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Well, that didn’t take long.
One stage into the 2018 Tour de France and Chris Froome is bloodied, Richie Porte is on the back foot, Nairo Quintana is over a minute behind the GC contenders, and Rigoberto Uran is likely down a teammate.
Perhaps wildest of all is that each was set back from separate incidents on a chaotic opening stage that reminded racers and spectators alike that the Tour is, in fact, the Tour — unrelenting and unpredictable. That’s especially true in the opening week, when everyone is fresh and gunning for a stage win that can both relieve pressure, and, perhaps, deliver the maillot jaune.
Even on a flat stage where a field sprint is expected, all hell can break loose — as it did Saturday when only 63 riders finished on the same time as stage winner Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors).
The first crash of the 2018 Tour belonged to American Lawson Craddock (EF Education First-Drapac), who went down in the feed zone 120km into the stage when a dropped bottle forced him off the road and into a spectator. The Houston native soldiered on to finish alone, almost eight minutes down, but x-rays revealed a fractured scapula.
Craddock broke into tears as he told reporters he would do what he could to get back on the bike and to the start line on Sunday morning. Should he abandon, last year’s second-place finisher would be down to six teammates with 20 stages remaining.
It’s worth remembering, however, that Froome lost nearly the same mount of time to Uran on Saturday (51 seconds) than he beat the Colombian by in 2017 (54 seconds).
— EF Pro Cycling (@EFprocycling) July 7, 2018
More crashes would soon follow. As the defending champion, Froome’s incident was the most impactful of the race. With 5km to go and the peloton winding up for the field sprint, the Team Sky leader bumped into, and off of, Rick Zabel (Katusha-Alpecin) and was squeezed off the side of the road, landing in a grass ditch — and narrowly avoiding a pole that surely would have ended his Tour.
Froome was back on his bike quickly, with Luke Rowe and Gianni Moscon dropping back to help chase, but he was unable to rejoin the front of the race, finishing 51 seconds down on GC contenders such as Uran, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jmbo), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
In reality, Froome was luckier than he was unlucky — an on-bike camera video from the peloton shows that the Sky leader narrowly avoided striking a post, head first.
“I saw a lot of crashes out there today, it’s just one of those things,” Froome said. “We always knew the first few days were going to be tricky and going to be sketchy. It’s part of the game unfortunately. 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. There’s a lot of road to cover before Paris obviously.”
Froome finished in the same group as Porte, who was caught up behind a crash at 10km to go that also saw Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) on the deck and unable to contest the final sprint. Also in that group was Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who went down and was shepherded home by teammates Mathew Hayman and Jack Bauer.
“That’s the Tour,” Porte said. “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 okay 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 definitely swings and roundabouts, this race. Guys took time today, but who’s to say the same doesn’t happen to them tomorrow?”
There was yet another crash at 8km to go, as Tour rookie Egan Bernal (Team Sky) clipped a traffic island on the right side of the road. The young Colombian was not hurt, and finished the stage alongside Quintana.
It’s fair to say that no GC rider suffered worse luck, and paid the price more, than Quintana. While he didn’t hit the deck, Quintana lost 1:15 in the most frustrating of ways — he rode over a traffic island just inside the final 4km, breaking both wheels and forcing him to change them just outside of the “safety zone” of the final three kilometers. Paced back by Daniele Bennati and Andrey Amador, Quintana is suddenly the lowest-placed GC contender of Movistar’s triumvirate though he’s the most accomplished Grand Tour rider on the squad.
“It’s a catastrophe for us,” Landa said. “The initial three quarters of the stage were really calm, but the finale was truly eventful, with lots of tension. 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 1 of 21, and what happened to us today might turn around in the upcoming days.”
The net outcome of all the chaos? Froome, Porte, and Yates lose 51 seconds. Quintana and Bernal lose 1:15. Froome’s a bit banged up. Uran likely loses a teammate. And Quintana now sits third in the GC hierarchy within his own team. All on opening day.
“It was the classic Tour opening stage,” Nibali said, “with a long breakaway started early and caught with only 10km to go. Then another stage started with the sprinters fighting to find the best position. I struggled to stay in the front to avoid more risks.”
Looking forward, based on previous TTT results, there’s a very good chance we’ll see either Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) or either Greg Van Avermaet or Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) wearing the maillot jaune after Monday’s team time trial. But first they’ll need to get through Stage 2, a flat stage where a field sprint is expected.
A flat stage with a field sprint expected — what could go wrong?
Virtual GC among General Classification contenders
1. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), 4:23:32
2. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), at same time
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), at same time
4. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), at same time
5. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), at same time
6. Mikel Landa (Movistar), at same time
7. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), at same time
8. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), at same time
9. Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac), at same time
10. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), at same time
11. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing), at same time
12. Richie Porte (BMC Racing), at 0:51
13. Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), at 0:51
14. Chris Froome (Team Sky), at 0:51
15. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), at 1:15
CyclingTips editor Neal Rogers will be writing a daily column during the 2018 Tour de France, focused on analysis, commentary, and opinion.