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Julian Alaphilippe took a swashbuckling victory on the opening stage of the Tour de France in Landerneau but the day was marred by two huge crashes with Chris Froome sent for scans after being caught in the second of them.
Emerging from the chaos, Alaphilippe warmed French hearts as he swapped his world champion’s rainbow jersey for yellow, racing clear of his rivals on the climb of the Cote de la Fosse aux Loups at the end of the 198km stage from Brest.
The main contenders for glory come Paris – Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic and Geraint Thomas – crossed the line in a group eight seconds later, but there were major time gaps behind as the peloton was left to count the cost of the spills.
The first incident came when a spectator reached out into the road with a placard aimed at the TV cameras, oblivious to the danger posed as Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin struck the sign and hit the deck to cause a colossal pile-up of stricken riders and broken bikes.
It took a full 25km for a battered and bruised peloton to fully regroup but the pack would be ripped apart again by a high-speed incident on the downhill approach to Landerneau.
Chris Froome was among the worst-affected. The four-time Tour winner has put in months of work to return to the race following his devastating crash in the summer of 2019, but it could all be gone in a flash as he struggled to get back to his feet.
Though he did eventually ride to the finish, crossing the line 14-and-a-half minutes down, it remains to be seen if the Israel Start-Up Nation rider takes the start on Sunday.
“Not how I planned for today to go but I managed to finish,” the 36-year-old wrote on Twitter.
“Off for some scans I will update this evening. I hope everyone else who came down is okay #TDF2021.”
Froome’s team later said he had avoided any broken bones but his condition would be assessed before the start of stage two.
Three riders – Jasha Sutterlin, Cyril Lemoine and Ignatas Konovalovas – failed to finish while others face an uncomfortable night’s sleep as they nurse injuries.
The overall hopes of several riders already appear over due to time losses – most notably Miguel Angel Lopez who is almost two minutes down.
Though Thomas and Richard Carapaz avoided trouble, the Ineos Grenadiers’ much-discussed quartet of potential contenders has already been halved – Richie Porte lost two minutes while Tao Geoghegan Hart, apparently delayed by the first crash, conceded more than five to dampen Thomas’ mood.
“It was a solid day but stressful,” the Welshman said. “That big crash at the end I had no idea who was in it and it ended up Richie was in it which wasn’t great. I was just concentrating on stay on my bike, basically…I was happy to get through but I’m gutted about Richie and Tao (losing time).”
None of that was of any concern to Alaphilippe as he took his sixth career Tour stage win to wear yellow for a third year in a row.
“It’s a scenario I imagined and I really wanted to do it but of course I had to do it and it’s really super,” the Deceuninck-QuickStep rider said.
“My team did a great job and controlled it all day. At the end I was caught in a crash but we got back and I really had to make the last climb. I had to get rid of the sprinters, it wasn’t easy but I gave my best and that was it.”
Thomas briefly looked like being distanced by Pogacar and Roglic, though he rode his way back up to the Slovenian pair.
“I was too far back on the last climb,” Thomas added. “I though it was OK, I’d slowly move up because I was expecting a lull after the steep bit was over, but it never lulled because Alaphilippe went so hard.
“It made my life harder but for me personally it was not bad for a first day.”