Alejandro Valverde has become the first leader of the 2008 Tour de France after a powerful late attack on the final climb of the opening stage to Plumelec.

The Caisse d’Epargne leader charged past Columbia’s team leader Kim Kirchen for his first stage win in the Tour since a summit finish victory in the Alps ahead of Lance Armstrong in 2005. Philippe Gilbert (Francaise Des Jeux) was second on the day of his 26th birthday one second behind Valverde, with Jerome Pineau (Bouygues Telecom) third.

All the overall contenders were near the front to avoid any crashes and splits. Kirchen finished fourth, Riccardo Ricco (Saunier Duval) was fifth, Cadel Evans (Silence) sixth and Frank Schleck (CSC) was seventh.

David Millar was an impressive eleventh in the same time.

Mark Cavendish worked for Columbia team mates Gerald Ciolek and Kim Kirchen before the final climb and finished 119th at two minutes. Chris Froome (Barloworld) was 174th at 4-04 after helping Soler try and limit his losses.

As expected the finale of the stage was frighteningly fast as rider fought for position before the climb to the finish. The high pace and twisting Breton roads caused a split in the bunch when Colombian Juan Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) hit the deck. Then after a breakneck descent to a narrow bridge, Agritubel’s Roman Feillu opened up the late attacks on the final 1.7 kilometre Cote de Cadoudal.

Former Amstel Gold Winner Stefan Schumacher, clearly at home on this type of short climb, was quick to follow, and it briefly looked as if the Gerolsteiner rider might stay away. But first Kim Kirchen – whose Columbia team had set a ferocious pace on the run-in – overtook the German. Then Valverde stomped on the pedals and in a flash he flew past the Fleche Wallone winner in the last 100 metres.

For overall contender Valverde, a victory like this is the best possible start to the Tour – and will intimidate his rivals. It also confirms that he has not lost his form since winning the Dauphine Libere in June.

THE EARLY ACTION

The stage was described as a 197.5km prologue, with the tension and excitement of the first stage of the Tour de France lasting all day and involving every rider.

Instead of the expected rain at the start in Brest, the riders signed on under blue skies but with a strong-westerly wind blowing in off the Atlantic. It was not going to be an easy day in the saddle for any of the 180 riders.

Not surprisingly the early break went very early, after just 12km, but the bunch never let them gain more than eight minutes. Several teams shared the work on the front of the bunch to slowly reign the eight back and the gap gradually fell as the worries about the hectic finale

became stronger.

Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Geoffroy Lequatre (Agritubel), Bjorn Schroder (Team Milram), Lilian Jegou (Francaise des Jeux), David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval) and Stephane Auge (Cofidis) rode well together.

The first drama of the stage was when Herve Duclos-Lasalle (Cofidis) crashed after the bunch went through the hectic feed zone. A musette went into his front wheel and he landed on his left hand, fracturing his wrist. He was the first rider to quit this year?s Tour de France after just 102km.

The break fell apart after the last sprint of the stage with 36km to go, when local rider Jegou and De La Fuente attacked. The bunch was closing down on them and they were eventually swept up seven kilometres before the finish – just after Colombian Juan Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) fell in a crash, with British team-mate Chris Froome waiting for him. Some 50 riders were delayed by the pile-up, but Soler, who hurt his thigh, was the worst affected.

Tomorrow’s stage in another lumpy affair, starting in Auray and finishing 164.5km later in Saint Brieuc in northern Brittany. You can read more information in our online stage guide.

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE 1 RESULTS

1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 197.5km in 4h 36m 07secs


2. Philippe Gilbert (Fra) FDJeux at 1sec

3. Jerome Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom

4. Kim Kirchen (Lux) Columbia

5. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval

6. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto

7. Frank Schleck (Lux) CSC-Saxo Bank

8. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas

9. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank

10. Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne all same time.

British

11. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Chipotle at 1sec

119. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 2m 0secs

174. Chris Froome (GB) Barloworld at 4m 4secs

Alejandro Valverde Tour de France 2008GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 1

1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne


2. Philippe Gilbert (Fra) FDJeux at 1 sec

3. Jerome Pineau (Fra) Bouygues Telecom

4. Kim Kirchen (Lux) Columbia

5. Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval

6. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto

7. Frank Schleck (Lux) CSC-Saxo Bank

8. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas

9. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank

10. Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne all same time.

British

11. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Chipotle at 1sec

120. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia at 2m 0secs

174. Chris Froome (GB) Barloworld at 4m 4secs

Tour de France 2008Mark Cavendish on stage one

Tour de France 2008One of several crashes on stage one

Tour de France 2008The bunch wind up the pace to catch the break

Tour de France 2008Alejandro Valverde wins stage one, and gets a jersey to match his bike (photo by Luc Claessen)

Tour de France 2008Philippe Gilbert crosses the line in second place (photo by Luc Claessen)

Photos by Graham Watson, unless otherwise stated

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: STAGE REPORTS

Stage one: Valverde wins

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: NEWS

Millar happy after gainins precious seconds in Plumelec

Valverde delighted with opening Tour stage win

Comment: Is Valverde’s win a good thing for the Tour?

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: PHOTOS

Stage one

TOUR DE FRANCE 2008: GUIDE

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