PORTO VECCHIO, Corsica // Marcel Kittel won the first stage of the 100th Tour de France in a sprint finish with Alexander Kristoff amid farcical scenes and heavy crashes yesterday.
The decision was initially taken late on to shorten the flat stage by three kilometres because a bus from the Orica Greenedge team was stuck on the finish line. But organisers managed to move the bus and the normal finishing spot was reinstated.
"When a bus arrives near the finish line the driver must ask the permission to cross it," finish line manager Jean-Louis Pages said. "This bus was late. We deflated the tyres so we could move it away as the peloton was fast approaching."
Francaise Des Jeux team manager Marc Madiot was furious.
"The president of the [race jury] didn't do his job," he said. "When we make a mistake we get a fine. Well, he should get a huge fine."
Then there was a heavy crash involving more than a dozen riders close to the end, with two-time former champion Alberto Contador and sprinter Peter Sagan among those hitting the ground. They were able to continue, with Contador's shoulder cut and bruised.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish did not crash but was stuck behind those that fell and was not among the stage challengers at the end.
Cavendish, 28, was aiming for his 24th stage win and hoping to wear the prestigious yellow jersey for the first time in his career, while Sagan was predicted to be his main rival.
But the pair were nowhere to be seen as the main bunch turned the corner for home, and Kittel held off Kristoff as they dipped for the line.
"I'm speechless, so, so happy. This is by far the greatest day in my whole life," Kittel, the German rider, said.
"It's by far my biggest victory. I hope I can sleep, I'm going to be pretty excited about tomorrow.
"I saw the crash happen to my right. I knew it was serious. I knew that Mark and Andre [Greipel] were no longer in contention and it was a good chance for us."
Contador had a bad day, too.
Returning from a doping ban after testing positive on the 2010 Tour – a title he has since been stripped off – the Spaniard grimaced in pain as he crossed the line with his clothing torn and his left shoulder grazed.
Contador's sports director at Team Saxo-Tinkoff, Philippe Mauduit, said Contador had not been seriously hurt and would be fit to start the second stage today.
"He is all right but it is after the night that we will see how he has recuperated from the crash," said Mauduit. "There is no fracture."
As the stage drew to an end, former champion Andy Schleck's RadioShack team pushed to the front as a side wind made it harder for riders to pedal, then Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff team pushed up, before Sky took charge as the sinewy, tight roads started to look thinner and thinner.
Johnny Hoogerland, who sustained cuts to his legs on the 2011 Tour after being hit by a Tour car, was sent tumbling after hitting a crash barrier near the end. He was helped back onto his bike and able to continue.
Shortly after, a handful of riders – including last year's Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal – were caught in another small crash, but all continued.
With the finish line in sight, about 20 riders were sent flying from their bikes, throwing the stage into chaos.
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