Defending Tour of the Basque Country champion Alberto Contador was caught up in a crash with 700 metres to go in the 2017 race's opening stage

Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) has said that he escaped ‘major disaster’ after crashing within the final kilometre of the opening stage of the Tour of the Basque Country on Monday.

The 34-year-old defending champion was caught up in a crash just 700 metres before the finish line and rolled home over a minute down on stage winner Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb).

However, as Contador was within the three kilometre zone, he was awarded the same time as the group he was with when the incident occurred – the same time as Matthews.

“It was in the last 700 metres. Two riders went straight, and I had no choice but to go (out of the road) with them. Luckily, we fell on the grass and so without a problem because it was a crash that could have been hard,” Contador said after the stage.

“I was not worried about the GC because it happened in the last kilometre, and that’s why I took it calmly to the finish. Thankfully, the stage has ended well, and we were saved from a major disaster.”

>>> Michael Matthews sprints to win Tour of the Basque Country stage one

The final five kilometres of the otherwise relatively incident-free stage saw several of the overall contenders attack on the tricky run-in to the finish in Eguesibar-Sarriguren.

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) had attacked on an unclassified climb as the race passed into the final 5km, only to be cruelly stalled by a puncture. Then Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had animated a late effort to escape, only to be caught.

A series of roundabouts and corners then disrupted the rhythm of the peloton as Matthews came out on top in the scrappy sprint to take his first victory of 2017.

Contador has won the Tour of the Basque Country on four previous occasions: 2008, 2009, 2015 and 2016. A fifth overall win this year would be him become the most successful rider in the race’s history.

Friday’s ‘queen’ climbing stage from Bilbo to Eibar is likely to be key for those riders with general classification hopes. The seven-stage race concludes on Saturday with a decisive 27.7km individual time trial.