Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe dusted himself off from a fall to claim the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France on Saturday, winning stage one by a clear margin on a crash-marred opening day.
The peloton embarked on the 2021 Tour from the industrial shipyards of this fortified naval stronghold at the western tip of the country to the sound of bagpipes, with hordes of unmasked fans decked out in red-and-white polka dot caps to accompany the black-and-white flag of this fiercely independent region.
World champion Alaphilippe was a pre-race favourite due to the final climb and he shot up the ascent to take 10 bonus seconds at the finish line and also end another 12 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger.
“I was in a great position at the bottom of the last hill, and I accelerated to drop all the sprinters who wanted to win, and then see who was left," Alaphilippe explained.
“We had been planning it and I’ve been thinking about it since we got to Brittany."
Australia’s Michael Matthews is second at 12 seconds while Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic came third and is fourteen seconds down on the leader in the overall standings.
Crossing the line in his world champion’s rainbow jersey Alaphilippe put his thumb in his mouth in honour of his newborn son with his partner Marion Rousse, a former professional cyclist and now commentator.
Asked if he would give the toy lion offered to winners to his son, Alaphilippe laughed: “He prefers something else, but if I left home to come on the Tour with a newborn at home, then this win was a good reason."
Thomas’ prophecy comes true
Alaphilippe is no stranger to the yellow jersey having spent much of the 2019 Tour in the lead before finishing fifth overall.
Ineos Grenadiers leader Geraint Thomas and defending champion Tadej Pogacar were just behind the winning group on a hugely stressful finish with potential time gaps at stake that almost certainly led to the second of two mass falls on the day.
Thomas and Pogacar emerged unscathed and are just 18sec down in the overall standings but both had teammates caught up in crashes.
Ineos’ Richie Porte lost 2min 26sec and Tao Geoghegan Hart 5min and 43sec.
“I’m gutted for Richie and Tao, but for me personally it’s not too bad," Thomas said afterwards.
Thomas, a winner in 2018, had said he expected chaos at some time during the first week saying ‘something will happen to someone’ and his worries about four becoming three may have been understated.
2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz is now Ineos’ latent threat and is a dark horse couple of seconds behind Thomas.
Former Ineos man Chris Froome lost 14mins 47sec after struggling to get up after the second crash and finishing gingerly.
As the peloton left Brest, where former President Francois Hollande and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo saw them off, the familiar sight of British team Ineos at the front of the peloton returned after they had ceded their place to Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma last year.
Ineos, Jumbo-Visma and the team of UAE Emirates leader Tadej Pogacar however would be caught cold not by the tricky conditions caused at the massive 16km Bay of Douarnenez with its four broad, windswept beaches, but by the two spectacular falls.
The first crash involved around half of the peloton and sent a stark warning to roadside fans trying to get themselves on television.
“We are all happy to see fans back on the roadside, but I call on fans to be more careful," Alaphilippe said.