Tour de France 2011 stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson>>

Tour de France 2011 stage one video highlights>>

The Tour de France exploded in to life today in a final eight kilometres that saw a favourite’s hopes dashed then saved again, and then dashed again, a do or die effort from Cancellara, and finally a win by Belgian Champion Philippe Gilbert.



Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) had been tipped to take the win for months with the uphill finish at Les Herbiers suiting his talents perfectly. The Belgian, returning to the Tour de France having not ridden since 2008, had to start his effort earlier than he would have liked when Fabian Cancellara (Leopard-Trek) launched an all-out effort in the final kilometre.



Attacks from Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov and then by Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) had been quickly and easily covered by the small leading group, but the Swiss caught everyone napping.



Gilbert jumped after him and immediately got clear. But knowing that it was too soon, and knowing Cancellara would sit up as soon as he caught him, he let him dangle a few metres in front of him to catch his breath before launching his final, decisive move.



Behind him the second best uphill sprinter, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), dragged himself away from the 20 strong group. Evans never looks fast, or comfortable, but his speed got him to within three seconds of Gilbert, and three seconds clear of Thor Hushovd who finished third.



Briton Geraint Thomas (Sky) finished a brilliant sixth, having spent most of the last 20km just trying to get his team mates in to a good position. He ended up pulling on the white jersey of best young rider and put himself in with a real chance of taking yellow tomorrow.



Chaos theory

As the race unfolded at the front, it was exploding behind. The three-man escape group – Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar), Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) – that had gone clear in kilometre one were brought back with 18km to go as the speed ramped up. So far, so very Tour de France.



Europcar was doing most of the damage, looking to set up their leader Thomas Voeckler for a win in their home region.



But what really did the damage was an Astana rider, sitting anonymously on the right hand side of the peloton about half way back. His effect was felt when he clipped a spectator at high speed and fell in to the peloton with around eight kilometres to go. It happened on a narrow stretch of road, split the bunch in two and threw the race in to panic.



As the speed was building at the front, riders were picking themselves up and squeezing through the melee behind, trying to get back to the leading group. The cameras scanned the chasing groups, looking for any of the favourites who may be losing time.



None could be seen. The Andy and Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) were both up front, as were most of RadioShacks’ leaders – all four of them.



Then we saw him, Alberto Contador. The man whose presence is a big question mark hanging over this race was in the second group at 37 seconds. His group was losing time, he had just one team mate and looked panicked.



As the coverage flicked between groups it was almost impossible to know where everyone was, but without doubt Contador was the big name losing out on the first day. Then, right under the three kilometre banner, there was another crash. The camera showed it briefly before getting back to the leaders, and there was no way of knowing who was in it.



But it was the lead group, and it had split again. There was now just 19 riders left at the front when Gilbert attacked.



After Gilbert’s victory the cameras quickly went back to Contador’s group to find he had been joined by Andy Schleck, Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) and Wiggins. It seemed the controversial Spaniard had been saved.



The group cruised over the line one minute 20 seconds back. Wiggins was at the back of the group and lost a further nine seconds. Infuriatingly for those riders who were felled or held up in the last crash the three kilometre rule – whereby anyone who crashes within the final three kilometres is given the time of the group they were in at the time – wasn’t enforced.



Or so we thought.



Twenty minutes after ASO had published the results on their website with just 19 riders in the leading group, the results changed again. Suddenly the leading group that finished six seconds behind Gilbert was 77 strong and it contained almost all the favourites who had avoided the first crash at eight kilometres to go.



But in 82nd place, 1-20 behind Gilbert, was Contador.



In fact, the Spaniard wasn’t the only favourite to miss out. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) lost the same amount of time, as did Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin). Christian Vande Velde (Garmin) lost 1-55 minutes.



The crossing of the Passage du Gois at the very beginning of the stage may have been a damp squib, but the stage finale was bike racing at it’s best. The continued excitement as the results changed an added bonus. Today’s stage also proved the change in the Tour’s format to be the breath of fresh air the race desperately needed.

Results

Tour de France 2011, stage one: Passage du Gois La Barre de Monts to Mont des Alouettes Les Herbiers, 191.5km


1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto

2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at 3 secs

3. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo at 6 secs

4. Jose Rojas (Esp) Movistar

5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto

6. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky

7. Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack

8. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis

9. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack

10. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad all at same time

Overall classification after stage one

1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto

2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at 3 secs

3. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo at 6 secs

4. Jose Rojas (Esp) Movistar

5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma Lotto

6. Geraint Thomas (GB) Team Sky

7. Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack

8. Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis

9. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack

10. Tony Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad all at same time

British

16. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Cervelo at 6 secs

50. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Team Sky at 6 secs

69. Mark Cavendish (GB) HTC-Highroad at 6 secs

70. Ben Swift (GB) Team Sky at 6 secs

Philippe Gilbert wins, Tour de France 2011, stage one



Philippe Gibert takes the stage win

David Millar at finish, Tour de France 2011, stage one



David Millar crosses the line in 16th

Geraint Thomas in white jersey, Tour de France 2011, stage one



Geraint Thomas in the white jersey

Philippe Gilbert on podium, Tour de France 2011, stage one



Philippe Gilbert in the race lead


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