By Julien Pretot
LANDERNEAU, France (Reuters) -Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe recovered from a crash to win the first stage of the Tour de France, an incident-strewn 197.8-km ride from Brest, to take the inaugural leader’s yellow jersey on Saturday.
The world champion burst away from the main pack with the 2.3-km left of a brutal climb up to the Cote de la Fosse aux Loups, and none of his rivals could match his power.
Australian Michael Matthews took second place, with Slovenian Primoz Roglic coming home third, eight seconds behind, with most top favorites including defending champion Tadej Pogacar and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas on their wheels.
“I really wanted to win this stage; my (Deceuninck-Quick Step) team believed in me and protected me all day long; I had to finish it off in the last ascent,” said Alaphilippe, his knee bloodied from an earlier crash. “I attacked far from the line to test my rivals, but when I saw there was a gap, I thought I should continue.”
Hot favorite Mathieu van der Poel, who was out to take the fabled “Maillot Jaune” on his debut – a feat never achieved by his French grandfather Raymond Poulidor in 14 appearances despite eight podium finishes – had too much of an effort to make at the foot of the last climb after being held up, and had to settle for 20th in the end.
The stage was hit by two massive crashes that brought down numerous riders. Four-time champion Chris Froome looked in pain as he climbed on his bike again after being sent down in the second crash 7.5km from the finish.
The Briton, who has little hope of winning the race after failing to rediscover top form following a horror crash two years ago, ended the stage almost 15 minutes off the pace. In the first crash, German Tony Martin was sent tumbling when he rode straight into a cardboard sign held out by a fan looking the other way at a television camera, creating chaos with 47 kilometers left of the stage.
Tour de France organizers Amaury Sport Organisation told Reuters they were suing the spectator who caused the incident. Overall contenders Miguel Angel Lopez of Colombia and German Emanuel Buchmann, among the riders, held up, crossed the line one minute 49 seconds behind Alaphilippe, who bagged a career sixth Tour stage win despite being involved in the pile-up.
Briton Tao Geoghegan Hart finished the day 5:33 off the pace after being caught up in the crash. At the same time, teammate Richie Porte, third last year in Paris, also lost over two minutes, leaving Ineos-Grenadiers with only Thomas and Carapaz’s general classification chances unhurt after a brutal first day of racing.
The incident also claimed the race’s first victim, with German Jasha Suetterlin of Team DSM abandoning the Tour due to the injuries he sustained. Sunday’s second stage is a 183.5-km ride from Perros-Guirec to Mur de Bretagne, ending with another short ascent that should favor Alaphilippe. (Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christina Fincher)