Team Emirates’ Kristoff shines in crash-marred opening stage of Tour de France - GulfToday

Team Emirates’ Kristoff shines in crash-marred opening stage of Tour de France


UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff (left) celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the first stage of the Tour de France race in Nice on Saturday. Associated Press

After a late pile-up on Nice’s iconic Promenade des Anglais, Alexander Kristoff of UAE Emirates won a crash-marred opening stage of the Tour de France on Saturday.

The Norwegian will now wear the overall race leader’s yellow jersey, having fought back from an early fall that looked like ruling him out.

The 2020 Tour set off two months later than planned due to the coronavirus and under strict health protocols.

However, the first rain in the Mediterranean city since June turned the opening jaunt of the 21-day race into a lottery.

Key victims of the multiple crashes included French hopes Thibaut Pinot and Julian Alaphilippe, with Colombia’s Astana captain Miguel Angel Lopez suffering a jaw-dropping downhill slide that saw him slam face-first into a traffic sign.

Top riders, led by the Jumbo team, were shocked by the crash.

Pre-stage favourites Sam Bennett, Caleb Ewan and Giacomo Nizzolo also crashed on slippery roads as rain wreaked havoc during the stage.

The race got off to an eventful start as rain made the roads extremely slippery.

“There must have been 100 riders crashing. Everyone struggles, everyone got scared,” said Pinot’s team-mate Valentin Madouas.

“It was like an ice rink.” The multiple incidents had prompted the Jumbo Visma team to ask the peloton to take it slow in a descent, but Astana refused to take the foot off the gas pedal.

Their decision backfired, however, as their team leader Miguel Angel Lopez aquaplaned head first into a road sign. The Colombian got back on his bike.

A truce was called that slowed down the race. Kristoff stood alone on the winner’s podium, flanked by a host and a hostess a safe distance away. He then disappeared backstage to wriggle into the jersey himself, before coming back out to pose for photos. Still, the thrill of wearing the jersey for first time in his eight Tours more than outweighed the weirdness.

“That was great for me, allowed me to get right back in,” said 33-year-old Kristoff, who had been around six minutes adrift after his own tumble.

The heavy COVID-19 atmosphere weighing on the seaside city was lightened slightly at the start when French government minister Michel Blanquer sent out a rare message of hope the Tour would make it all the way to Paris in three weeks’ time.

“You can’t rule out the cancellation of the Tour, but it has been so well prepared that the possibilities of it happening are very slim,” he said.

Local newspaper  Nice-Matin raised eyebrows on Saturday running a picture of the Dutch team Jumbo’s leader Primoz Roglic, one of the favourites, instead of a Frenchman.

But the key Frenchmen in the race both had days to forget.

After 14 days in the lead last year Alaphilippe was forced to fight back alone from two minutes down after a mechanical issue.

While luckless fan favourite Pinot was involved in the last of many falls as the peloton swept along the rain-sodden seafront walkway.

Riders and their staff are part of a race bubble in order to minimise risks of infections and French health authorities on Saturday imposed stricter regulations in the event of coronavirus cases.

They ruled that a team should be withdrawn if two or more of its members — including riders and support staff — tested positive within seven days, race organisers said on Saturday.

Riders, however, put on a brave face.

“I think nobody imagined 2020 to be like this. But we have to go through this for the good of everyone and the fact that the Tour is starting is already a good thing,” triple world champion Peter Sagan told reporters.

Sunday’s 186km stage also starts and ends in Nice but will be run under blue skies and over the Alps in the Nice back country.


Related articles