survival on a Cote d’Azur that was grey and dismal.

With the litany of accidents mounting up, the veteran German Tony Martin came to the front of the pack once an early three-man break was swept up, calling for a reduction of pace.

When Astana continued to set a perilous tempo in the rain – only to see Lopez skid off the road and into a signpost – Roglic took matters into his own hands and called for a ceasefire in hostilities inside the final 50km.

The lull lasted for 30km and allowed most of the distanced riders to get back into the pack before Frenchman Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2R-La Mondiale) attacked along the coast with 20km remaining to kick-start the race.

With Cosnefroy reeled in and the rain finally easing up, it looked as if a regular bunch sprint would decide who tool the spoils after a stressful few hours in the sodden saddle. But yet another pile-up tore through the pack and blew the race wide open.

And it was Kristoff, the 33-year-old who last won in the Tour on the Champs Elysees in 2018, who proved the best in the demanding conditions, holding off the debutant Pedersen, and the Dutch youngster Bol, to secure the first yellow jersey of his career.

Discover more from Marking The Spot

Subscribe to get the latest posts sent to your email.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *