Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) claimed the honours and the Maillot jaune on the opening day of the Tour De France, under the grey sky’s of Düsseldorf.
The opening stage, a 14km individual Time Trial hugging the path of the River Rhine within the heart of Düsseldorf appeared to be the ideal stage for a Tony Martin victory; the German born Team Katusha–Alpecin rider and four-time World Time Trial champion but Martin could only finish in fourth 8-seconds behind Thomas.
The opening stage also represented an early opportunity for the General Classification contenders to gain a small advantage over their rivals and it was Chris Froome (Team Sky) who came out on top, putting a gap of 35 and 36 into Richie Porte (BMC) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) respectively, but in tricky conditions Ajendadro Valverde’s (Movistar) Tour is over before it started following a heavy crash into the road side barriers.
Cloud’s of controversy
The grey sky’s of Düsseldorf felt like a metaphor for the position professional cycling continues to find itself in, as the sport struggles to distance itself from doping related allegations.
The most recent and ongoing controversy centres around the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE’s) by teamsand in particular Team Sky.
These exemptions are designed to allow athletes to be given treatment for pre-existing medical conditions that may include substances that are on the World Anit-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited compound list; however, historical data of the use of TUE’s was obtained and leaked by by Russian hackers from WADA’s own historical records in September 2016 and that has lead to questions being raised about the ethical use of these exceptions.
Team Sky and the riders involved maintain that they have done nothing wrong and given the information leaked came from WADA’s own records it would be unwise to suggest they have broken the rules as they stand, but the affair and subsequent revelations including details of ‘unidentified’ medical items in a jiffy packet that surfaced from a UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) investigation did nothing to dispel doubts about the lengths teams and riders might extend to in order to obtain that defining advantage.
The event organisers however must have been relieved that today’s start allowed for focus to turn to the cycling itself and that there were no bizarre outside talking points such as team busses crashing into the finish line, suddenly collapsing inflatables or cyclists running up mountains following a crash, but given the Tour’s propensity for these things to happen we shouldn’t have to wait long for the next instalment in this collection.
Tale of the Trial
Elie Gesbert of French Team Fortuneo-Oscaro, the youngest competitor in this year’s race was the first of the 198 riders setting off from the ramp in what were tricky wet conditions, setting a time of 17 minutes 24 seconds.
As if to confirm how tricky conditions were, we didn’t have to wait long for our first incident of the tour with Lotto NI Jumbo rider Dylan Groenewegen taking a tumble on the way to setting a time of 17;59.
But neither of these times were to prove competitive and this was signified by Astana rider Andriy Grivko’s time of 16;21 that saw him leap to the top of the time sheets, only to see his time pipped by just one second by Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb).
With tomorrows stage set to favour the sprinters, you would have expected the leading contenders for tomorrows stage and the overall Green jersey competition to be taking it relatively easy, yet Peter Sagan (Bore Hansgrohe) does not play to controversial wisdom and set an excellent time of 16;29.
Matteo Trentin (Quick Step Tours) at 16;14 was the next to sit in pole position, but his moment in the hot seat was short lived as Team Sky’s Vasili Kirienka crossed the line at 16;11. With fellow teammate and live contender for the stage Michal Kwiatkowski unable to better this time despite matching the pace at the intermediate split, things were looking good for Kirienka.
But with over 50 riders including many big names yet to take to the road his position was still open to challenge and it was another Team Sky rider, Geraint Thomas, who was to dispose his position at the top of the time sheets with a time of 16;04, some seven-seconds quicker.
General Classification contenders
Thomas’ time was largely set under the radar, as the General Classification contenders began to make their way out onto the course.
Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) was one of the first of the GC contenders to cross the line and he will be very satisfied with the competitive time of 16;38 he set.
Many peoples fancy for this years overall title, Richie Porte (BMC) was able to set a conservative time of 16;51 but this caution might prove well served, as evidenced by Alejandro Valverde’s short lived challenge where a horrific crash left him unable to continue.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) set a time one second shy of Porte, with Alberto Contandor (Trek Segafredo) a further six seconds back at this early stage.
Thomas not to be denied
As the contest boiled down to Thomas’ time and those now out on the road, Tony Martin looked to be a live threat as he set the fastest intermediate split, but was to finish the course some 8-seconds down which was only good enough for fourth place overall.
Thomas’ section time would prove to be only the 5th fastest time at that point, but after Stefan Kueng (BMC) who had also set a quicker split time than Thomas finished 5-seconds down at the finish to sit in second place, this showed what a magnificently disciplined ride Thomas’ effort was.
There was now only one man that could deny Thomas and that was teammate and last years winner Chris Froome, but perhaps with a mind on the wider picture of his tour, especially after the drama of Valverde’s incident ahead of him, Froome stopped the clock at 16;16, some twelve-seconds down, granting Thomas the honour of the stage victory and the Yellow Jersey.