Tour de France 2013 stage 1: Marcel Kittel wins first yellow jersey

First ever Tour stage win for Argos-Shimano sprinter

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Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) won his first Tour de France stage and took the first leader's jersey after a chaotic and complicated finish in Bastia. Last-minute changes in the location of the finish line and a mass crash contributed to the confusion, but the German sprinter stayed upright to claim a memorable win. Second place went to Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), with 19-year-old Danny Van Poppel (Vacansoleil-DMC) third.

However the stage was somewhat overshadowed when the Orica-GreenEdge team bus got stuck at the finish line, and was only removed at the last moment, after the decision had apparently been made to move the finish line forward. Shortly thereafter a large crash took out favourites Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, amongst others, and Andre Greipel who had come through the crash safely, punctured to his great disgust.

Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) was caught up by the crash, and was one of many who seemed to have lost time on the stage. But having moved the stage finish due to the bus mishap and then revised their decision, Tour organizers announced that due to the mass confusion and changing of the finish line all riders would be given the same time.

It was far and away Kittel's biggest career moment. The 25-year-old won one stage at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, and made his Tour debut last year with high hopes. But a viral infection handicapped him and forced him out of the race on the fifth stage, empty-handed.

This stage win was his 12th victory this year, ranging from stage wins to the overall victory in the Tour de Picardie and the one-day races Scheldrprijs and ProRace Berlin.

“My team took perfect care of me, thanks to all of them,” Kittel said afterward. “I saw the crash but didn't know who was involved. At first we were confused as to what to do, but obviously figured it out.”

When told about the bus incident, he gave a shocked reaction. “I didn't know that, I am hearing it for the first time. I think we were pretty lucky.”

A see-sawing gap

The 100th Tour de France got underway promptly, but couldn't have started out worse for top favourite Chris Froome (Sky). He crashed in the neutralized zone but was lucky to escape unhurt.

Five riders jumped as they hit the start, led by a Europcar rider. The field seemed happy to let them go, and they quickly built up a gap of three minutes. Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Juan José Lobato (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lars Boom (Belkin), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) had the honour of forming the first break group of the 2013 Tour.

The field kept a close eye on the group, holding the gap between the two and three minute mark.

The Cote de Sotta was the first ranked climb of this year's race, coming at km 45. Lemoine and Cousin both looked to be the first across the line, but Spaniard Lobato took the points and thus the first King of the Mountain jersey, outfoxing the two Frenchmen.

Not long thereafter, the break sat up, and the gap dropped to only 39 seconds. Neither the break nor the bunch seemed ready to end things quite yet, and it blossomed back up to over three minutes. But indecision seemed to rule the day, and once again it dropped to 40 seconds after the feed zone. Four of the riders appeared to be ready to call it a day, but Cousin,who started the break in the first place, kept on going. That eventually inspired the others, who caught back up and the gap seesawed its way back up, hitting four minutes with 90km to go.

A little over 20 km later, the gap was closer to two minutes, and that was enough for the peloton. Argos-Shimano, Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Lotto Belisol had been sharing the lead of the rather leisurely chase, but now they got serious, and Cannondale moved up to do its share.

The first intermediate sprint came with 63 km to go, and Boom and Flecha sprinted for the points, with the Dutchman taking the win. There were still points to be awarded, and there was a furious sprint from the big names in the field. Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) was the winner of this first test, taking 10 points to 9 for Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma QuickStep) and 8 for Sagan (Cannondale).

The end for the last four in the break came with 37 km to go, ending their 176km escape.

That was followed by a crash involving more riders, including Garmin-Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal, who scurried back up to the field.

Meanwhile a problem had developed at the finish line. The Orica-GreenEdge bus didn't fit under the finish banner and got stuck with the peloton only 10km away. Gendarmes swarmed around but there was nothing to be done, the bus was stuck.

The hasty decision was made to move the finish line up to the 3km marker – which came right at the end of a tight bend. The bus was finally backed out, just as another mass crash near the head of the field took down or blocked Sagan, Contador and Cavendish, amongst other. A greatly reduced peloton survived to go to the finish line, which had changed once more, now back to its original position.

Greipel and Kittel were amongst those in the first group, but then unbelievably, Greipel had to pull up with mechanical problems arising from the crash, which he had narrowly avoided. The finish line had by now been moved back to the original line, but the confusion and crashes had by now done their part to eliminate most of the potential sprint trains.

Niki Terpstra jumped in the final kilometer, but it was German sprinter Kittel who turned on the speed to claim the win and the leader's jersey.

Full results coming. Organisers have said results will be delayed.

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