Trapped behind bike crash, defending champion finishes 82nd is one minute 20 secs behind stage winner Gilbert.
First day first blow for Contador at Tour de France
Whether it was bad luck or bad tactics that hampered Alberto Contador, the defending champion's rivals were simply glad to have gained an advantage of more than one minute on the Spaniard in Saturday's first stage of the Tour de France.
Contador, a three-time winner, lost ground when he was trapped behind a crash involving a rider and a spectator some nine kilometres from the finish line which halted half the main pack.
Contador finished 82nd on the day, one minute 20 seconds behind stage winner Philippe Gilbert of Belgium but, more importantly, 1:17 adrift of Cadel Evans of Australia and 1:14 behind several other overall Tour contenders.
Evans, Luxembourg's Andy Schleck and Briton Bradley Wiggins were riding in front of the bunch and they did not look back when Contador was forced to wait behind the crash.
"A stage like today's could be a good operation," Schleck, runner-up to Contador in the last two years on the Tour, told reporters.
"It may not be the nicest way to gain time but cycling is not only about pedalling, it's also about thinking."
"What better way to finish the day than by taking gaps over your rivals? It was good day today," said Evans, who finished second in the stage. His BMC team manager, Jim Ochowicz, said: "Long day, good outcome. This time we gained could count at the end of the day."
It was not the first time Contador, who won the Tour in 2007, 2009 and last year, had been caught behind on a flat stage.
In 2009, during a stage to Montpellier, the Spaniard was trapped behind after crosswinds split the bunch into two parts, with Contador on the wrong side. According to Schleck, yesterday's events were not just bad luck.
"In the last 25 kms, I always ride in one of the top 10 places in the peloton," he said.
The Team Radioshack manager, Johan Bruyneel, who masterminded Contador's 2007 and 2009 Tour triumphs, disagreed, saying his former protege was just a victim of "pure bad luck".
"It proves that danger is everywhere on the Tour de France. Who would have expected Alberto to lose over a minute on such a stage?" the Belgian, who had his top riders Andreas Kloeden, Levi Leipheimer, Janez Brajkovic and Chris Horner safe in the front, told reporters.
Wiggins and Schleck were caught in another crash but it happened less than three kilometres from the finish, meaning that under Tour regulations they were not docked any time.
After the race, a jubilant Gilbert said: "It was the last 500 metres, I had a lead ... [and] I went for it. It was an extreme effort and I was able to take advantage."