Greipel wins Britain opener despite puncture

Eurosport - Sat, 11 Sep 16:42:00 2010

HTC-Columbia sprinter Andre Greipel won the opening stage of the Tour of Britain to record his 19th victory of the 2010 season.

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The German's day almost ended in disaster after he picked up a puncture less than 10km from the end of the 132km run from Rochdale to Blackpool, but the team got him back into position and he powered home ahead of Kiwi rider Greg Henderson and Italy's Manuel Belletti to take the win.

"The puncture made it all a bit more difficult, but we came through ok thanks to some great teamwork," HTC-Columbia's Sports Director Brian Holm said. 

"We pulled back a break, but then Andre punctured with eight kilometres to go.  I got almost everybody to stop, and Marco (Pinotti) gave him his wheel.  Then Tony Martin took Andre back up to the bunch and he got there three kilometres from the finish."

An early three-strong breakaway, which included Giro d'Italia maglia rosa wearer Richie Porte, opened up a sixth minute advantage after striking the front on the first climb of the race at Deerplay Moor. 

But Team Sky and Greipel's Colombia-HTC worked hard to reduce their lead as the peloton raced through ever-changing weather towards the famous seaside town.

Jack Bauer was first to be caught and while Wout Poels, who now leads the king of the mountain standings, and Porte, who has control of the sprint jersey, bravely hung on, they were finally caught as the race reached its predicted sprint finale.

Greipel then timed his burst to the line to perfection, claiming his 19th win of the season ahead of Giro stage winner Belletti.

Team-mate and sprint rival Mark Cavendish - who claimed his second Vuelta a Espana stage 24 hours earlier - will have learned of the result with interest.

In previous years sprinters have dominated the Tour of Britain but organisers have finally attempted to mix things up for this edition, with the profiles of both stage three and four likely to change the look of the general classification.

"It's always something special to win the first stage because you get the leader's jersey as well," said Greipel. 

"This was our main goal to win the stage and we achieved it.

"I think there are a couple of good teams and they will want to drop me on the climbs. Let's see, maybe they will, maybe they won't."

With victories in the 2009 Tour of Ireland and this year's Tour of Wallonia, Russell Downing is the leading British hope in the general classification. And he picked up valuable bonuses at the intermediate sprints to sit fourth overall and came home just one place behind top home finisher Ed Clancy in ninth.

However, there was disappointment for Jonny Bellis, who had targeted this race during a long and painful comeback from a road accident that left him fighting for his life almost exactly a year ago.

He was forced to withdraw from the race less than 50 miles in and will now prepare for yet another operation to treat a hernia high in his stomach lining, another consequence of his near tragic scooter crash.

More Than The Games / Eurosport

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