It was a nervous day out there, but we got the sprint we expected
Marcel Kittel lands first blow
In a line-up full of the world’s best sprinters, Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) landed the first blow.
The German came from a long way back but ultimately won by a substantial margin, accelerating at a speed that proved too much for his star-studded competitors Arnaud Démare (FDJ), André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) in second, third and fourth.
The win marks the 10th in Kittel’s Tour career, and a sign perhaps that he may be near the kind of form that has seen him dominate bunch sprints at previous Tours.
The omens look good for the German – when he also triumphed in the opening sprint stage at the 2013 and 2014 Tours, on both occasions he went on to accumulate a total of four stage wins. If he keeps sprinting this quickly, he could be in for a similar haul this year.
A scare for Chris Froome
Thankfully the defending champion confirmed at the finish line that he felt OK and that it appeared that only superficial damage was sustained.
The incident was stressful, however, with Froome being forced to chase back up to the peloton with help from his team-mates, and then again when he had to change his bike.
Also involved were yellow jersey contenders Richie Porte (BMC) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), but they too managed to successfully pick themselves up and get back into the bunch with no apparent injury sustained.
This particular crash therefore doesn’t appear set to affect the ultimate outcome of the race, but it is an ominous reminder of the hazards of the chaotic first week of a Grand Tour.
Froome himself will have bad memories of 2014, when two crashes on the Paris-Roubaix-lite stage forced him to abandon.
Amid the poor weather currently affecting the race, the possibility of more fatal crashes remains a threat.
Mark Cavendish looks good
One of the most intriguing questions heading into today’s stage was how well Mark Cavendish would perform.
Having had his lead-up to the race severely compromised by glandular fever, to the extent that he almost failed to make the start-line altogether, his condition prior to the start of the race was a mystery.
On today’s showing, he appears to be in good shape. The Manxman sprinted to fourth place, a result he professed to be happy with in a post-race interview.
Although he commented on not having the legs to sprint past Kittel once he’d fortuitously found himself on the German’s wheel, that he was in the mix at all for the win is a very good sign.
With many more sprint stages still to come, Cavendish might just be able to close the gap on Eddy Merckx’s record stage win haul after all.
A lot of sprinters fancy their chances
A quick glance at today’s top-10 demonstrates just how many top sprinters are present at this year’s Tour.
As well as Kittel, Démare, Greipel and Cavendish – Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Ben Swift (UAE Emirates) were also in the mix, while the plethora of talent meant that household names Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Michael Matthews (Sunweb) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) could only manage eighth, ninth and 10th, and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) missed out on the top-10 altogether.
There was an early sign of just how many sprinters fancy their chances in the green jersey competition at the intermediate sprint, where a sizable group slipped off the front to collect the points. Sagan may remain hot favourite, but there are plenty of riders hopeful of dethroning him.
Then came the final sprint, which was a disorganised affair as Lotto-Soudal and Quick-Step Floors tried but failed to control proceedings.
With so many top sprinters in this year’s race, this chaotic run-in may become the pattern of this year’s bunch sprints.
Taylor Phinney is excelling on his Tour debut
It’s taken a while for Taylor Phinney to make it to the Tour de France, but he has relished every moment of it so far.
He showed good form on stage one to finish a decent 12th place in the time trial, and went out on the attack today.
For his efforts he was awarded the polka-dot-jersey – an incongruous sight for such a big time trial specialist – although it briefly seemed that the yellow jersey was a possibility when he and Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) retained a reasonable advantage over the bunch in the final 10km.
After the nearly career-ending injury suffered a few years ago that delayed his Tour debut so considerably, it’s great to see the American back racing with such panache.