Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre claimed the first sprint victory of the 2010 Tour de France, but not in the manner any sprinter would prefer. Three crashes in short succession within the final kilometers knocked out virtually all of the top sprinters, as well as the yellow jersey, Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank). From an increasingly small leading group, Petacchi led out from more than 300 meters to beat Cavendish's leadout man, Mark Renshaw, and Thor Hushovd (Cerv?lo TestTeam).
Alessandro Petacchi of Italy, right, crosses the finish line to win the first stage of the 2010 Tour de France. AP Photo/Laurent Rebours
For Petacchi, the victory was a sweet one after a six year absence from the Tour de France and seven years since his multiple sprint wins of the 2003 Tour. The 36-year old rider is not as prolific as he once was, yet when his form is good he remains a formidable finisher.
"It's been seven years since I have won at the Tour since I had to abandon in 2004," he explained. "This morning I was very nervous because it's been so long since I raced at the Tour. But after a few kilometers I remembered what it means to ride in the Tour and I wasn't nervous anymore."
Fabian Cancellara held on to his yellow jersey despite being caught up in the biggest of the three crashes. The men of the general classification contenders lost no time since the crash happened within the final three kilometers.
"Right after the stage I told the reporters that I felt fine, but now I'm starting to feel more pain in my left shoulder," he said half an hour after the finish, referring to the damage he suffered in the fall, motioning his trajectory over the handlebars.
"Before the crash it was a great spectacle with so many fans on the road," Cancellara recounted. "It was a nervous day with the wind, the heat, the narrow roads and all the spectators. In the end it was a long day and I think some people lost their concentration and that caused the crash."
A Perfect Start
The Netherlands could not have asked for a better send-off for the Tour de France, nor could the welcoming country of Belgium. As Sunday's first stage took off from the port city of Rotterdam, clear skies and sunshine accompanied the peloton as it worked its way out to the coast and eventually inland to Belgium, through Antwerpen, and to the finish in the shadow of the Atomium in Brussels. Huge crowds lined the roads, with few moments along the parcours where fans were not present. Often they were lined three or more deep along the road, craning their necks for the briefest glimpse of the Tour outside of its normal territory.
Over a pan-flat route of 223 kilometers, three men escaped the peloton at the first drop of the flag. Lars Boom of Rabobank was his country's home representative in the break, along with Belgian Wouter Weylandts (Quick Step) and Alan Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The three escaped with almost uncanny easy and the peloton let them go, quickly allowing a lead of one, then three, and ultimately seven minutes.
With stiff breezes blowing all day, many expected the strong teams such as Saxo Bank and RadioShack to force selections by creating echelons in the crosswinds. Both teams have used this tactic to devastating effect but today the peloton remained compact as the leading trio tempted their fate for several hours.
With the well-oiled machine of HTC-Columbia steadily winding up the chase, the breakaway stood little chance of success. Within 40 kilometers of the finish in Brussels, Boom was expressing discontent with what he saw as a lack of cooperation from Weylandts, who did seem to have more left in the tank by the time capture seemed imminent.
Weylandts launched a desparate last acceleration to drop his two companions, who were quickly swept up by the peloton. A counter-attack from Katusha's Moldavian national champion, Alexandr Pliuschin, briefly gave Weylandts something more to work for, but the duo wouldn't last long against the sprinters' teams, which now included help from Garmin-Transitions and Lampre who worked for Tyler Farrar and Petacchi, respectively. With 10km to race, it was game over for anyone but the sprinters.
Nerves and Swerves
Petacchi proved the fastest- if not the luckiest- and scored the first success out on the open road. Well-positioned up front, he avoided a series of chaotic crashes that rewrote the battle royal expected on the Avenue Houba de Strooper in Brussels.
Rounding a sweeping right hand bend within the final 2km, Cavendish went down along with Oscar Freire and others. Soon after, a massive pileup literally stopped the peloton in its tracks as a lucky group of some 35 riders. Just when this looked to settle affairs at the head of the race, Petacchi and others swung across the road as they wound up their sprints, prompting yet another crash in the last half kilometer as riders tried to hang on to wheels. The Italian led a long sprint and kept the speed high to keep the remaining challengers from coming around.
Despite the carnage, the Italian veteran wasn't about to chalk his win up to the misfortune of others.
"I wouldn't say this win is a surprise," he insisted. "I'm here to sprint and to win. I think there were many strong riders still to beat in the final and I did a big sprint."
"Today's stage was very nervous and felt more like a classic than a stage," Petacchi said. "But I had very good legs for the sprint. I think at my age it's a good sign and I'm happy with the way I won. I'm also happy for my Lampre team and thankful for the faith they put in me."
In the jersey competitions, Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia) held on to his white jersey of best young rider and his second place overall, while Petacchi's stage win moved him into the green points jersey. Lance Armstrong's Team RadioShack leads the team classification.
Stage 1 Results
- Alessandro Petacchi – LAM - 05:09:38
- Mark Renshaw – THR +00:00
- Thor Hushovd - CTT +00:00
- Robbie McEwen - KAT +00:00
- Matthieu Ladagnous - FDJ +00:00
- Daniel OSS - LIQ +00:00
- Fabian Cancellara – Sax - 05:19:38
- Tony Martin – THR +00:10
- David Millar – GRM +00:20
- Lance Armstrong - RSH +00:22
- Geraint Thomas - SKY +00:23
- Alberto Contador - AST +00:27
- RadioShack 16:00:19
- HTC - Columbia + 00:01
- Garmin Transitions + 00:02
- Sky Pro Cycling + 00:16
- Astana + 00:20
Overall Points Standings
- Alessandro Petacchi - 35 Points
- Mark Renshaw - 30 Points
- Thor Hushvod - 26 Points
- Robbie McEwen - 24 Points
Best Young Rider
- Tony Martin - 05:19:48
- Geraint Thomas + 00:13
- Edvald Boasson Hagen + 00:22
223.5K (139 miles) - Sunday July 4
- Bruxelles, the capital of Belgium, is an 11-time stage host--although not in the last 18 years
- Bruxelles was chosen in honor of Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx's 65th birthday
- This stage is flat which could make for a good sprint to the finish
- Sprint Points at: Zeeland, Putte, Ekeren