Immediately after the finish of the 2011 Tour de France’s opening stage, the Team Sky bus was the venue for an agonising wait while manager Dave Brailsford and team leader Bradley Wiggins tried to establish whether Wiggins would receive the same finish time as the lead group he had been in before he was held up by a crash.
The rules state that when a crash occurs inside the final three kilometres of a stage, as this one did, the riders involved or held up are attributed with the same time as the riders they were with at the time of the accident.
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The results sheet at first said ‘no’, but it was soon rectified after race commissaires had performed the unenviable task of sifting through just which riders had finished in which group, and which riders had been involved in the first crash versus those in the second crash – made all the more confusing when survivors from both of the crashes crossed the finish line together as one group, 1-20 down on stage winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto).
Confirmation of the ruling applying to Wiggins allowed both him and Brailsford to breath a huge sigh of relief, and there was more celebration for Sky, too, as Geraint Thomas collected the white jersey as best young rider after finishing sixth on the stage.
The mood was somewhat more sombre over at the Saxo Bank-SunGard bus after defending Tour champion Alberto Contador came home having lost a very real 1-20 to stage winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto). And no rules were going to be able to change that.
Contador was held up by a crash caused by Astana’s Maxim Iglinsky clipping an inattentive spectator with around nine kilometres to go, sending a ripple through the bunch that felled a fair few, but which even more importantly has seriously dented the best-laid plans of some of this year’s main contenders for the 2011 Tour title.
Many of the fans who booed and jeered Contador when he was introduced to the crowd at the teams presentation two days before might have considered his bad luck some sort of justice for his positive drugs test at this race last year – a case still to be resolved. But most would probably still prefer to see Contador given a run for his money in the mountains by the Schleck brothers this year rather than him falling behind due to misfortune.
So while Wiggins has gained a massive 1-14 on rival Contador, he’s by no means the only one who will now be looking to capitalise. Here’s how Wiggins, and the rest of the riders fighting it out for the general classification, sit going into stage two’s team time trial in Les Essarts.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky): 50th overall, six seconds behind Gilbert
Wiggins avoided the first crash that delayed Contador, but was held up in the second just ahead of the start of the final climb. Because it came inside the last three kilometres of the stage, the rules state that riders involved or delayed by a crash that close to the stage finish are given the same time as the group they were part of at the time of the crash.
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard): 82nd overall, 1-20 behind Gilbert
Contador got caught behind the first crash with nine kilometres to go, and ended the stage 1-20 behind winner Philippe Gilbert, and now sits 1-14 behind principal rivals such as Andy Schleck, Frank Schleck and Ivan Basso.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma): 5th overall, six secs behind Gilbert
The second-best placed GC contender after Cadel Evans, Van Den Broeck powered up the climb to take fifth on the stage, and will be looking to build on that confidence-inspiring performance in the coming weeks in the hope of bettering his fifth place overall of last year. Once team-mate Gilbert has done his thing during this first week, Van Den Broeck can also look forward to being on the receiving end of help from surely the most deluxe domestique going.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana): 17th overall, six secs behind Gilbert
Attacked on the final climb, but never looked like having the legs to beat Gilbert or Evans. Stayed out of trouble and avoided the crashes, though, and will likely show himself a few more times in this coming week before testing himself in the mountains.
Roman Kreuziger (Astana): 99th, 1-55 behind Gilbert
Although he rode the Giro (finishing sixth and best young rider), a top 10 placing was always going to be well within the Czech’s capabilities here at the Tour. However, having been delayed by the first crash, Kreuziger came home behind Contador in the company of Garmin’s unlucky main men.
Ivan Basso (Liquigas): 44th overall, six secs behind Gilbert
Likely to be somewhat of a silent assassin at this year’s Tour. Skipped his beloved Giro to aim instead at Tour glory, but has had a pretty ordinary build-up to the race. Sure enough, Basso rolled home ensconced in the ‘crash’ group, but lost only six seconds to Gilbert on stage one.
Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek): 33rd overall, six secs behind Gilbert
Held up in the same crash as Wiggins, last year’s runner-up didn’t panic, and soft-pedalled home to save as much energy as possible in readiness for the team time trial. Has he now legitimately become the Tour favourite?
Frank Schleck (Leopard-Trek): 12th overall, six secs behind Gilbert
Stayed close to the front in the stage’s finale and avoided all the crashes. Last year’s early crash here, which sent him home, will be a distant memory now as the Luxemburger concentrates on trying to win this race. And if he can’t, then he will be helping his younger brother to win. Remains to be seen how strong the Leopard-Trek outfit will be in the TTT, though.
Robert Gesink (Rabobank): 74th overall, six secs behind Gilbert
Delayed considerably by the second crash, Gesink nevertheless finished in the same time as the front group, and now needs a reasonable team time trial to maintain his overall position.
Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack): 39th overall, six secs behind Gilbert
The Slovenian climber is one of four leaders for RadioShack this year. All managed to stay in overall contention on the opening stage, although Brajkovic, like Leipheimer, was held up in the second crash, but will receive the same time as the front group.
Chris Horner (RadioShack): 9th overall, six secs behind Gilbert
Tenth overall last year, Horner will be looking for a single-digit placing this year. Ninth for him on the opening stage, avoiding all the crashes, means things are looking good for the American veteran.
Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack): 38th overall, six secs behind Gilbert
Caught behind ‘the second crash’ with Wiggins and Andy Schleck, but given the same time as the lead group. Will be one of RadioShack’s engines in the TTT.
Andreas Klöden (RadioShack): 7th overall, 6 secs behind Gilbert
A strong ride gained Klöden his seventh-place finish. As the best-placed RadioShack rider on the GC, he could now be a stealth candidate for yellow on Sunday if his team can pull out a ride at the TTT.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel): 79th overall, 1-20 behind Gilbert
Sanchez was the second Spanish GC contender to fall foul of the crash that lost Contador time. The Euskaltel leader now has a lot to do if he hopes to repeat last year’s fourth place overall – especially when his team is likely to lose even more time in the TTT.
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin): 125th overall, 1-55 behind Gilbert
Thor Hushovd may have finished third on the stage (and will ride Sunday’s team time trial in a King of the Mountains polka-dot skinsuit as a result), but the crash-ridden stage has left Garmin with all three of their GC top-10 contenders almost two minutes off the pace after Vande Velde, Tom Danielson and Ryder Hesjedal were held up and even finished behind Contador’s chase group.
Cadel Evans (BMC): 2nd overall, 3 secs behind Gilbert
He couldn’t quite match Philippe Gilbert’s pace up the Mont des Alouettes to the finish, but Evans did manage to put considerable time into the unfortunate riders caught up in the first crash, such as Contador and Sanchez. And a three-second advantage over Wiggins, the Schlecks et al may not seem like much, but it provides a psychological boost for a rider too often dogged by bad luck.
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