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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, July 8, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. - Mark Twain

Current racing:

Latest completed racing:

Tour de France stage one team reports

We'll start with stage winner and first Yellow Jersey Fernando Gaviria's Team Quick-Step:

Fernando Gaviria didn't waste any time in leaving an indelible mark over the 105th Tour de France, as he produced a perfect sprint on the uphill drag to Fontenay-Le-Comte to win the opening stage of the race and don the first yellow jersey, capping off a perfect day for Quick-Step Floors, one during which our team has been prominent from the very outset, first by chasing and reeling in the breakaway, and then by setting up the sprint of the 23-year-old debutant.

"It's incredible, I don't have enough words to tell you how I feel on this amazing day. I was thinking of the victory, but to take also the yellow jersey was a dream, a dream which I turned into reality thanks to the beautiful work of all my teammates, who rode their heart out for me and made sure of bringing me into the best position for the final. That's why this win isn't just mine, is of the entire team", said Fernando, whose palmares includes now days spent in both the maglia rosa and the maillot jaune, two of cycling's most prized jerseys.

The 201km-long stage which rolled out from Noirmoutier-en-l'Île was a quiet one until the last ten kilometers, when just moments after the three escapees got caught – thanks mainly to Tim Declercq's outstanding effort – everything blew up due to a crash which splintered the peloton, leaving only 70 riders in the front. The drama continued, as other riders crashed or punctured out of the group, which was led by Niki Terpstra and Philippe Gilbert, who put down the hammer, stretching out the field as the Quick-Step Floors train was beginning to assemble.

Liège–Bastogne–Liège winner Bob Jungels led under the flamme rouge arch, before Belgian Champion Yves Lampaert upped the tempo as he dived into the last corner, with 750 meters to go. Once Yves peeled off the front, Max Richeze showed why he is one of the best lead-out men in the business, keeping his cool as the peloton was traveling at 60 km/h and ideally launching Fernando Gaviria, who held off the charge of Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) to take the most important victory of his career so far.

Fernando Gaviria

Fernando Gaviria snags the first stage.

First day in the Tour de France, first victory, first yellow jersey – all these made for a remarkable achievement and a fantastic debut of Fernando Gaviria, whose maiden outing at the Grande Boucle has been highly-anticipated since last year, when he cruised to four stage wins and the cyclamen jersey at the Giro d'Italia.

"Being the first stage of the Tour de France it was pretty stressful, but the guys perfectly organized themselves, kept me protected and overcome all the obstacles, be it crosswinds or roundabouts, which came thick and fast in the final kilometers. It was thanks to their work and the strong legs I had that I could beat two strong riders and take a yellow jersey Colombia had been waiting for 15 years."

"I don't know for how long we will keep the yellow jersey in the team, for now all we want is to enjoy this beautiful moment, continue taking it day by day and see how things unfold. It's true that I also scored important points today, but I'm not thinking of the green jersey, it's still too early for that. It's a proud and happy day of my life, which motivates me even more for the upcoming stages", concluded Fernando Gaviria, the fifth rider in the history of Quick-Step Floors to take the Tour de France yellow jersey, after landing the team's 33rd stage win at the century-old race.

Second-place Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me this report:

On the opening day of the 105th edition of the Tour de France, riders and fans alike were treated to beautiful weather conditions in the Vendée department of France’s Atlantic coast. The weather promoted fast riding as riders geared up for what promised to be an enthralling and exciting edition of the world’s most famous race. In a finale that saw crashes, splits in the peloton and mechanicals threatening to bring a rider’s race to an end on the very first day, the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, was protected by his BORA-hansgrohe teammates perfectly, pushing hard and just missing the top spot to take second, with Rafał Majka closing out the top ten with a tenth position, making his ambitions for the GC race clear.

Peter Sagan

Coming into the sprint Peter Sagan looks well-placed, Gaviria was just faster.

The Stage
The opening stage of La Grande Boucle would start in the tranquil setting of the Île de Noirmoutier, but this tranquility would be short-lived, as the most famous cycling race in the world made its way down France’s Atlantic coast to its conclusion, 201km away in Fontenay-le-Comte. The parcours was flat throughout, with a small hump almost 30km from the finish line to decide who would wear the polka dot jersey, but this was a sideshow to the main event – a flat finale suggested that today the stage victory would be claimed by the sprinters – as well as deciding who would be first to of this year’s race wear the famous Maillot Jaune.

The Team Tactics
The first day of the Tour is always an exciting time, but it’s also fast, frenetic and dangerous. Speeds are higher, the ambition is stronger, and the desire to win is many times amplified. As a result, crashes are much more likely and so the aim for most of today would be to stay out of trouble, especially with the possibility of winds in the final 30km as the race moved inland, and to protect Peter Sagan and Rafał Majka in the finale – with Peter potentially contesting the sprint, and Rafał wanting to finish safely for the GC race. For the finale, the whole team will pull to come to the finish in a good position, with Lukas Pöstlberger and Daniel Oss the last ones to position the UCI World Champion ahead of the sprint.

The Race
The second the flag dropped for Le Grand Depart, a break made their move. This small group of three quickly built an advantage that quickly exceeded two minutes and on this opening stage, the peloton was happy for the breakaway to put all the effort in. The advantage crept up to almost four minutes before the bunch started to take notice. Starting with the intermediate sprint around 80km out, where the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, took ninth position, the speeds increased, gradually cutting into the break’s lead at speeds of 45km/h, before finally making the catch with 10km remaining – only for a pile up to cause a split in the bunch. The BORA-hansgrohe riders were ahead of the split, but this shook up the peloton and as the finish line loomed closer, there were more crashes and mechanicals throwing the GC race into disarray. The BORA-hansgrohe riders took control at the front, with Rafał, Marcus Burghardt, Daniel Oss and Lukas Pöstlberger bringing Peter into a strong position. Five riders back when the sprint started, Peter was close, passing three riders with ease, but was just unable to maintain his effort to take the win, taking second on the line. Rafał came across the line in tenth spot, showing his ambitions in the GC race already at this early stage. Peter will start stage 2 in the green jersey after stage winner Gaviria took the Yellow Jersey.

From the Finish Line
"The Tour de France got underway today with a fast stage! It was flat, with a parcours that suited the pure sprinters and, as expected, we had a brisk finishing sprint. The guys did an excellent job throughout the stage and in the tense final kilometres protected Rafał and me from all the trouble. We stayed clear of all the crashes. I felt my legs in good shape and took second in the stage. It's just the start of a long Tour de France." – Peter Sagan, UCI World Champion

"It was a good start to the Tour de France today for us and the guys followed our plan perfectly. When there was the second crash, we started pulling at the front, on the one hand, to stay out of trouble, and on the other to take a bit of an advantage out of the situation. Some GC guys were stuck behind, we had all our guys at the front, and that was important. Rafał finished 10th and in the end, every second counts. Peter did a strong sprint as well, Fernando was simply better today, but the stage was too easy to suit Peter so, I think, second was very good today." – Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director 

Richie Porte's BMC team sent me this update:

7 July, 2018, Fontenay-le-Comte (FRA): After what was a calm and controlled start to the day, the opening stage of this year's Tour de France came down to a hectic finale with crashes in the closing kilometers of the day splitting the field and creating early gaps in the General Classification.

The race started on the island of Noirmoutier and saw three riders go clear inside the first 5km of the 201km course before heading onto the mainland with an advantage that was nudging over the four-minute mark.

With a bunch sprint expected in Fontenay-le-Comte, the sprinters' teams soon took control at the front of the peloton and brought the leaders' advantage back to 2'30" heading into the second half of the race.

Porte, who had been protected by his BMC Racing Team teammates all day, was in the first half of the main bunch approaching the day's only bump in the road, the 700m long category four Côte de Vix, which came with 28km to go.

The sprinters' teams continued to increase the pace and brought the leaders back to inside one minute at the KOM, before eventually catching the last two riders with less than 10km to go.

At the same time, a crash in the middle of the bunch saw splits form and while Richie Porte was not involved, he was caught up behind the crash and forced to stop momentarily.

His teammates responded quickly around him and were able to get him into the chasing group while up ahead, Greg Van Avermaet sat in the first part of the peloton.

More crashes only added to the chaotic nature of the finale with various groups spread out along the road as a heavily-reduced bunch sprint, won by Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), was launched.

Van Avermaet was BMC Racing Team's first rider across the line, finishing with the same time as the stage winner, while Porte eventually finished in a group 51 seconds behind alongside some of his main General Classification rivals including Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT).

Quotes from the Finish Line:

Richie Porte:
"It was pretty nervous there. It was not ideal but I think Quintana (Movistar Team) has probably lost more [than me], Froome (Team Sky) was there, and Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT) was there. That's the Tour. I was pretty close to coming down. I sort of rode Damiano Caruso, my teammate, into the ground and that softened the blow. I don't really know what happened to be honest, it's just one of those things. It's all ok and the next thing, there's a crash in front. There were a few more crashes after that."

"There were other guys there, some worse off than me. It's the first day of the Tour and it's not ideal. But there's a long way [to go] and it's just nice to finally start the race. It's definitely swings and roundabouts, this race. Guys took time today but who's to say the same doesn't happen to them tomorrow. The guys were good around me today and it's a shame but we'll see how the next days go."

Greg Van Avermaet:
"It was a typical first stage of the Tour de France. It's hectic and we expected that but it was too bad that the guys were caught behind the crash and Richie lost some time. The good thing to come out of this day is maybe that Froome and some other GC guys also lost time and luckily Richie didn't go down in the crash. I was up at the front and I tried to keep going and be up there for the bonus sprint but the three seconds were gone. We will see how it goes over the next days."

Sports Director, Fabio Baldato:
"There was a narrow passage in the village and the sprinters were already nervous to stay in position and there was a crash in front of Richie, in front of many other GC riders. He was not at the back, he was around 30th position. It was not enough. The first stage, everyone nervous, the yellow jersey [on offer] if you win the stage, and this put a lot of pressure on everybody. The good thing is that Richie is not hurt, he is fine. Some leaders are in the front, some leaders with us. Now, we need to go even faster in the team time trial to come back with the leaders who are in front of us."

Here's what Chris Froome's Team Sky had to say about the first stage:

What had been a straightforward day quickly turned into a hectic dash for home, with Froome being edged off the road and into a field with around six kilometers remaining. The defending champion was able to quickly remount and join a large chasing group of riders after the peloton had split in a large crash 11km from home.

Froome eventually crossed the line 51 seconds back on stage winner Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors), with the stage decided in a nervous bunch kick.

Geraint Thomas led the team home, digging deep to finish 14th and firmly amongst the lead group in Fontenay-le-Comte.

Back at the bus Froome said: “I saw a lot of crashes out there today. It’s just one of those things. We always knew the first few days were going to be tricky and going to be sketchy. It’s part of the game unfortunately.

Chris Froome

Chris Froome crosses the line a bit worse for the wear.

“We were right at the front part of the peloton in the top third. There wasn’t too much more the guys could have done. It was getting quite chaotic with some of the sprinters there, but that’s bike racing. I’m just grateful I’m not injured in any way and there’s a lot of road to cover before Paris obviously.”

Luke Rowe and Gianni Moscon quickly dropped back to help pace Froome’s group, which also included GC contenders Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who were held up by the previous crash. A bruising finish also caught out Egan Bernal, who went down as the road quickly narrowed inside the final 10km. The Colombian was able to remount and also finished the 201-kilometre stage.

Thomas was happy to avoid the trouble, and after the stage he confirmed: "It wasn't a super hard day and there was no real wind but then the last 20km was pretty bonkers. But you get used to it, that's what the Tour is like. It's always nice to get through unscathed and tick one off. 20 to go!"

Sport Director Nicolas Portal explained that hectic finishes are nothing new at the Tour. He said: "It is a tricky finish and just the typical fight between sprinters and GC guys. Everyone wants to be on the front, especially ahead of the 3km marker. It's the normal tension which is slightly higher than the other Grand Tours."

Following the sprint Gaviria pulled on the first maillot jaune of the race, with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) rounding out the podium places.

And here's what Nairo Quintana's Team Movistar had to say about stage one:

A handful of unfortunate events made for a significant time loss for Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) right at the start of the 2018 Tour de France. In what had previously been a quite calm stage one -201km from Noirmoutier to Fontenay-le-Comte-, the Colombian and his team-mates suffered several setbacks which took the ‘Cóndor’ out of the main group into the very last kilometers.

A first crash, happening 10km before the end, caught Imanol Erviti and José Joaquín Rojas, the latter -together with Daniele Bennati- covering Quintana prior, away from any incidents. The three Blue leaders remained into a front group from which Bernal (SKY), Porte (BMC), Adam Yates (MTS) or even Chris Froome (SKY) were dropped back by subsequent incidents. However, as Nairo had rode over a traffic island with just under 4km to go, the Colombian broke his two wheels and had to stop and change them before the ‘safety zone’ of the final three kilometers.

Quickly helped by the neutral service and later on by the Movistar Team car, which had been held back as many groups were scattered on their way, Quintana -which Bennati and Amador waited for and helped until the finish- got to the second group and finish 1’15” behind the first main bunch, featuring Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde. The Eusebio Unzué-led squad will try to bounce back and continue fighting, starting with Sunday stage two -182km to La Roche-sur-Yon-, where the sprinters will again play a significant role.

Mikel Landa

Mikel Landa finishes the stage.

Nairo Quintana: “I rode over a kerb just before the last three kilometers, had both wheels broken and it was impossible for me to continue riding that way, I had to stop. Sadly, things went that way – there’s no other thing left for us but carry on and try to recover in the upcoming stages.”

Mikel Landa: “It’s a catastrophe for us. The initial three quarters of the stage were really calm, but the finale was truly eventful, with lots of nerves; it was difficult to manage our way through safely. Things like what happened to Nairo are something you never expect at the moment they happen, and it’s really awful. We’ll have to think we’re still on stage one out of 21, and what happened to us today might turn around in the upcoming days. Let’s keep focus, continue to work hard and go day-by-day before the mountains.”

Eusebio Unzué: “Nairo struck a traffic divider with 600, 700 meters before the 3km banner, broke both wheels and couldn’t continue. Initially, he was helped out by the neutral service, but before our car got back to him, with a significant delay because the race was torn into pieces and there were lots of groups out of the road, he couldn’t get back on his bike racing. The worst thing about this is that the previous incidents made things even harder for us. A crash 3km before Nairo’s affected José Joaquín Rojas, which was the man who had to lend him a bike in case of any misfortune. The riders ahead of Nairo stopped immediately. The only positive conclusion we can draw from this is that neither Nairo nor his team-mates suffered any injuries and we’re otherwise safe. Sadly, we know how things work in the Tour, and other GC contenders, not only him, have already suffered setbacks today.”

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