Dimension Data’s Cavendish proved the strongest of the fast men in a frantic finale which was marred by a small pile-up involving his team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen, the Norwegian national champion. Discounted by many because of his preparations for the Rio Olympics track events, Cavendish showed that raw speed was still very much part of his armoury as he powered past Etixx-QuickStep’s Kittel and world champion Peter Sagan of Tinkoff at the conclusion of the 188-kilometer stage from Mont-Saint-Michel.
It was Cavendish’s 27th victory in the Tour de France – and it brought the 31-year-old Manxman his first ever maillot jaune.
“It’s phenomenal – really phenomenal,” Cavendish said post race after filling an empty space in his extensive palmares. “It’s the third opportunity for me [to wear the yellow jersey on the opening day of a Tour]. I don’t know what to say. There’s no bigger jersey in cycling than the yellow jersey. I did this for my team, the continent of Africa and to get five thousand people on bicycles,” Cavendish added in reference his African team’s fundraising campaign during this year’s Tour.
Cavendish added “To win a stage is incredible and to pull on this jersey is an honour I have never had before. I am going to be emotional for it. It will be a special day tomorrow. What better way than to do it here, at Utah Beach, remembering not just the soldiers who died at D-Day but other people who have died fighting for our freedom in the modern world.”
German veteran Andre Greipel of Lotto-Soudal – winner of four stages in last year’s race – finished fourth while Belgian Edward Theuns riding for Trek-Segafredo completed the top five.
A dramatic opening stage of the 103rd edition of La Grande Boucle also saw Spaniard Alberto Contador – one of the race favourites – crash heavily with 80 kilometres remaining after overcooking the exit of a roundabout and clattering into American Brent Bookwalter of BMC.
The incident also saw Welshman Geraint Thomas of Team Sky hit the deck after taking evasive action. All riders continued and completed the stage – although Contador received extensive treatment from the race doctor to a nasty-looking shoulder injury.
1 Mark Cavendish (GB) Dimension Data, 4:13:55
2 Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx – Quick-Step, +4sec
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff, +6
4 Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto Soudal, +10
5 Edward Theuns (Bel) Trek-Segafredo, same time
6 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, st
7 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Direct Energie, st
8 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha, st
9 Dan McLay (GB) Fortuneo-Vital Concept, st
10 Greg Henderson (NZ) Lotto Soudal, +13