Alexander Kristoff is the surprise first winner of the 2020 Tour
Kristoff has made a career out of winning races that prove too arduous for his fellow-sprinters, and today was a typical victory for him, emerging as the quickest in a hectic bunch finish after a stressful day of slippery roads and multiple crashes.
Even for a rider who has the Champs Elysees among the four Tour stage wins on his palmarès, not to mention classics like Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, this is one of the most special results of the Norwegian’s career, as it means he’ll get to wear the first yellow jersey of 2020.
"I've always dreamt of wearing the yellow jersey”, he said at the finish, although you wouldn’t have guessed it from his typically calm, mild-mannered demeanour.
His win on stage one comes as a surprise, especially given his form heading into the race, but holding on to the jersey tomorrow would be a far greater shock — he might be able to handle climbs better than the average sprinter, but the two first category climbs will surely be too much for him.
Expect him to enjoy his day in yellow, and remerge in more bunch sprints to possibly add another stage win — and maybe even a go at competing for the green jersey.
He faces a virtually impossible task of defending the jersey on stage two, which features two first category climbs, but will no doubt enjoy his day in yellow.
Rain and wet roads cause mayhem
While all the talk heading into this unusual edition of the Tour de France has been the lingering threat the Covid pandemic poses to its continuation, it was a more familiar foe that posed a more immediate problem for the riders — rainy conditions and wet roads.
Although the descents tackled were not as dangerously technical as those that have caused anger in the peloton during recent races, the greasy nature of the roads meant the effects were devastating.
From about an hour into the race, it was absolute carnage. Riders cautiously knocked off the pace, yet still there were multiple crashes and mechanicals, with many riders either going down or being held up, among them favourites for the stage Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Social), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and notable GC riders like Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers), the latter of which floundered several minutes off the back of the peloton with a bloodied elbow after his fall.
The situation prompted Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin to take the role of patron of the peloton and signified for the race to be temporarily neutralised. Most in the peloton seemed not to dispute the idea, with the notable exception of Astana — who immediately regretted their decision, after the only consequence of their increase in pace on the descent was for their leader, Miguel Ángel López, to crash.
Remarkably, despite everything there was not a single abandonment, and no time significant losses were sustained after the Martin-instigated neutralisation saw everyone catch back up to the peloton.
But, with so many riders left sore and nursing injuries, and so many crashes presumably not picked up by the TV cameras, the carnage could yet have significant consequences in the coming days’ important GC stages.
The nation skips a beat as Pinot crashes
Even as the finish approached and safety neared, there was still time for one large crash — and, much to the horror of the whole of France, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) was involved.
With Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) not looking in the shape to repeat last year’s heroic bid for yellow, Pinot is the man carrying the nation’s hopes of a first home winner since 1985, and those hopes looked for a horrible moment like they might already be over on day one.
Thankfully, Pinot was able to remount and make it to the finish. His jersey was torn on his shoulder, and he wore a clearly annoyed and frustrated expression, but there was no visible sign of a serious injury.
In another stroke of luck, the crash occurred just inside the 3km cut-off point, meaning that had he gone down just a few seconds earlier, a potentially race-ending time gap would have been sustained.
The next days will tell how badly hurt he is from this fall, but for now disaster seems like it might just have been averted.
Favourites for the sprint win miss out
Kristoff’s gain was the other sprinters’ loss, as those considered favourites to win the stage and take the yellow jersey were surprisingly off the pace.
Their struggles probably had a lot to do with the conditions that caused such havoc in the peloton throughout the day. Irish champion Sam Bennett was among the very first to go down, and later suffered more hassle as a mechanical saw him out the back of the peloton once again. Given the circumstances, fourth place at the finish wasn’t bad.
His rival Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) also found himself several minutes down at one point. The neutralisation allowed him to re-join the peloton, but he evidently didn’t have the legs to contest the sprint, and was nowhere to be seen.
Instead, less fancied names battled with Kristoff at the line for stage victory. In what is just his second Tour de France appearance, young talent Cees Bol (Sunweb) led for most of the sprint before being passed by the Norwegian.
He was also pipped to second by Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), who showed similar resistance to adverse conditions that saw him crowned world champion in Yorkshire last year.
If these names were unexpected, there’s nothing unfamiliar about the man who’s going to wear the green jersey tomorrow. Having finished fourth on the stage and leading the peloton at the earlier intermediate sprint, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will once again wear the jersey he’s spent so much of the last seven summers in.
He does not lead the competition outright yet, but will wear green as Kristoff will be in yellow and 25-year-old Bol in the white jersey.
Sagan is the front-runner in the competition once more, but if this stage is anything to go by, he might be up against new rivals in his defence of it.
La Course win sees Lizzie Deignan back to her best
Prior to Alexander Kristoff, Lizzie Deignan was the first to celebrate victory on the Promenade des Anglais was Lizzie Dignan, who narrowly edged Marianne Vos (CCC) in a six-woman sprint to win the seventh edition of La Course.
Following her triumph at GP de Plouay, this is Deignan’s second victory in just five days, and a real sign that the Yorkshirewoman is back to her best.
What with the time taken off to have a child in 2018, and then the prolonged break from racing enforced on everyone by the Covid pandemic, Deignan hasn’t actually raced much since the end of 2017, and in that time has only a stage win and the overall at the 2019 Women’s Tour to her name.
Her performance today she’s lost none of her racing instincts, however. First she stayed glued to the wheel of world champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) on the Cote de Rimiez, whose devastating pace whittle down the peloton to the six riders who would remain clear for the rest of the day.
Then in the finale she switched her attention to Marianne Vos, barely leaving her slipstream in the final kilometres. Her and Trek-Segafredo teammate Elisa Longo Borghini played a tactical blinder, with Borghini attacking three times in the final 3.5km, with the same pattern repeating each time: Vos responding to the attack, and Deignan sitting on Vos’ wheel.
Just prior to the Italian’s third attack, Deignan had found herself unwittingly at the front of the group, and would probably not have won the sprint were it not for Borghini forcing Vos to once again jump on her wheel.
It was the best example to date of Deignan working in tandem with her new Trek-Segafredo teammates since joining the team in 2019, and a sign that Deignan is back firing on all cylinders.