Kittel claims opening Tour stage as Cavendish crashes

Germany's Marcel Kittel, left, sprints to win ahead of Slovakia's Peter Sagan (hidden), Lithuania's Ramunas Navardauskas,right, and France's Bryan Coquard, cener, at the end of the 190.5 km first stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on Saturday between Leeds and Harrogate, northern England.

Germany’s Marcel Kittel, left, sprints to win ahead of Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (hidden), Lithuania’s Ramunas Navardauskas,right, and France’s Bryan Coquard, cener, at the end of the 190.5 km first stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on Saturday between Leeds and Harrogate, northern England.

HARROGATE, England: Mark Cavendish crashed badly in the sprint finish as Marcel Kittel won the opening stage of the Tour de France on Saturday to take the race leader’s yellow jersey.

Cavendish appeared to be in pole position for a chaotic final sprint until he made contact with Australian champion Simon Gerrans and both came crashing down.

The 29-year-old Briton, who was hoping to win the 190.5km first stage from Leeds to Harrogate, where his mother was born, came down hard on his shoulder.

He was seen grimacing and holding his collarbone while lying on the tarmac, before climbing gingerly to his feet and riding over the finish line one handed, cradling his right arm in his lap.

“I feel sorry for Mark Cavendish and I wish him all the best,” said the winner, who also won last year’s opening stage.

“It was so hard. The hill in the last kilometer made it very difficult to win. There were so many people that we rode the finale like in a tunnel with a terrible noise. It’s unbelievable that I win stage one again,” added Kittel.

Slovak three-time green jersey winner Peter Sagan finished second with Ramunas Navardauskas of Lithuania third.

Such as the hectic nature of the final sprint that Tour favorite and reigning champion Chris Froome, not known for his acceleration on the flat, came in sixth, expertly avoiding the trouble.

His main rival, Spaniard two-time previous winner Alberto Contador said it was a relief to get through the stage.

“It was a very nervous day, I’m happy not to have suffered any accidents and to have overcome the stage,” said the 31-year-old Tinkoff-Saxo rider.

German Kittel confirmed his status as top sprinter following four sprint stage victories last year at the Grand Boucle, keeping his cool to come through the debris of fallen bodies to power to the line.

His reward will be to wear the yellow jersey on Sunday’s hilly 201km second stage from York to Sheffield.

The race began under sunny blue skies at midday on Saturday with a royal send-off.

Prince William and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, presided over an official opening ceremony to the greatest bike race in the world at Harewood House just outside Leeds.

Prince Harry was also there as the Red Arrows flew overhead and a band played the French and British national anthems before the Duchess cut the official ribbon to give the ceremonial start.

Once the actual stage started 3km further down the road, three riders attacked and formed the breakaway of the day.

The oldest man in the peloton, 42-year-old German Jens Voigt was one of those three but after being easily outsprinted by French escape companions Benoit Jarrier and Nicolas Edet on the first categorized climb, the Trek rider decided to go it alone.

He attacked just before the one and only intermediate sprint of the day and set off on his own with still 113km to ride.

At one point with around 100km left he had a lead of over five minutes on the peloton.

Voigt, who was equalling the all-time record of 17 Tour appearances, had no delusions of grandeur about winning the stage but wanted merely to crest the next two categorized climbs ahead of the rest to ensure he would wear this Tour’s first polkadot jersey for the king of the mountains. A goal he achieved.

But after the third climb he was soon caught by the peloton which had set quite a pace as last year’s third-placed finisher Joaquim Rodriguez was in a bunch that had surprisingly slipped off the back on the second of the three climbs, the 4.5km, 6.8 percent average gradient, third category Buttertubs hill.

After Voigt was caught the pace slowed for 50km and Rodriguez managed to get back to the peloton before the hectic final 10km.




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