Tour de France 2017
Thomas laid his Giro d’Italia nightmares to rest with a commanding performance over a slippery 14km course, coming home in a time of 16 minutes and four seconds – five seconds quicker than Switzerland’s Stefan Kung (BMC) and seven seconds ahead of team-mate Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus.
A perfect day for Team Sky saw the British team finish with four riders in the top eight as defending champion Chris Froome put a major dent into the hopes of his general classification rivals at the earliest opportunity in the 104th edition of the world’s biggest bike race.
Froome finished 12 seconds behind team-mate Thomas for a solid sixth place, with Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowskicompleting Sky’s coup with a well-earned eighth place on the streets of Dusseldorf. With the challenging conditions forcing many riders to hold back, Froome already has a 35-second advantage over his former team-mate, the Australian Richie Porte of BMC.
Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is a further second back on Froome, while Spaniard Alberto Contador (Trek Segafredo) trails the triple Tour champion by 42 seconds ahead of Sunday’s second stage.
Pre-race favourite Tony Martin of Katusha-Alpecin failed to keep to the script and give the home fans something to cheer about other than a return of the Tour to German soil for the first time since 1987.
Martin, the world time trial champion, took fourth place, eight seconds down on Thomas, while Italy’s Matteo Trentin(Quick-Step Floors) completed the top five a further two seconds back.
But there was heartbreak for Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde of Movistar after the 38-year-old was forced out of the race after crashing badly into the barriers.
Valverde, who broke his kneecap in the incident, lost his balance on a corner that claimed numerous victims, most notably his former team-mate Ion Izagirre of Bahrain Merida. The 28-year-old – who won stage 20 last year – was also forced to withdraw.
Frenchman Tony Gallopin of Cofidis crashed on the same corner en route to setting the slowest time of the day, just over three minutes down on Thomas.
Hotly tipped to contend for the first yellow jersey, Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic was one of three LottoNL-Jumbo riders to skid out in the torrential rain following earlier crashes to team-mates Dylan Groenewegen of the Netherlands and George Bennett of New Zealand.
Thomas’s victory comes less than two months after the 31-year-old was forced out of the Giro – his main target of the season – following an incident involving a race motorcycle.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Thomas said after the first Grand Tour stage win of his career. “I didn’t even think about it, really. I was super relaxed coming here. I always thought [Tony] Martin or somebody else would beat me. To get this win is amazing.”
Asked about the slippery roads that claimed Valverde and saw a raft of other riders crash into the barriers, Thomas replied: “They’re not too slippery if you don’t go too fast into them. The first corner I took too fast so I reined it in afterwards. I felt good. I’ve won some time trials before but I still can’t believe it.”
Of all the big-name sprinters, Germany’s Marcel Kittel is best placed to launch an assault on the yellow jersey as the race edges through Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg en route to reaching France on Tuesday.
Quick-Step Floors’ Kitttel posted the ninth best time in Dusseldorf, 16 seconds down on Thomas. With a maximum 10 bonus seconds available on flat stages, Kittel will target the stage wins that could see him take the fabled maillot jaune for the third time in his career.
World champion Peter Sagan is also well placed after coming home 25 seconds down. The Bora-Hansgrohe rider is capable of competing with the best sprinters on the flat and will fancy his chances on Monday’s stage to Longwy, which culminates with a punchy uphill sprint.
Sunday’s 203.5km Stage 2 from Dusseldorf features two category-four climbs but should culminate with a bunch sprint in the Belgian city of Liege.