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In the expected bunch sprint on the opening day of the Tour de France, Kittel beats Sagan and Navardauskas while local hero Cavendish hits the deck and is likely to be out of the race

Photo: Sirotti

MARCEL KITTEL

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PETER SAGAN

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RAMUNAS NAVARDAUSKAS

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TEAM SUNWEB

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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05.07.2014 @ 18:28 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

For the second year in a row, Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) has kicked off the Tour de France in the best possible way after he won today’s opening stage into Harrogate in a sprint finish. In a crash-marred finale, the German held off Peter Sagan (Cannondale) on the tough uphill finishing straight while local hero Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) hit the deck and is likely to be out of the race with a broken collarbone.

 

Last year Marcel Kittel took his first ever Tour de France stage win in the most grandiose fashion when he won the opening stage in Corsica and took the first yellow jersey in the world’ biggest race. With the first stage of the 2014 race also likely to end in a bunch sprint, he went into the race as the man to beat and he fully lived up to expectations when he repeated his 2013 feat.

 

Like they have done so often before, his Giant-Shimano team timed everything perfectly, staying behind while Omega Pharma-Quick Step dominated the finale. However, they faced a nervous moment when Fabian Cancellara (Trek) launched an attack just before the flamme rouge and quickly got a big gap.

 

Giant-Shimano stayed calm and allowed Michal Kwiatkowski and Matteo Trentin to lead the chase for Omega Pharma-Quick Step before they took over. John Degenkolb did a massive turn on the front before Koen De Kort did the final work to bring Cancellara back.

 

Peter Sagan launched the sprint but Kittel was quick to move onto his wheel while behind a drama unfolded. Mark Cavendish was about to be boxed in and tried to pass through an opening that was not there. As a consequence he hit Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and both riders hit the deck hard. The Brit was obviously in a lot of pain and is likely to be out of the race with a broken collarbone.

 

Further up the road, only four riders managed to escape the carnage and it came down to a four-horse race between Kittel, Sagan, Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin) and Bryan Coquard (Europcar). Kittel came off Sagan’s wheel and took a convincing win on the tough uphill finishing straight.

 

The race had been dominated by an impressive Jens Voigt (Trek) who had joined Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne) in the early break. Having been firmly beaten in the first KOM sprint, the German made a smart move to use the intermediate sprint to take off on his own.

 

His companions were unable to reel him in and so he managed to crest the summit of the final two climbs to take the first mountains jersey of the race. With 60km to go, however, he was brought back and from there the peloton rode surprisingly slowly as they were waiting for the bunch sprint to unfold.

 

Here Omega Pharma-Quick Step strung things out but Cancellara’s attack destroyed things for the Belgian team. Instead, Kittel was perfectly positioned to win for the second year in a row.

 

Kittel is equal on time with most of the peloton and can expect to lose the jersey tomorrow. The second stage brings the riders over 201km from York to Sheffield on a very hilly route with 9 categorized climbs. The final ascent comes just 5km from the line and will bring an exciting end to a race that has been described as a mini Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

 

An expected bunch sprint

The 101st Tour de France kicked off with a 190.5km stage from Leeds to Harrogate that had a flat start but included three hard climbs in the middle section. The final 60km, however, were mostly flat until the riders hit a few climbs in the finale that ended with an uphill finishing straight.

 

After a 17.5km neutral zone and an official ceremony to kick off things, 198 riders took the much awaited start of the race under beautiful sunshine. Jarrier attacked straight from the gun and was immediately joined by Edet and Voigt.

 

The sprint teams take control

There was no reaction from the peloton that allowed them to build a 2-minute gap but very soon Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) started to chase. The latter was replaced by Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol) and after 6km of racing Cheng Ji joined the action for Giant-Shimano.

 

The big teams quickly organized themselves behind the three hard-working chasers who did a great work to keep the gap stable between the 2.30 and 3.30 marks. Edet suffered a puncture but was able to rejoin the peloton soon after.

 

Jarrier wins the first KOM sprint

Mikael Cherel (Ag2r) was the first rider to hit the deck after 57km of racing but the Frenchman rejoined the bunch soon after. Meanwhile, the escapees had hit the first climb where Voigt tried to launch a long sprint for the only point on offer but was passed by Edet and Jarrier.

 

The former went from afar but was overtaken by Jarrier and Edet. Edet made a great comeback and seemed to have locked it up but then Jarrier had an extra gear. The Bretagne rider took the point and became the virtual leader of the mountains classification.

 

Voigt makes a smart move

As the peloton had gone slow up the climb, the gap had grown to 4.10 but it soon started to come down again. As they approached the intermediate sprint, Voigt made a smart move as he accelerated to take the points.

 

His companions thought that he was only going for the sprint but he continued his action and quickly started to build a big gap. Behind, Cannondale were trying to lead out Sagan for the sprint for the final points but the Italian team was passed by Europcar who gave Bryan Coquard a great position for the sprint. The Frenchman beat Sagan, Greipel and Cavendish in the sprint, with the latter three clearly not going full gas.

 

Voigt gains ground

With 100km to go, Voigt was already 1.45 ahead of his chasers who seemed to have given up. Meanwhile, Cannondale was now contributing to the pace-setting as Ted King had joined the work 5.10 behind the lone German.

 

Voigt crested the summit of the second climb to score two points while behind Edet left Jarrier behind. Meanwhile, Chris Horner (Lamre) dropped his chain while moments later a big part of the peloton had to stop as the big crowds forced the peloton to ride single-file.

 

The peloton splits

As Bak and King continued to ride hard on the front and as there was also a strong crosswind, the peloton split to pieces. After the top, a big group with the likes of Horner, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) had formed and they were at one point more than a minute behind.

 

FDJ chased hard in the second group while King and Bak were now the only riders working in the peloton. Jarrier had been caught on the climb and shortly after the top, Edet was also back in the fold.

 

Voigt is caught

Voigt was now starting to tire and he fought hard to stay away. However, he managed to reach the summit of the final climb as the lone leader and pick up another two points but moments later he was brought back by King and Bak.

 

On the climb, the likes of Pinot and Navarro accelerated hard and managed to bridge the gap but Rodriguez and Horner were still caught in the second group. At the top, BMC and Lotto briefly continued to ride hard but soon they slowed down and this allowed the second group to rejoin the bunch after hard work by Ag2r, Lampre-Merida and Bretagne.

 

A slow pace

Surprisingly, the peloton now slowed completely down and for a long time, Bak was the lone rider setting a pretyy modest pace. Meanwhile, the other teams started to gather themselves next to and behind the Lotto team which constantly dominated the front.

 

Most of the riders that had been dropped, managed to rejoin the peloton, including one of the favourites Sacha Modolo. With 15km to go, the peloton finally started to up the pace when Bart De Clercq took over for Lotto Belisol.

 

OPQS take control

With 10km to go, Astana hit the front with Dmitriy Gruzdev but soon after Lotto, Cannondale, Astana and Katusha were riding next to each other. With 6km to go, Lotto again took control with Hansen and he led the peloton until the 4km to go mark.

 

Here OPQS hit the fron with Jan Bakelants while the other sprint teams were saving themselves further behind. With 2km to go, Niki Terpstra took over before the Belgian team was passed by three Cofidis riders.

 

Tony Martin took over and managed to regain control for OPQS but just before the flamme rouge, Cancellara launched his move. Kwiatkowski took over the chase, setting the scene for the dramatic finale.

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