Gilbert takes Tour opener
Contador drops over a minute after crash
Last Updated: 02/07/11 8:06pm
Gilbert: Marked his first race in Belgian champions colours with a convincing stage win
Philippe Gilbert emerged from the carnage to take a convincing victory on the first stage of the Tour de France in Les Herbiers after a crash split the bunch to pieces.
The Omega Pharma-Lotto rider timed his attack to perfection on the concluding 2.2km climb at Mont des Alouettes to distance his rivals to the tune of three seconds, taking his first win at the Tour and pulling on the first yellow jersey of the race.
Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) was the first to drive for the line but the Swiss rider faded with 200m to go and was overhauled by the Belgian champion who scooped not only the malliot jaune, but the points and mountains classifications for good measure.
Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) was next man home three seconds down on Gilbert with world champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervelo) rounding out the podium places a further three seconds adrift.
A huge crash with 9km to go put the field into turmoil as an Astana rider collided with a spectator causing a mass pile-up on the narrow run into Les Herbiers.
Huge gaps in the peloton sparked a frantic chase from pre-race favourite Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) as a number of top contenders became distanced and he eventually finished one minute and 20 seconds down on Gilbert.
A second crash within the final three kilometres saw the previously fortunate lead group split in half and held up overall contender Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) in a frantic finale. Yet with the crash occurring inside the final three kilometres, the British national champion was able to finish on the safe time as third-placed Hushovd.
Geraint Thomas was the first rider home for Team Sky in sixth place which meant the Brit was the first recipient of the white young riders jersey.
Calm before the storm
Three men attacked as soon as the race hit kilometre zero and quickly built up an advantage of six minutes and 30 seconds.
It was no surprise to see local team Europcar represented in the break in their local region of Vendee with Perrig Quemeneur sparking a move into life and he was swiftly joined by Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ).
Garmin-Cervelo, HTC-Highroad and Omega Pharma-Lotto took up the early mantle of riding on front in a bid to peg the gap to the escapees at a comfortable distance.
Jelle Vandenert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) was among those involved in a crash in Sables-d'Olonne after signalling in avoidance of some road furniture. The crash also saw HTC-Highroad duo Matthew Goss and Tejay Van Garderen temporarily distanced.
The trio were held at arm's length and were allowed to soak up the top three points placings at the day's intermediate sprint at Avrille before attention turned to the peloton and the first clash of the green jersey contenders.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) led an elite band of sprinters across the line after getting the better of Andre Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) at the line.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) saw his tilt at the green jersey suffer an early setback with the Manxman gaining just five points in comparison to Farrar's 13.
With Gilbert the odds-on favourite to take the first stage, his Omega Pharma-Lotto side shouldered the bulk of the workload as the gap to the leaders remained constant.
The brave trio were caught with just under 19km remaining setting up an uncertain finale with teams jostling for position on the lead-up to the final climb.
With half the peloton held up courtesy of the crash on the run for home, splintered factions were forced to limit their losses ahead of Sunday's team time trial, with Contador the most high-profile casualty.
With riders strewn out over the line on the fourth category climb the man with the biggest smile was Gilbert who continued the most successful season of his career to date.
The elated Belgian explained: "I knew I had a great chance given the finish of the stage and I took it with both hands so I'm delighted.
"We prepared thoroughly this morning and everyone carried out the plan perfectly.
"When Cancellara attacked I knew I had to go with him and that's what I did.
I then took it up myself and gave it everything.
"It's a shame that tomorrow's the team time trial as the team could be a bit tired after their great work for me today. But this is a fantastic day for all of us."
Stage One result: Passage du Gois to Mont des Alouettes (191.5km)
1. P Gilbert (Bel) Omega-Pharma Lotto 4hrs 41mins 31secs
2. C Evans (Aus) BMC Racing +3secs
3. T Hushovd (Nor) Garmin-Cervelo +6
4. J.J. Rojas (Esp) Movistar all same time
5. J van den Broeck (Bel) Omega-Pharma Lotto
6. G Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky
7. A Kloden (Ger) RadioShack
8. R Taaramae (Est) Cofidis
9. C Horner (USA) RadioShack
10. T Martin (Ger) HTC-Highroad
11. L Gerdemann (Ger) Leopard Trek
12. F Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek
13. P Velits (Svk) HTC-Highroad
14. T Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
15. D Cunego (Ita) Lampre
Overall standings as per first stage results.