Known for its sunny weather, the seaside city of Nice looked more like a treacherous ice rink on Saturday as heavy rain and storms played havoc with Tour de France riders on the opening day of cycling’s marquee race, causing inevitable crashes.
The pouring rain in the Riviera resort following a long spell of hot and dry weather particularly affected defending champion Egan Bernal’s Ineos team. Two of the Colombian climber’s key teammates - Pavel Sivakov and Andrey Amador - were involved in pileups while several overall contenders including Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and Colombian climber Nairo Quintana also went down.
"The Tour is always tense in the opening days, but with so many crashes it was gruelling and dangerous,” said Yvon Ledanois, sports director at Arkea-Samsic. “The most important thing for us it that Nairo did not lose time.”
Amador and Sivakov, who were included on the Ineos roster with the mission to support Bernal in the big mountain stages scheduled later in the race, even fell off twice. Sivakov struggled to reach the finish line, with blood pouring from both arms, and lagged 13 minutes behind stage winner Alexander Kristoff, who also claimed the yellow jersey.
"I think the problem was just the fact that it literally hasn’t rained here for two or three months, then you get one day where it rains and it’s literally like ice,” said Luke Rowe, a teammate of Bernal.
Spills punctuated the 156-kilometre (97-mile) stage throughout the day.
"I think most teams have at least half their riders who have touched down today. We’ve had a couple but luckily we’ve passed through,” Rowe said.
The most spectacular spill saw Astana leader Miguel Angel Lopez crash into a signpost after his team decided to accelerate in a downhill despite an agreement in the peloton to slow down the pace. Astana said he escaped unscathed.
"I have to say chapeau (hats off) to the whole peloton really, minus Astana, who decided to hit it down one descent and as a result their leader was then on their back,” Rowe said. “They made themselves look pretty stupid.”
After ace sprinter Caleb Ewan hit the ground with 49 kilometres to the finish line on the famed Promenade des Anglais, George Bennett crashed in a tricky downhill and got back on his bike with an apparent shoulder injury. Riders then successfully asked for the stage to be neutralized with times taken for the general classification at 3 kilometres to avoid more crashes in the final long stretch of road tailor-made for sprinters.
The move did not prevent one final crash involving Pinot and several others. The Frenchman, who was forced to withdraw from the Tour last year within touching distance of Paris with a left leg injury, looked dejected in the middle of the road in his lacerated jersey. He finally got back on a bike to reach the finish at a pedestrian pace, surrounded by his FDJ-Groupama teammates, but was awarded the same time as Kristoff.
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