Peter Sagan denied by Groenewegen’s lead-out rider
Cycling superstar Peter Sagan looked to be the man to beat throughout the opening day of this year’s Tour, tucked calmly away for much of the stage and holding his position at the front with ease as the race entered the final stages.
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A high-speed crash inside 2km took out arguably the most powerful sprinter in the race, Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma), which left the door wide open for Sagan to do his thing on the slightly rising final dash for the line.
But by some bizarre twist of fate, Sagan found himself marginally beaten to the line by Groenewegen’s lead-out rider Mike Teunissen, who gained rapidly on the former world champion and took the win with his bike throw.
The sketchiest of final kilometres
If it was a thrilling final sprint, it was a terrifying final three kilometres that lead into it, with plenty of riders hitting the deck and countless shoulder rubs, barges and near-misses to keep the sprinters on their toes.
The first big moment came just inside 2km, when a touch of wheels near the front of the race took Groenewegen down and left him on the floor as the chance at stage victory vanished up the road. That crash also sent Geraint Thomas to the floor, but fortunately the reigning champion was uninjured and didn’t lose time thanks to the crash being inside 3km.
From that moment on it was a knife-edge ride to the line, with plenty of hopefuls being forced into the barriers while Cofidis rider Julien Simon clashed hard with Sagan a number of times but was unable to shift the behemoth.
The Tour de France is always a tense occasion as the pressure of the biggest race gets to riders, but the final moments of stage one were a heart-in-mouth experience for everyone.
Huge day for the Belgian pros
There is no better moment to see how important cycling is in Belgium than a Grand Départ of the Tour de France, and the 2019 opener was no different.
A stage dedicated to the legendary Eddy Merckx, starting and finishing in Brussels where he grew up, day one of the Tour was a huge moment for the Belgian’s in the peloton.
The scale of the occasion with home favourites was apparent early on, as Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) jumped into the day’s four-man breakaway to have his moment in the spotlight on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, taking the first polka dot jersey of the race along the way.
Jumbo-Visma’s Laurens De Plus was then gifted a moment in the sun as the race passed through his hometown of Ninove, where masses of fans gathered at the side of the road to welcome the 23-year-old home, if only briefly.
And of course the Wout van Aert superfans were out in full force to mark their man’s first ever Tour de France.
This leaves us desperate to know when the next Grand Départ on British soil will be.
A rough start for Jakob Fuglsang
Tipped by many as favourite to beat Team Ineos in the general classification fight, Jakob Fuglsang’s Tour de France 2019 started rocky as he was caught in a crash as the peloton began firing on all cylinders with around 18km to race.
A narrow stretch of road with raised curbs caused a minor pile-up with Bahrain-Merida’s Damiano Caruso also caught up in the collision.
But Fuglsang was the most notable casualty, with the Dane able to remount with blood pouring down his face from a cut above his eye.
The 34-year-old is having the season of his life, winning the Vuelta a Andalucia, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Critérium du Dauphiné this year, catapulting himself to the forefront of the Tour’s GC contenders in the process.
His Astana team have also clearly seen his potential, showing this belief by dropping four riders back to help Fuglsang close the gap back to the peloton after the crash.
The squad made it back to the bunch just inside 10km but Fuglsang appeared to be suffering some discomfort in his right knee, with Astana later confirming there were no fractures but that their rider would need stitches.
Ringo Starr lookalike reporting from the back of a motorbike
There was a lot of buzz about one superstar shadowing the stage one peloton on the back of a race motorbike.
While some suspected it could be an incognito Beatles drummer enjoying the race, it was in fact 2012 Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins in his new role as a motorbike reporter for Eurosport.
Wiggins was getting stuck in with the peloton as part of his job offering expert analysis for the broadcaster, and the motorbike punditry had plenty of cycling fans talking on social media.
He will continue to follow the Tour from the motorbike, offering on-board insight as he pursues the race from Belgium to France.