Tour de France stage 1: Marcel Kittel takes first yellow jersey

Mark Cavendish crashes near finish line

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Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the opening stage of the 2014 Tour de France to take the first yellow jersey of the race. He out-sprinted Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Ramunas Navardauskus (Garmin-Sharp) in Harrogate; however the finish was marred by a crash near the line which involved Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge).

The stage was also marked by Jens Voigt (Trek), who outfoxed two break companions and went on a solo flight of more than 50km, giving him the king of the mountains before he was eventually caught.

"It was so hard! The hill in the last kilometer made it very difficult to win. There were so many people that we rode the finale like in a tunnel with a terrible noise,” Kittel said on “It's unbelievable that I win stage 1 again. I had good legs today and my guys did an excellent job. Our plan was to control the race with the other sprinters' teams. This yellow jersey is for my teammates. They were completely dedicated to that one goal. It's a big big relief to pay them back with a win.”

“I knew from last year how hard it is to win at the Tour de France but I realized today how much harder it is to win stage 1 a second time. Tomorrow it'll be another day with a lot of ups and downs, I'm not sure if we, the sprinters, can compete for the win again.”

“I feel sorry for Mark Cavendish and I wish him all the best."  

Sagan was gracious in defeat, telling, “I started my sprint maybe too early but Kittel was too strong for me anyway. He beat me by the length of one bike. I'm happy with my result today. I've avoided crashing and I've scored points. The crash happened behind me, I didn't realize anything. It's sad but it's part of cycling, especially at the Tour de France.”

He stood on the podium to accept the white jersey as best young rider, but admitted he had other colours on his mind. “Now I have the white jersey, tomorrow the yellow? Whatever happens tomorrow, I'm here for winning the green jersey, that's all."

Blue skies and royalty

Blue skies, blue blood and huge crowds saw the 2014 Tour de France start in Leeds on Saturday with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, along with Prince Harry, in attendance at the Grand Depart.

The peloton took off on a 17.5km neutralized section, lined with thousands of cheering fans. They then stopped at Harewood House to greet the Royals, and hear the national anthems.

Kate, William and Harry, as they are more popularly known, came down to the peloton to shake hands and chat with the British riders, world champion Rui Costa, and some of the other top contenders. Finally, the ribbon was cut, helmets were put back on and the race set off again.

The neutralized section continued until the field was well out of the manor park and on to the main roads. As soon as the flag dropped, who else but 42-year-old Jens Voigt (Trek) took off, followed by Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Benoit Jarrier (Bretagne). The trio quickly moved away, building a gap of just over three minutes.

The field kept them on a short leash, never allowing the gap to get too high. Lotto Belisol, Giant-Shimano and Omega Pharma-QuickStep shared the workload as the race moved closer to its destiny of a sprint finish.

The first climb of the 2014 Tour arrived with Cote de Cray and although it was only a category 4 ascent it offered a mountain point with Jarrier winning it. 

The break fractured soon after, when at the intermediate sprint, Voigt attacked. He won the 20 points on offer before also riding clear of his two companions. By the time the two younger Frenchmen realized he wouldn’t wait, he was gone.

The gap had dropped to only 3:00 when the field battled it out for the remaining sprint points, with Europcar’s Bryan Coquard beating Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan. 

The gap shot up again as Voigt continued with his lone move, with the peloton nearly five minutes down at the feed zone.

Voigt won the points atop the Cote de Buttertubs, and eventually Edet and Jarrier were caught by the field.

On the Côte de Buttertubs the peloton split with Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) among a group that lost contact.

Voigt managed to hang on to his lead long enough to take the points atop the Grinton Moor climb as well, assuring himself of the KOM jersey. He had only a handful of seconds in hand and was gobbled up by the field only moments later.

Lotto had moved to the front of the field, working early on in hope of setting up Andre Greipel. Rodriguez and his group, which also included Chris Horner (Lampre) made it back to the peloton, but others, such as Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) weren’t so lucky.

The peloton stayed together, with Lotto, Cannondale and Omega Pharma Quick Step all at the front. Lotto took control as they all passed under the 5km to go marker, before Omega Pharma Quick Step moved up for Cavendish with a huge surge from Tony Martin.

As the peloton hit the final kilometre Fabian Cancellara attacked. The Trek Factory rider was able to open up a small gap as the road dipped down before the uphill sprint but with QuickStep and Giant still in contention, even the former Paris-Roubaix winner couldn’t escape their clutches.

As the juncture was made Gerrans, sandwiched between Cavendish and Coquard, ran out of space as they fought for the perfect line. Something had to give and Cavendish and Gerrans both fell, with the Frenchman just holding it together. I

t was now a head to head duel between Kittel and Sagan, with the German pulling ahead to take a clear win. Surprisingly in a bunch sprint, defending champion Chris Froome finished sixth.

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