Gilbert, Degenkolb out of Tour de France as peloton licks wounds

Lotto-Soudal left reeling after two key stage-hunters forced out of race, Groupama-FDJ hit by wave of injuries.

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Luck was not on Lotto-Soudal‘s side in the stormy, slippery opener of the Tour de France on Saturday.

A crash-riddled stage saw dozens of riders hit the tarmac on rainwashed, greasy roads around Nice, with Lotto-Soudal’s leaders John Degenkolb, Philippe Gilbert and Caleb Ewan all among those to come down.

While Ewan raced on uninjured though unable to contest the sprint finish, his two stage-hunting companions have been forced to abandon the race.

Gilbert managed to finish the stage before being taken to hospital after a heavy fall.

“I was riding around position 20 in the peloton when they crashed in front of me,” Gilbert said Saturday night. “I managed to escape that crash. I passed two, three fallen riders and thought to be safe, but then they crashed again, and this time I couldn’t avoid them anymore.”

After testing at the hospital, it was revealed that the Belgian veteran had broken his left knee, the same injury he sustained in a crash in the Pyrenees at the 2018 Tour.

In a statement from the team, Lotto-Soudal medics confirmed that it was a fresh fracture rather than reopening of a past wound, adding that the injury “could have been worse,” and that Gilbert will likely be out of action for two to three weeks.

Gilbert’s co-leader Degenkolb fared no better. He was caught up in an incident also involving teammate Ewan and left with injuries to both knees. Degenkolb limped to the line, over 13 minutes down and over the time cut. Despite an appeal from his team, the German has been ejected from the race.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Today I lost all,” Degenkolb wrote on social media. “All I worked and trained for in this special 2020. With wounded knees I could finish with a lot of pain the stage, alone, with a more than 18 minutes delay but obviously I am far out of the timelimit … of course it‘s frustrating as hell but that’s the brutal reality of cycling.”

Gilbert paid tribute to his teammates and called out the tough decision made by the race officials.

“I have big respect for what John did, finishing after a nasty crash, 65 kilometers alone and arriving two minutes out of time limit. John gave everything, but got zero respect from the commissaires,” Gilbert said. “With the rain and all crashes, at least he deserved the respect to put him in the result, even if, afterward, he would have been unable to continue. So unacceptable.”

Groupama-FDJ the walking wounded; Valls and De la Cruz suffer fractures

Pinot and several of his teammates crashed under the 3km remaining banner. Photo: James Startt. 

After dozens of small crashes throughout the stage, one final incident decimated the peloton as the race charged toward the sprint finish on the Promenade des Anglais, with multiple riders from Groupama-FDJ coming down.

Though the team’s full eight were able to ride to the finish line, half of them have picked up injuries, with Thibaut Pinot, David Gaudu, William Bonnett and Rudy Mollard all impacted.

Team leader and GC dark horse Pinot described Saturday’s stage as “one of the hardest days of my life.” His crash has left him with what his team describes as “multiple dermabrasions on the right side of the body, knee trauma and right shoulder trauma.”

Spanish climber Rafa Valls (Bahrain-McLaren) was also caught up in the crash on the seafront. His team confirmed after the stage that he had fractured his femur and is out of the race, leaving Mikel Landa short of a key teammate. David de la Cruz of UAE-Team Emirates was another heavy faller. Although he fractured his sacrum, his team report that he will start stage 2 Sunday.

The peloton will be licking its wound as it rolls out of Nice and heads toward the mountains today. They’ll be pleased to hear the forecast is for sun.

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