Cycling, it's a funny old game! Yesterday, in the prologue the riders were really careful about not crashing, although two riders had bad crashes, and today, like many opening days in a Grand Tour there were several bad crashes.
All the crashes I saw came in the last few km, ruining the chances of some sprinters. However, before we get to the sprint and the crashes, which of course is one talking point, we need to consider the other: the three rider breakaway.
Lars Boom, Maarten Wynants, and Alan Perez launched a break away from the word go. They were caught with 8km to go (ok it was Wynants and Alexander Pliuschin, who joined Wynants with under 30 km to go) and so this was a very long break away for the three riders.
With the Tour being over three weeks in length and this being the first day, it's unlikely the three buried themselves as if they were doing a very long time trial, but rode at a more conservative pace. This would have likely been mainly at zone 2 (see here for a description of training zones) with occasional bits of zone 3 work (see here for how to calculate your training zones).
Of course, just because the three were riding conservatively doesn't mean it wouldn't be very fatiguing and also doesn't mean that any racer could've kept up with them. The guys will be sore and tired tomorrow.
Once they were all caught, and let's face it, this was highly likely to be the case – this being the first stage and with the sprinters wanting a win, it was going to come down to a sprint finish. The Tour is massively important to all the teams riding and they all want a stage win. So, as the finish approaches everyone was trying to get to the front. A few km from the finish a crash with several riders took out Mark Cavendish (or maybe he caused it?). And then, inside the final km one massive crash stopped the majority of riders, and a smaller crash within sight of the line took out one or two more. You pretty much expect to see this on the first stage, but I'm not sure I remember so many being taken out before.
From the video I've seen of the crashes I can't yet see why they occurred, but one thing is for certain: having good bike handling skills is an integral part of bike racing. Being able to handle a bike at high speed is important, as is reading the road and being observant to those around you. Cutting up your fellow competitors is frowned upon. Good training for bike handling can include specific sessions such as close proximity group riding, track racing, criteriums, and skills can also be developed off-road.
In the finale it was Alessandro Petacchi who powered his way to a great sprint finish avoiding the crashes perfectly. A high peak sprint power, nerves of steel, and great bike handling are required for this.
So, the main breakaway of the day: the three riders probably averaged about 270 to 300 W (if they're about 70 kg) for the almost 5 hours they were away for. For Joe Average third cat, he could probably do this for about an hour.
See you tomorrow.
Ric Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is a full time British ABCC coach. During this year's Tour de France, he will be providing a physiological insight into the challenges that face the riders in each stage.