France's Bardet wins Tour de France opener as Cavendish suffers

Romain Bardet takes the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France (Thomas SAMSON)
Romain Bardet takes the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France (Thomas SAMSON)

French climber Romain Bardet of the DSM team claimed the overall leader's yellow jersey when he won the opening stage of the Tour de France on Saturday with a late escape on a 206km run from Florence to Rimini.

Searing heat of 30C (86F) blighted the peloton as it set off from downtown Florence on the 21-day epic leaving many riders suffering, with British sprinter Mark Cavendish trailing by 30 minutes when Bardet crossed the finish line.

All the main contenders for the Tour title crossed the line five seconds adrift in the first of four stages featuring racing in Italy.

The 33-year-old Bardet's teammate Frank Van Den Broek was part of an early break and the pair survived a reel-in effort from a fast-closing peloton for victory on the Rimini seafront.

Race director Christian Prudhomme had promised a brawl from day one and so it proved to be as the peloton closed ever closer to Bardet and Van Den Broek who dug deep in an act of team spirit that bore rich fruit.

- Never too late -

This was Bardet's fourth stage win on the Tour and his first yellow jersey.

"The peloton was suffering from the heat but I had done heat training. So I grabbed an icepack and a bidon and went for it," said Bardet, kitted in the yellow jersey and beaming with delight.

He ended second and third on the Tour in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

"I'd somehow given up hope of wearing the yellow but it's never too late, I feel like I won the jackpot," Bardet said.

His closest rivals for the overall lead Sunday when stage two takes the peloton through the Emilia Romagna region from Cesenatico to Bologna over another hilly route are Tadej Pogacar and Remco Evenepoel, both at 15sec, due to the time bonus that went with the stage win.

While the hills of Tuscany made for some eye-catching vistas for worldwide audiences, the riders had to battle not only the heat but also seven ascents.

Cavendish was left periodically vomiting as the pace picked up.

Chasing a record 35th Tour de France stage win the 'Manx Missile' was cheered over every hill as he dug deep to keep his bid alive.

His Astana teammate Michele Cazzoli pulled out half way through, the Italian exhausted from helping Cavendish, who was eventually second last over the line, at 39min 22sec.

Defending champion Jonas Vingegaard and chief pretender Pogacar led the peloton away from the start line past the sights of Renaissance city Florence for a 21-day odyssey that ends in Nice after 3,498km of race action.

The 2024 Tour is billed as a four-way struggle.

Behind Vingegaard and 2020-2021 champion Pogacar lurk former Vuelta and Giro champion Primoz Roglic (Red Bull) and Tour newcomer Remco Evenepoel of Soudal Quick-Step.