Chris Froome found himself almost a minute down just one day into the Tour de France after the Team Sky rider crashed in a chaotic finish to stage one.
The defending champion was squeezed out on a bend a little over five kilometres from the end of the 201km stage to Fontenay-le-Comte, which was won by Tour debutant Fernando Gaviria in a reduced sprint.
Colombian Gaviria held off world champion Peter Sagan to become the first man to win his debut stage of a Tour since Fabian Cancellara in 2004, but it was another 51 seconds before Froome crossed the line.
The four-time Tour winner came home in a group that included fellow general classification hopefuls Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott and Richie Porte of BMC, who were also caught up in the chaos.
There was worse luck for Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, who suffered a mechanical a little over three kilometres from the finish and lost 75 seconds after waiting for help.
That leaves them already facing a yawning gap to those GC hopefuls who managed to avoid trouble, with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac), Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) among those in the front group.
Geraint Thomas was also in the front group, the only Team Sky rider not to lose time on the day.
For 190km, it had been a fairly sedate stage from Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile with the threatened crosswinds failing to materialise, but everything changed in the final 10 kilometres.
First French sprinter Arnaud Demare saw his hopes of a stage win ended in a tumble, then Team Sky’s Egan Bernal, the youngest rider in the race at 21, slid off the side of the road in another incident.
Froome was the next to go, sent hurtling into a field as the road turned to the left. He was quickly back on his bike but could not get back on the main group as the sprint trains put down the power at the front.
They could not avoid trouble themselves, with Mark Cavendish unable to contest the sprint after his Dimension Data team-mates got caught out of position amid the carnage.
Team Sky’s Froome got a hostile reception at the official team presentation in La Roche-sur-Yon but on Friday Quintana expressed only so much sympathy.
“It’s not pleasant, it is not good for our sport,” he said. “We hope that people will avoid doing it. But sometimes you reap what you sow.”
On Monday, Froome was cleared of wrongdoing in the salbutamol case which has hung over him since his victory in the Vuelta a Espana last September, becoming public by means of a leak in December.
However, the minds of many fans had long been made up about the four-time Tour winner, who goes into this year’s race holding all three Grand Tour jerseys and seeking to become the first man to do the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.
Movistar’s Quintana, who finished second to Froome in the 2013 and 2015 Tours and was third in 2016, is chief among those trying to stop that happening.
However, he said it was good for the race that Froome will be taking part – with organiser ASO dropping its attempt to block him from starting once the UCI announced its decision on Monday.
“For us it is neither better nor worse,” he said. “We always do our race and preparation, and there will always be a rival to fight with. It’s better he is here and his situation has been resolved. Now we all move forward.”
Quintana is part of a three-pronged attack from Movistar, who also have Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa eyeing the General Classification title.
Landa was part of the Sky team that helped Froome win the title here 12 months ago before leaving in search of his own opportunities.
Asked about the booing of Froome, Landa said: “It’s sad, I would not like to be whistled. There is more and more rivalry and these extremes are reached. In this age of social networks people love you more and some people hate you more.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency used as yet unpublished studies before advising the UCI to close the anti-doping investigation into Chris Froome, cycling’s world governing body has said.
The UCI on Friday published a detailed statement to further explain Monday’s announcement that four-time Tour de France winner Froome had been cleared of any anti-doping violation when a test undertaken at the Vuelta a Espana last September found excessive levels of the asthma drug Salbutamol.
In it, the UCI said it acted on the advice of WADA and without access to all of the same information.
“WADA’s scientific department has access to information that UCI does not, including ongoing and unpublished studies on the excretion of Salbutamol (which is – as confirmed by WADA Scientific Director – subject to considerable variations),” the statement said.
“In those circumstances, the UCI had to trust WADA’s assessment of whether or not Mr Froome’s control amounted to an anti-doping rule violation as per the rules adopted by WADA.
“Pursuing the case when the world supervising authority in anti-doping – which is the entity enacting the rules and the tests – tells you that there is no case is simply not an option.”
The UCI’s statement also said that a request from Froome to carry out further tests on his samples – to determine whether they might have been affected by other medicines he was taking, or by his diet during La Vuelta – was rejected.
“The purpose of such testing would have been to attempt to determine whether the factors mentioned directly above had an impact on Mr Froome’s excretion of Salbutamol,” the statement said.
“The UCI believed that such impact was purely speculative and could not justify conducting additional tests on Mr Froome’s samples.”
The closure of Froome’s case has not been enough to satisfy everyone, and on Thursday night he was booed and jeered by fans at the Tour’s team presentation in La Roche-sur-Yon.
There have been several demands for the full details of the evidence used in making the decision to be published.
However, the UCI said publishing that evidence was not an option.
“In its capacity as a signatory of the WADA code, the UCI can only say that there are important reasons that WADA does not publish information on its analytical methods and decision limits, the most important being to avoid such information being abused by athletes who wish to illegitimately enhance their performance,” the statement said.